This Nicaraguan drug trafficking group is linked to the Reyes Aragon family, headed by Augustin Reyes Aragon and his six brothers. The organization primarily handles drug transport operations, as well as the movement of precursor chemicals for methamphetamine production, weapons, and other contraband. The group primarily works as “transportistas” (transporters) for Colombian drug traffickers.
Nicaragua’s National Police have said that the Tarzanes’ origins date back to the mid-1990s, when they formed part of a network that included the now defunct Norte del Valle Cartel in Cali, Colombia. The Colombian cartel would ship cocaine to Panama, and the Tarzanas provided the go-fast boats and the crew needed to move the shipments from Costa Rica’s Limon province on the Caribbean coast across Lake Nicaragua. Mexican groups like the Gulf Cartel would eventually buy the cocaine shipments.
Augustin Reyes Aragon
Drug trafficking, arms trafficking, contraband smuggling
The Tarzanes also used other maritime routes to move cocaine for the Norte del Valle Cartel. They have proved capable of distracting Nicaragua’s Naval Forces with methods that include deploying several go-fast boats at the same time, in order to protect the boat that is actually carrying the cocaine shipment.
Authorities in Costa Rica arrested Augustin Reyes Aragon, the alleged leader of the Tarzanes, in July 2014. Costa Rican officials involved in the investigation said Reyes Aragon led a group of traffickers that brought cocaine from Colombia and marijuana from Jamaica into the Costa Rican province Limon for storage, and then north to Honduras and Mexico, as well as for sale on the domestic market.
Reyes Aragon has six brothers allegedly involved with the Tarzanes, one of whom likely took over after his arrest.
The Tarzanes are based along the southern Nicaragua border, primarily in San Juan de Nicaragua municipality. While the Tarzanes have long been thought to use Costa Rica as a refuge, an investigation from Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department dating back to 2012 found the group increasingly uses the country as a base for its operations, perhaps due to increased Nicaraguan security patrols.
The group reportedly used Calero Island — a disputed territory between Costa Rica and Nicaragua — as a transit point for drug trafficking, as well as several houses in the Costa Rican province of Limon. They have also been linked to drug trafficking cells in Honduras.
Allies and enemies
Reyes Aragon may have a powerful enemy in former Sandinista commander Eden Pastora, a well-known Nicaraguan figure who sparked a 2010 border dispute over Calero Island by dredging the nearby San Juan River. Reyes Aragon reported the presence of Nicaraguan security forces on the island, which neither country was supposed to enter, igniting an international incident and provoking Pastora’s wrath. Reyes later told Costa Rican authorties that Pastora hired hit men to kill him and should not be extradited to Nicaragua.
The Tarzanes reportedly supply cocaine to the Gulf Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Local transport gangs like the Tarzanes increasingly participate in the international drug trade as larger transnational organizations splinter and lose control over supply chains. Groups like the Tarzanes are also aided by Costa Rica and Nicaragua’s increased importance as a transit nations in the regional drug trade, along with the inherent difficulties of policing a region as remote and inaccessible as Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Still, it remains to be seen how the Tarzanes will deal with Reyes Aragon’s arrest.