The trial in Argentina for the murder of a Colombian guerrilla turned top level narco may have left more questions than answers but has demonstrated how Colombian drug traffickers have expanded into the country, bringing their personal vendettas with them.
In April 2012, Hector Saldarriaga, alias “El Mojarro,” was gunned down in an exclusive Buenos Aires neighborhood in a crime immediately linked to the Colombian underworld.
Three years later, and prosecutors are now demanding a life prison sentence for the one person arrested for the murder. The defense, however, is calling for his acquittal, claiming he is merely a scapegoat, reported Clarin.
The assassination has long been linked to the now incarcerated Colombian drug lord Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, who Saldarriaga allegedly served as a chief of assassins and trusted cohort. However, the trail for investigators ended with Emmanuel Aristimuño, a 25-year-old Argentine who purchased the motorbike used in the hit.
During the trial, Aristimuño said he purchased the motorbike for a mysterious group of Colombians, who he said approached him in a bar and paid him to buy and deliver the bike, reported La Nacion. Aristimuño claimed this was the extent of his involvement, while prosecutors allege he was a paid assassin at the service of Colombian drug lords.
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Whether Aristimuño is guilty of murder or not, there is little doubt the assassination plot of El Mojarro goes far beyond an Argentine youth, and that the intellectual authors of the crime have so far escaped justice.
Saldarriaga had a long history in the Colombian underworld. Beginning as a guerrilla fighter with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), he later struck alliances with leaders of Colombian paramilitary groups before eventually emerging as a leading figure in the organization of El Loco Barrera, who he helped establish a transnational criminal empire based in eastern Colombia.
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However, according to reports in the Colombian media, Barrera tried to have Saldarriaga killed in 2011 after the pair fell out over a cocaine shipment. Saldarriaga then fled to Argentina, where he continued the dispute by passing information on Barrera’s networks to authorities, Colombian intelligence officials told El Espectator. According to the theories of both Colombian and Argentine investigators, it was Barrera’s network that eventually caught up with him in Buenos Aires.
Saldarriaga is far from the only high profile Colombian drug trafficker to flee to Argentina, which in recent years has earned the reputation as a criminal refuge. The presence of these narco-exiles has likely contributed to the emergence of Argentina as a major drug transit zone, as many have used the country as a base to set up new drug routes — as Saldarriaga allegedly did — or to launder drug trade profits.