With the death of “El Indio,” the Urabeños’ third-in-command, Colombian security forces have dealt another blow to the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the country, a sign that authorities are closing in on the group’s top leader.
Colombian police announced in a March 28 press release that Manuel Arístides Meza Páez, alias “El Indio,” was shot down during an aerial assault operation in the northern department of Córdoba.
The raid that led to El Indio’s killing was part of “Operation Agamemnon II,” a joint effort between the police and the military aimed at taking out the Urabeños’ leadership and weakening the group’s finances. Over the past seven months, the operation has led to the downfall of Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, alias “Gavilán,” and Luis Orlando Padierna, alias “Inglaterra,” both of whom were high-ranking Urabeños bosses. Security forces have also successfully dismantled several of the group’s drug trafficking routes and intercepted large drug shipments.
According to the police statement, this was the sixth operation directly targeting El Indio, and it was carried out based on information about his location obtained by the national police intelligence unit. Army Commander Alberto Mejía described it as “the most important and forceful blow to [the Urabeños] in 2018.”
El Indio was the Urabeños’ finance chief and head of operations in the Magdalena Medio region as well as on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. He also served as a middleman with criminal actors in Central America and Mexico to facilitate drug trafficking operations. Revenues from these activities were reportedly laundered through shell companies and other properties.
The police report adds that El Indio commanded more than 200 men and was under investigation for a series of targeted murders. Moreover, according to El Tiempo, the crime boss orchestrated “Plan Pistola,” an assassination operation in late 2016 targeting security forces in the northwestern Urabá region.
InSight Crime Analysis
The death of El Indio represents another decisive blow to the Urabeños’ structure and criminal enterprise.
As a key actor in the group’s financial and drug trafficking activities, Meza Páez was likely one of the bosses who brought in the greatest revenues for the organization. Therefore, his absence will undoubtedly affect the Urabeños’ finances.
Meza Páez’s killing also reduces the ranks of an already-thinning Urabeños leadership, a clear indication that authorities are closing in on the organization’s top leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel.” After the death of Gavilán, Otoniel offered to surrender to authorities, but continued operations against the Urabeños show that the government intends to continue its head-on assault against the group.
With a number of top lieutenants out of the picture, Otoniel will have to replace his inner circle with people who do not necessarily have the same level of experience and knowledge as their predecessors. And given the authorities’ unrelenting pressure, combined with the Urabeños’ ongoing decentralization, the group is primed for more dramatic fragmentation.
The deaths of ringleaders like El Indio not only affect the Urabeños at the national level, but also the local level. Now that the Urabeños’ operations on the Pacific coast have suffered a serious blow, competing groups like the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) could try to scoop up territory that the weakened group no longer has the power to control.