Colombia Detains FARC Extortion Boss

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Colombian police said they had captured the head of extortion for the FARC’s Eastern Bloc, highlighting the guerrilla group’s renewed focus on extortion, which the government claims is due to declining revenue from the drug trade.

Yordani Gonzalez Paredes, alias “El Gordo,” was detained in the central province of Meta on August 21. According to Colombia’s chief of police, Jose Roberto Leon Riaño, Gonzalez had been a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) since the age of 13, rising to become the head of finances for the 10th Front and the principal extortionist for the Eastern Bloc.

On the same day as Gonzalez’s capture, a power station was attacked by alleged FARC guerrillas in the energy-rich department of Arauca, where the 10th Front is active. The attack caused blackouts in at least six municipalities and left some 100,000 people without power. It is the third such attack in Arauca since June, though it is not known whether these were related to extortion demands.

InSight Crime Analysis

Extortion has traditionally been one of the rebel group’s main source of funds, but there appears to have been a renewed focus on the practice in recent months. Attacks on energy infrastructure rose 253 percent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2011. According to Colombia’s mines and energy minister, Mauricio Cardenas, the jump in attacks is a result of the government’s crackdown on the FARC’s drug trafficking networks, which has cut into the group’s revenue and pushed them to focus on finding funds elsewhere.

Earlier this year the rebels announced that they would cease kidnapping for ransom, removing one of their other main revenue sources.

The FARC’s main extortion sources have been corporations working in Colombia’s energy sector, particularly oil and mineral extraction. The guerrillas demand extortion payments of up to $30,000 from companies in exchange for promising not to attack their workers, according to El Tiempo. There is evidence that this figure is often even higher. The capture of another FARC extortionist in September last year revealed that the group had been demanding extortion payments of up to $279,000 to the Eastern Bloc in Meta.

Though the government claims the assaults on businesses are all financially motivated, Latin America’s oldest guerrilla group may also be putting itself in a position of strength for potential peace talks with the government by targeting Colombia’s most profitable sectors.

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