Jobanis de Jesús Ávila Villadiego, alias “Chiquito Malo,” is the current commander of the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), which is also referred to as the Urabeños or the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), one of Colombia’s most powerful criminal groups. Chiquito Malo assumed leadership of the organization following the arrest of Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” in October 2021.
Chiquito Malo inherited a criminal organization facing significant challenges, including persecution by the authorities, open warfare with other criminal groups, and weak cohesion within the organization itself. He has proved capable at navigating these issues, remaining a key player on Colombia’s criminal chessboard.
Chiquito Malo was born in San Pedro de Urabá, a municipality in the Antioquia department, in northern Colombia. His criminal trajectory began within the paramilitary ranks of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC). He was part of the Bananero Bloc, present in the Urabá region, until its demobilization in November 2004.
He later joined the AGC, a group that emerged in 2006 out of the paramilitary demobilization process, in which former members decided to return to arms and control criminal economies, such as drug trafficking, in the territories previously occupied by the AUC.
Due to his experience and knowledge of the Urabá area, Chiquito Malo quickly ascended the ranks. He was eventually appointed commander of the Urabá Central structure, by which time he controlled the group’s drug trafficking activities in the Gulf of Urabá, a key territory for shipping drugs to Central America and the United States.
By 2015, he was considered one of the group’s top leaders. In June of that year, the United States government issued a formal accusation, identifying him as one of the main leaders of the drug trafficking structure.
That same year, after intense persecution by the Colombian authorities, Chiquito Malo managed to escape a raid in Urabá, Antioquia, in which three men on his security team were killed and four more were captured.
His whereabouts have since been unknown but that has not affected his power. In 2018, the United States requested his extradition on drug trafficking charges.
In February 2021, following the death of the second-in-command of the Urabeños, Nelson Hurtado Simanca, alias “Marihuano,” Chiquito Malo became Otoniel’s right-hand man, the person responsible for ensuring his safety.
But that didn’t last long. In October 2021, Otoniel was captured, and Chiquito Malo became the head of the criminal organization. Below him are other long-time commanders of the group, like Wilmer Giraldo, alias “Siopas” and José Gonzalo Sánchez, alias “Gonzalito.”
Chiquito Malo took over the AGC with years of experience controlling drug trafficking in the Urabá region. The group has historically maintained an influence in the area, which is key to sending drug shipments to Central America, the United States, and the Caribbean.
As the leader of the AGC, Chiquito Malo is at the helm of one of the country’s largest criminal structures, which not only participates in drug trafficking, but also in other criminal economies, such as illegal mining, extortion, and contraband and migrant smuggling.
He is also in charge of managing and controlling the AGC’s internal network of structures, substructures, and franchises, which maintain a certain degree of independence from the group’s central leadership. These structures are key to the group’s operations and criminal profits.
Before assuming leadership of the AGC, Chiquito Malo’s experience was concentrated in the Urabá region, which is divided between the departments of Antioquia and Chocó and borders Panama and the Caribbean Sea. This location makes the region key to criminal economies such as drug trafficking, illegal mining, migrant smuggling, and contraband.
As the group’s leader, Chiquito Malo is responsible for structures with a territorial presence in more than half of Colombia’s departments. The group’s greatest influence continues to be in the departments of Antioquia, Córdoba, and Sucre. The group also maintains a presence in Valle del Cauca, Bolívar, Magdalena, Cesar, Guajira, Norte de Santander, and some municipalities in Nariño and Cauca. Through their franchises they have managed to participate in criminal dynamics in departments such as Meta, Casanare, and Vichada.
Allies and Enemies
As the AGC’s top leader, Chiquito Malo inherited allies and enemies, both domestically and internationally.
The Sinaloa Cartel has been among the AGC’s primary drug trafficking associates for years, but the Mexican organization is not the group’s only criminal ally. The AGC has managed to forge and maintain criminal ties with important European mafias, like the ‘Ndrangheta and Balkan mafias.
The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) is the AGC’s primary enemy in several areas of Colombia. In the Chocó department, the groups have clashed over control of drug trafficking and illegal mining territories since 2018. In Norte de Santander, both groups have been fighting for key areas along the country’s border with Venezuela since the end of 2020. In 2022, both groups began a territorial dispute in the department of Bolívar, after their non-aggression pact, established in 2019, collapsed.
In parts of Antioquia, such as the north and Bajo Cauca, the AGC has clashed with ex-FARC Mafia factions, dissident groups of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), and the ELN over a strategic area connecting Antioquia to the Caribbean coast.
In the northern department of Magdalena, Chiquito Malo’s men have been going head-to-head with the Pachenca, also known as the Conquering Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra (Autodefensas Conquistadoras de la Sierra), since 2019 in order to exert more control over drug trafficking in northern Colombia.
Internally, Chiquito Malo has faced rebellion and dissent. Since assuming the group’s leadership after Otoniel’s arrest, he faced a growing rivalry with Wilmer Antonio Giraldo Quiroz, alias “Siopas,” another high-ranking member of the AGC and self-proclaimed heir to Otoniel’s empire. The power struggle ended with Siopas’ murder in early 2023 after it was discovered that he was allegedly planning to split from the AGC in Antioquia.
Chiquito Malo inherited an atomized structure with a history of betrayals and internal divisions, which he will have to circumvent if he wants to remain relevant in Colombia’s ever-shifting criminal landscape.
Externally, criminal enemies and the Colombian and US governments have their eye on the group, with the latter focused on dismantling the criminal structure.
As Otoniel’s successor, Chiquito Malo was a top target as soon as he assumed leadership of the AGC. A reward of five billion pesos, more than $1 million, has been posted for information leading to his whereabouts.
After Gustavo Petro assumed Colombia’s presidency, Chiquito Malo’s AGC expressed its willingness to join Petro’s Total Peace initiative, which seeks to put an end to Colombia’s armed conflict by negotiating with the country’s armed and criminal groups. However, peace talks have stalled, mainly due to the AGC’s request for political recognition, which goes against the government’s offer of a judicial process (proceso de sometimiento).
In this context, internal rifts in the AGC came to light. Siopas, one of the group’s top members, was murdered in early 2023, allegedly on Chiquito Malo’s orders, after he was suspected of planning to form a dissident faction in northern Antioquia in order to avoid negotiating with the government.
The future of Chiquito Malo and the AGC in president Petro’s Total Peace is uncertain. However, the group has tried to take advantage of the process, ramping up the pressure on their main rivals — who have advanced in peace negotiations with the government — to encroach in their territory in areas that are strategic for criminal economies like drug trafficking and illegal mining.
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