Arrest Creates Opportunity for FARC in Eastern Colombia

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Colombia’s pursuit of drug trafficking group the Libertadores de Vichada saw a new victory with the capture of alias “Yuca,'” raising questions over who will take command of the Eastern Plains as its strongmen continue to fall.

Colombian police have arrested Mario Antonio Cardena, alias “Yuca,” the leader of drug trafficking organization the Libertadores del Vichada, just weeks after the death of its former chief, alias “Pijarbey.”

Cardena, who was captured in Barranquilla, is accused of handling drug trafficking operations for the Libertadores del Vichada — a splinter group of another narco-paramilitary organization, the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC), based in Colombia’s Eastern Plains. He arranged the transport of approximately two tons of cocaine to the United States every month and controlled various cocaine processing laboratories, according to the police investigation.  

Cardena reportedly took over drug trafficking routes following the extradition of his uncle Jose Evaristo Linares Castillo, who had links to extradited Colombian kingpin Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, as well as ERPAC leader alias “Cuchillo,” and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

Cardena allegedly trafficked cocaine over land to Apure, Venezuela, from where it was flown to the United States. He is due to be extradited to the United States.

InSight Crime Analysis

Cardena’s arrest is the latest in a string of successful blows against the Libertadores del Vichada. The death of Pijarbey, one of Colombia’s most powerful traffickers, in late September, and the recent arrest of his immediate successor Edigxon Aguirre, alias “Caponera,” are a clear indication of the group’s vulnerability in one of the country’s key drug trafficking regions.

The targeting of the Eastern Plains’ strongmen has triggered bloody turf battles in the past. Meanwhile, the FARC — whose Eastern Bloc controls coca crops and routes into Venezuela and Brazil — have so far remained out of the fray. Faced with the possibility of a peace deal being signed in Cuba within the next six months, the FARC are now said to be amassing as much money as possible before a likely demobilization.

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Considering the fact that 2014 saw a 44 percent uptick in Colombian coca cultivation — much of which is based in the Eastern Plains — the FARC are well-positioned to take advantage of the weakening of the Libertadores del Vichada, in order to increase their own earnings and assume control of routes in the area. What’s more, the guerrilla organization has reportedly reopened trafficking routes into Brazil and Venezuela, after these were brought to a standstill following the death of FARC boss Negro Acacio.

Such lucrative possibilities for the FARC in this region pose the critical question of whether or not the guerrillas would be willing to leave tens of millions of dollars behind in the event of a peace deal being reached. And if so, who will be next to take the reins in Eastern Colombia?

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