The rival groups “Bagdad” and “Calor Calor” have become the two main gangs in Panama, and consist of an agglomeration of smaller youth gangs. While street gangs once mainly engaged in petty crime, today, drug transport and managing trafficking routes and logistics are the primary occupations of these organizations. Bagdad also engages in kidnapping and extortion.
Bagdad’s origins go back the Unión Soviética gang — a fusion of the groups Bagdad, El Pentágono and Matar o Morir (MOM). Led by Jorge Rubén Camargo Clarke, alias “Cholo Chorrillo” or “El Cholo,” Bagdad was one of the most notorious “tumbadores” — gangs that steal drug shipments from trafficking groups. To tumbar literally means to knock over. Bagdad was original based in El Chorrillo, while El Pentágono operated in Santa Ana and MOM in Curundú, all neighborhoods of Panama City.
Unión Soviética also extorted other criminal groups and fought to eliminate other gangs and tumbadores. These eventually rallied together to form the organization “Calor Calor.” The two groupings are now the biggest gangs in the country.
Bagdad emerged as the lead gang within its group after the leaders of El Pentágono and MOM were killed, but it is still a collection of smaller groups.
Bagdad still engages in drug theft, but the gang’s main activities now consist of controlling territory for the movement and sale of drugs. In 2014, the gang was estimated to control over 50 percent of drug sales in Panama. Bagdad also provides services such as guarding shipments and contract killings, and engages in kidnapping and extortion. The gang recruits young people from about 14 years of age.
Bagdad and Calor Calor together were estimated to have more than 2,000 members in 2014.
Jorge Rubén Camargo Clarke, alias “Cholo Chorrillo,” was the notorious leader of the Unión Soviética groups and took over Bagdad when its predecessor was disbanded. He currently is in prison.
In 2014, Cholo Chorrillo allegedly gave the order to murder two children and their parents in the coastal city of La Chorrera, Panama, while he was in prison. He has been incarcerated in La Joyita prison and later the National Police’s headquarters in the town of Ancón. Cholo Chorrillo was briefly one of only six inmates in the maximum-security jail of Punta Coco, before being transferred due to human rights concerns.
It appears that the current leader of Bagdad is alias “El Patrón,” who is rumored to have turned El Chorrillo over to authorities to take command of the group.
Originally based in Panama City, Bagdad is now strongest across the canal in West Panama province, which borders with Panama City, Colón and the Pacific Ocean. The violent territorial conflict between Bagdad and Calor Calor has expanded from Panama City into West Panama, where drug shipments enter and leave from La Chorrera coastal area.
Bagdad and Calor Calor members often live in close proximity.
Bagdad is made up of numerous youth gangs. Groups that have been described as allies of Bagdad include “El Pentágono,” “Vietnam 23,” and “Nadie ta’ Bien.” Its main rival is Calor Calor, itself an agglomeration of groups. The two organizations are the biggest criminal blocs in Panama.
While local gangs have clearly stepped up their role in transnational drug trafficking, it is likely that they will remain subordinate to Mexican and Colombian agents for the time being. Nevertheless, their growing power could provide the right conditions for them to set up their own trafficking networks in the future. The expansion of local groups also depends on the effectiveness of the Panamanian government’s carrot and stick approach, which involves an amnesty program for delinquent youths but tough penal measures for those who do not renounce the gangs.