Calor Calor is one of Panama’s two most powerful gangs along with Bagdad, and the two battle fiercely for territorial control. Calor Calor consists of numerous youth gangs that rallied together against persecution by other groups.
While Panamanian gangs once mostly engaged in petty crime, today Calor Calor focuses on providing drug transport and other services to transnational trafficking organizations.
Calor Calor’s current structure was formed when the powerful “tumbadores” (drug theft) gang Unión Soviética — where Bagdad has its origins — began decimating other youth gangs. These joined ranks in Calor Calor, which offered youths the protection of a larger, more structured organization.
Its main activity is transporting drugs for more sophisticated organized criminal groups, and Calor Calor manages drug trafficking routes and logistics. Gang members are also subcontracted to carry out contract killings and drug robberies and to provide security for drug shipments.
Calor Calor is now one of two main agglomerations of gangs in Panama, along with rival organization Bagdad. Turf battles between the two groups have expanded from the capital, Panama City, in to Panama Oeste province, across the canal.
Bagdad and Calor Calor together were estimated to have more than 2,000 members in 2014.
The current leader of Calor Calor is allegedly Dangelo Ramírez Ramea, although he has denied being the head of the group.
In 2005, Ramírez Ramea allegedly participated in the robbery of $2.5 million from the International Commercial Bank of China in the Colón Free Trade Zone. He was captured in 2009 during an operation in which $1 million in cash was seized, and was reportedly recaptured in 2011 and accused of committing crimes abroad as part of an international organized crime network linked to drug trafficking. Ramírez Ramea has also been investigated for money laundering, extortion and other crimes.
Ramírez Ramea was described as one of the country’s most dangerous criminals by President Juan Carlos Varela in 2015 and was briefly one of the only six inmates in the maximum-security prison of Punta Coco. However, in June 2016, he was absolved of money laundering charges and freed from custody.
José Cossio has also been described as the head of Calor Calor. He has been in prison in Panama since 2015.
Cossio allegedly participated in the 2005 Bank of China robbery, and in 2010 he was arrested in the United States for possession and intent to distribute cocaine. He was again arrested in Panama in 2011 for homicide. Three years later he was linked to the seizure of 191 kilograms of cocaine in Panama’s metropolitan region. Cossio is also suspected of murdering a Panamanian beauty contestant in 2014.
Two months after entering La Joya prison in 2014, he escaped to Costa Rica with Costa Rican associate alias “Kike El Tico.” El Siglo reported that large bribes were apparently paid to to facilitate the escape.
Cossio was captured in Costa Rica and extradited to Panama in 2015. He was briefly held in Punta Coco prison, before being transferred to another facility due to human rights concerns.
The stronghold of Calor Calor is the Panama City district of San Miguelito. The gang is also present in the El Chorrillo, Santa Ana, Calidonia, Río Abajo neighborhoods of the capital, and is strong in Colón, the world’s second biggest free trade zone located on the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal. Bagdad and Calor Calor members often are found in close proximity to each other.
Calor Calor has made a push into Bagdad’s turf in Panama Oeste, causing intense violence between the two groups. The rival blocs allegedly reached a shaky pact in which it was decided that Bagdad would maintain control of La Chorrera district, and Calor Calor of Arraiján district.
Drugs transit along Panama Oeste’s coastline, where the two gangs provide services to trafficking organizations and steal drug shipments.
Calor Calor also sends gang members to the jungle border regions to manage drug trafficking routes.
Calor Calor originated from and remains an agglomeration of numerous youth gangs. Its main rival is Bagdad, another criminal bloc. Together, they are the two biggest local gangs 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 youth criminals but tough penal measures for those who do not abandon the gangs.