Urabeños Fight for Control of Colombia’s San Andres Island

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The Urabeños are fighting rival drug gangs, the Paisas and the Rastrojos, for control of San Andres, a Colombian island whose location close to the Nicaraguan coast makes it a natural stopping point for drug boats heading to Central America and through the Caribbean.

The Rastrojos, Paisas, and Urabeños each control their own drug smuggling routes through San Andres, navy commander Gabriel Perez told El Colombiano.

According to San Andres’ chief of police however, authorities have carried out nine operations arresting some 100 gang members in 2011, including several top leaders of the Paisas, and have virtually eliminated the threat of violence between gangs on the island. “The clash between these gangs will not come directly to San Andres because they don’t have the capacity to be there,” he said. “The actions we took against them last year were enough.”

However, Perez warned the three gangs would adapt quickly to the loss of their leaders. “They mutate, they change leaders,” he told El Colombiano. Criminal groups will not be leaving the island any time soon, he added. “The geography is too good.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The Urabeños are likely to win a fight for control against the severely weakened Paisas and Rastrojos.

From their home base in Uraba in Colombia’s northwest, the Urabeños have expanded over the last three years into neighboring Choco and further into Antioquia province, and have pushed eastward along the Caribbean coast to the Venezuelan border. In recent months, they’ve also stepped up their fight for control of the southwestern Valle del Cauca department on the Pacific coast. This region is the home turf of the Rastrojos, but they have been debilitated by the arrest and surrender of their main leaders.

San Andres is a natural stop-off point for the Urabeños from their drug launching points in the Gulf of Uraba and the Gulf of Morrosquillo, especially as they consolidate their power over the Caribbean coast. As set out by an InSight Crime investigation earlier this year, Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastline is a key location for drug shipments heading north to the United States.

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