An ongoing offensive by Colombia’s security forces against the Urabeños has resulted in a series of large drug seizures, allegedly crippling the group’s finances and creating internal tensions that raises a strong possibility of future violence.
On July 6, Colombian police announced the seizure of three tons of cocaine the Urabeños had stockpiled near the Panamanian border, reported El Colombiano.
The cocaine — worth an estimated $76 million — consisted of shipments compiled by several Colombian drug trafficking groups, who paid the Urabeños to move the drugs to Central America. There, police say, Mexican cartels were meant to smuggle the cocaine into the United States (where its value was estimated at $100 million).
It is believed Urabeños’ leaders Roberto Vargas Gutierrez, alias “Gavilan,” and Carlos Alberto Moreno Tuberquia, alias “Nicolas” (both of whom were recently indicted by the US) were in charge of coordinating the drug shipment.
The cocaine seizure is the second largest since the government’s offensive against the Urabeños began roughly five months ago. So far, a total of 13 tons of drugs have been seized — representing estimated losses of $330 million for the Urabeños.
As a result, one anonymous government official said the group is now “desperate for money.” According to an intelligence report cited by El Colombiano, the Urabeños have been behind on payments to their affiliates since February. This includes collaborators in the Uraba region and metropolitian Medellin, known as the Valle de Aburra, as well as associates in Panama and Honduras.
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If recent raids against the Urabeños’ drug network have crippled the group’s finances as much as Colombian authorities claim, this may lead to future violence in areas where the group has maintained a strong presence — perhaps most worryingly in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin.
After expanding into Medellin, the Urabeños signed a ceasefire in 2013 with the Oficina de Envigado. This cooperation agreement between the two criminal organizations — with the Oficina de Envigado controlling money laundering, micro-trafficking, and extortion in Medellin, and the Urabeños managing large-scale trafficking — led to a dramatic drop in the city’s violence levels.
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Yet the criminal truce in Medellin is delicate. If the Urabeños prove unable to pay their affiliates in the city — such as the Oficinas de Cobro (collection offices) that they subcontract — this could lead to the breaking of peace. And eventually, other criminal factions could reorganize and move to fill the vacuum left by the Urabeños. Such a possiblity is further exacerbated by government pressure leading to the capture of many of the Urabeños’ top leaders.
In addition to these reports suggesting the Urabeños are being hit where it hurts most (financially), there are other signs that Colombia’s security forces have upped their game against the Urabeños. Police were able to seize the three tons of cocaine after receiving a tip-off from an informant, according to El Tiempo. This is one sign that the Urabeños are having trouble stopping collaborators from providing the government with sensitive information on the group’s operations.