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Caparros

AUC / LATEST UPDATE JUNE 2, 2021 EN

The Caparros, also known as the Virgilio Peralta Arenas Front and the Caparrapos, is a criminal gang that is heavily involved in drug trafficking in Colombia’s Antioquia and Córdoba departments.

Previously seen as a part of the Urabeños, the criminal group started a dispute with its former partners for the control of drug trafficking and illegal gold mining in northwestern Colombia.

After the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) former 18th and 36th Fronts, the Caparros carved out a presence in Bajo Cauca in Antioquia, especially in the municipalities of Tarazá, Cáceres, Caucasia and El Bagre, as well as in southern Córdoba in the municipalities of San José de Uré, Montelíbano and Pueblo Nuevo. They have created strategic, though fragile, localized alliances with elements of the ex-FARC Mafia and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) guerrillas.

In June 2021, the Colombian government declared that the Caparros had been completely dismantled but this may prove to be far too optimistic a judgment, given the country's history of criminal recycling.

History

There are two versions about the creation of the Caparros. The first states that, in 1996, Carlos Mario Jiménez Naranjo, alias “Macaco,” brought together a group of people linked to paramilitary groups in Caparrapí, Cundinamarca, and created the Caparros. But a second version comes from an interview carried out by El Colombiano with a Caparros commander known as alias “40”, in which he states that the group is the successor of the Mineros Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC).

As part of the expansion of paramilitary groups seen in the 2000s, the AUC were fighting for control over strategic such as Segovia, Zaragoza, Tarazá and El Bagre in Antioquia, San José de Uré in Córdoba, and Simití in Bolívar. Among the ranks of the AUC's Mineros Bloc, Virgilio Peralta Arenas, alias “Víctor Caparrapo,” who hailed from Caparrapí, rapidly gained in power. After the AUC demobilized in 2006, the Caparros were founded from dissident elements that refused to disarm, mostly made up of members of the former Mineros Bloc.

SEE ALSO: AUC News and Profile

But the Caparros believed strength lay in unity. They joined the recently created the Urabeños in 2009, which had also managed an alliance with the Paisas. Likewise, they reached a tacit agreement with the FARC, based on a geographical delimitation that would allow all criminal actors to trafficking corridors for weapons, chemical inputs, coca paste, cocaine and precious metals.

The Caparros were renamed the Virgilio Peralta Arena Front as part of the Urabeños, although they maintained territorial and criminal autonomy, including control of extortion, illegal mining and cocaine production, according to risk reports from the Colombia Ombudsman’s Office.

However, the criminal scenario of Bajo Cauca and southern Córdoba has changed once again with the beginning of the FARC demobilization in 2017 and the constant blows to the Urabeños from Operations Agamemnon I and II.

The Caparros were able to expand to territories left by the 18th and 36th Fronts of the former FARC guerrilla. This was a process that saw the group gradually withdraw from the Urabeños and begin a dispute for territorial control, beginning in early 2017.

Since late 2016, the Urabeños had tried to expand from west to eastern Antioquia, especially to Ituango and later to Valdivia and Yarumal. They recruited young people from Medellín, set up access restrictions and distributed pamphlets in the region.

      SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile

Simultaneously, in Cáceres, Antioquia and Tarazá, Córdoba, the group entered armed conflict with the Julio Cesar Vargas Front of the Urabeños as the latter sought to gain full control of coca processing areas and trafficking routes, formerly assigned to the Caparros and the Paisas. For their part, the Caparros sought to sell the rights to the territory assigned to them by the Urabeños to a chieftain of the Oficina de Envigado.

The Caparros sought to prosper through alliances, such as with the Paisas and with elements of the ex-FARC mafia's 18th Front, in municipalities such as Puerto Libertador in Córdoba, from early 2018. Similarly, they established a partnership with Ricardo Abel Ayala, alias “Cabuyo,” chief of the 36th Front dissidents, through which they established regulations for the price and purchase of coca paste in Briceño and Valdivia.

In order to continue gathering strength in Bajo Cauca, the Caparros also managed a temporary alliance with the ELN guerrilla group, as reported by local communities who witnessed the two groups carrying out joint military operations.

On these grounds, the Caparros became one of the major criminal groups in the region. They grew through their alliances, engaging drug trafficking, extortion and even forced recruitment of minors, allowing them to currently count with at least 450 members.

Criminal Activities

The Caparros are involved in all stages of drug trafficking in the Antioquia and Córdoba departments. In the Urabá subregion, they control coca plantations, its transformation into cocaine and its shipping to international markets. According to official government data, the group currently controls up to 12,000 hectares of coca leaf plantations.

The group is also involved in illegal mining, and they have muscled into this trade in the municipalities of Caucasia and Bagre, known for their long mining tradition. The criminal group is reported to have been drawing a monthly minimum profit of $725,000, from just one rural area of El Bagre.

Leadership and Structure

José Horacio Abello, alias “Seis-Siete,” was the highest commander of the Caparros until his capture in March 2017. He was replaced by Emiliano Alcides Osorio Maceas, alias “Pilatos” or “Caín.”

Cain was killed by security forces in November 2020, leaving Robinson Gil Tapias, alias “Flechas,” as the new head of the group.

However, Flechas did not last long as he was also killed during an army raid in the municipality of Cáceres in Antioquianto de Piamonte, municipio de Cáceres en Antioquia.

The Caparros are divided into three fronts: the Elmer Ordoñez Beltrán; the Carlos Mario Tabares, which had been led by Flechas, and the Norberto Olivares Front, led by Jhon Freddy Miranda, alias el “Evangélico."

Other senior members of the group include “El Negro Romaña,” who is a high-ranking commander and in charge of extortion and alias "La Paisa," allegedly overseeing logistics and microtrafficking.

Geography

Since their beginnings, the Caparros have exerted influence in the area of Bajo Cauca in Antioquia. They currently have a presence in the municipalities of Cáceres, Tarazá and Caucasia also in Antioquia. The withdrawal of the FARC, along with the Caparros’ criminal alliances, allowed them to extend to Yarumales, Valdivia, Briceño, El Bagre, and Nechí in northern Antioquia; and Puerto Libertador and San José de Uré, in southern Córdoba.

Allies and Enemies

Presently, the Caparros are associated with the Paisas. The main objective of the alliance is to control the trafficking corridor connecting the center of the country with the coast of Córdoba, Sucre and the Gulf of Urabá. They also have alliances with the ex-FARC Mafia’s 18th and 36th Fronts, as well as with the ELN, although these seem to be temporary in nature, based on accomplishing specific mutually beneficial goals.

SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile

On the other hand, the primary enemies of the Caparros are the Urabeños: the Julio César Vargas Front, which they fight in the rural area of Cáceres; the Francisco Morelos Peñate Front, with whom they dispute the municipality of Caucasia; and the Rubén Darío Ávila Front in the north of Tarazá around the borders of San José de Uré in Córdoba and Ituango in Antioquía.

Prospects

The Caparros have proven to be highly adaptable, willing to make alliances with new groups and blend within larger structures. Thanks to this, they managed to survive after the demobilization of the AUC and seem to have used the same strategy when the Urabeños weakened somewhat.

Their knowledge of specific terrain and drug trafficking routes has allowed the Caparros to maintain control of strategic areas of Antioquia. However, this will not come at a low cost: the armed conflict with the Urabeños shows no sign of abating.

The recent losses of Cain and Flechas at the hands of Colombian authorities leave the group in a vulnerable position.

In June 2021, the Colombian government declared that the Caparros had been completely dismantled but this may prove to be far too optimistic a judgment, given the country's history of criminal recycling.

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