Colombia Captures Leader of the Urabeños in Bajo Cauca

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Colombian security forces have captured a regional leader of the powerful Urabeños drug gang, an event unlikely to greatly affect the organization but which could strain its business relations with guerrilla groups.

On August 25, Rafael Alvarez Piñeda, alias “Chepe,” was arrested by Colombian judicial police (DIJIN) at a ranch in Caceres, in the south-central region of the Antioquia department known as Bajo Cauca, reported El Tiempo

In addition to trafficking cocaine for the Urabeños in Bajo Cauca, a former stronghold of the Paisas criminal organization which Chepe had belonged to, he allegedly controlled extortion of cattle farmers, businesses and miners in the region, and was responsible for a number of assassinations. He was believed to control around 100 men, reported El Pais.

This “high value target” of the Colombian police has been wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges since 2011.

InSight Crime Analysis

Chepe is a good example of the chameleon-like nature of modern Colombian criminals, who often shift alliances for financial gain. He began his criminal career in the Mineros Bloc of the United Self-Defense forces of Colombia (AUC). After demobilizing in 2006 he became leader of the Paisas, a criminal paramilitary successor group which has now largely disappeared due to defections and infighting. He later betrayed his former AUC commander, Ramiro Vanoy, alias “Cuco,” kidnapping his sons for ransom.

After fellow Paisas commander Cesar Torres, alias “Mono Vides,” was killed in 2010, Chepe left the Paisas and was recruited by former rivals the Urabeños. Intelligence sources also believe Chepe maintains a strong business relationship with former enemies the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who have been selling him coca base for years in a similar arrangement to that which existed with a former Paisas second-in-command captured in 2011.

SEE ALSO: FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

Chepe’s capture is unlikely to impact the Urabeños structure — Colombia’s most powerful BACRIM organization’s top command relies on over 1,000 men and its strongest base is in the Uraba gulf, further north. However, the capture of a man with strong guerrilla connections could affect business relations for the group in the Bajo Cauca region, a strategic area for the drug trade which has at times been a battleground between various criminal groups.

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