Arrest Signals Persistence of Rastrojos Faction in Colombia Drug Trade

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The arrest of the alleged leader of Rastrojos faction “los Comba” is a sign that the criminal group was able to grow under the authorities’ radar since its near demise in 2012.

Santos Román Narváez Ansazoy, alias “Román”, was arrested in Cali on October 19 while in possession of 28 gold ingots whose value was estimated at more than $1 million, reported El Espectador. Authorities believe that Román is the head of the criminal group “los Comba”, a faction of the Rastrojos originally controlled by the Comba brothers of which two — Javier Antonio Calle Serna and Luis Enrique Calle Serna — are incarcerated in the US.

In a communiqué to which InSight Crime had access, Colombia’s Defense Ministry stated that Román “is currently the main and biggest cocaine producer along Colombia’s Pacific coast, and produces large quantities of cocaine processed in laboratories located in Cauca before being sent to Panama via go-fast boats.” 

The alleged leader of “los Comba” is thought to have received instructions from the incarcerated Comba brothers to manage the group’s operations, which range from illegal mining to drug trafficking and extortion, according to El Tiempo. The newspaper, which had access to the investigation file, said the gold was being traded for cocaine.

Five other alleged high-ranking members of the criminal organization were arrested during the same operation dubbed “Pacific Pearl II,” the second phase of a joint investigation between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Colombian police. US extradition warrants have been issued for all five, as well as Román.

The investigation as a whole led to the arrest of approximately 300 people — most of whom were drug traffickers — linked to “los Comba.” Authorities say the group is responsible for the shipment of at least 180 tons of cocaine to the US over the past two years, and 80 of the 300 tons of cocaine impounded by Colombian authorities in 2016.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest of Román and the cocaine seizures from the Rastrajos faction highlight the enduring presence of at least part of the former organization and its continuing relevance in Colombia’s drug trade.

The Rastrojos reached the height of its power between 2008 and 2012 when it became arguably the most powerful BACRIM (for the Spanish “bandas criminales”) in the country, overtaking the rival Urabeños group. In 2012, two Comba brothers handed themselves in to US authorities and two other leaders, Diego Pérez Henao alias “Diego Rastrojo” and Daniel Barrera alias “El Loco,” were arrested. The Comba brothers’ decision to surrender allegedly led to dissent amongst the leaders and strengthened the divide between the “los Comba” faction and the rest of the organization. The dismantling of the group’s leadership led to a rapid decline in its power and influence.

SEE ALSO: News and Profile of the Rastrojos

But four years later, the quantity of drugs seized and the authorities’ estimates of the amount of cocaine shipped by “los Comba” indicate that the group managed to quietly rebuild its operations while the Urabeños largely monopolized the focus on the BACRIM. Although the information given by the authorities seem to indicate that Román managed the operations inherited from “los Comba” and not the entirety of the Rastrojos group’s former activities, it is a reminder that even criminal organizations left momentarily leaderless have the capacity to reconstruct if left untargeted by authorities.

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