Colombia Confirms Death of Narco-Guerrilla ‘Megateo’

Security forces announced they had finally killed the leader of a guerrilla group dedicated to drug trafficking along the Venezuelan border, who had built up his splinter faction into a drug trafficking force, a potential model in a post-conflict Colombia. 

President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed via Twitter that guerrilla leader Victor Ramon Navarro Cervano, alias “Megateo,” the leader of the last faction of the People’s Liberation Army (EPL), was killed in a military and police operation in Norte de Santander department. 

Megateo had previously been reported killed in an attack in August. However, he managed to escape thanks to his ring of bodyguards that took the brunt of the military’s attack, according to a report by El Tiempo. A special force of 350 police and military officials have been carrying out an intense manhunt for the guerrilla leader, who over the past eight years has previously managed to escape 50 operations intended to either capture or kill him, according to Semana

El Colombiano reported that Megateo and at least two other people died after he fumbled with a grenade he was trying to throw at a helicopter during an attack against his camp. An analysis of human remains recovered from the camp confirmed that among the dead was Megateo. 

Megateo led an armed group that was once part of the EPL that officially demobilized in 1991; however, some elements remained active around Megateo’s hometown in rural Norte de Santander. In the early 2000s, Megateo established himself as the leader of the remainder EPL, and deepened their involvement in the coca production and cocaine trafficking trade.

Megateo earned millions thanks to drug trafficking, and became known for his penchant for fancy jewelry and beautiful women. The US State Department also viewed him as a top drug trafficker in the region, and offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. 

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Thanks to his ability to elude capture, Megateo was seen as the “Robin Hood” of the underdeveloped and long-neglected region of Catatumbo, which lies along the border with Venezuela. He managed to build up a tiny reduct of an extinct rebel group into a multi-million dollar drug business, by acting as a broker for other illegal groups involved in the drug trade in the region, including the Urabeños, the Rastrojos, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). 

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The Colombian government has had success in targeting guerrilla leaders — especially those from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — via air strikes. The fact that it took as long as it did to successfully take down Megateo is a reminder of how many resources these operations need, and how criminals with strong links to the local population can hide themselves. 

Megateo’s long criminal career could yet provide a model for other FARC commanders who may be unwilling to demobilize and abandon their involvement in the drug trade, should the FARC sign a peace deal. There is still a strong possibility that in a post-conflict scenario, mid-level FARC leaders could follow Megateo’s path, and dedicate themselves to running mini-criminal empires in rural areas that the state has never fully controlled. 

Even with Megateo gone, this is unlikely to affect the coca and cocaine trade in the Norte de Santander area once under his control. This is a strategic hub for the drug trade due to its proximity with Venezuela and while it is unclear whether Megateo had any potential successor within the EPL, his allies, the FARC and the ELN, are present in the region and could take control of the drug business.