HomeColombiaPaisas
COLOMBIA

Paisas

COLOMBIA GROUPS / LATEST UPDATE 2017-03-10 03:31:38 EN

The Paisas first emerged as a rural militia that grew out of the demobilized AUC paramilitary army, with links to the Oficina de Envigado, but later became an independent drug trafficking organization. The group has lost power and relevance due to infighting within its ranks, as well as a brutal feud with competitor groups over access to smuggling routes to Colombia’s coasts. Many key members have defected to the rival Urabeños, and it is arguable whether the Paisas still exist as a significant force.

History

Like many of its counterparts, the Paisas’ core was made up of remnants of the paramilitary groups that demobilized during a peace process with the government between 2004 and 2006. “Paisa” is the nickname typically used for locals from Antioquia, and the group’s stronghold was concentrated in that province. One-time kingpin of the Medellin underworld Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” used to maintain groups of urban thugs and ex-paramilitaries in the countryside to battle guerrilla forces, control drug trafficking routes and occasionally jostle with rival paramilitary leaders like Daniel Rendon, alias “Don Mario.”

Don Berna’s network was called the Oficina de Envigado. Following Don Berna’s extradition in 2008, the rural militia broke away from the Oficina and began launching increasingly furious offensives against Don Mario’s forces, who were later dubbed the Urabeños, after their heartland in the region of Urabá. The Paisas and the Urabeños continue to clash even after Don Mario’s arrest in 2008.

The Paisas recruited mostly from paramilitary soldiers that demobilized between 2004-2006, and their modus operandi was similar to that of a paramilitary group. Working in mostly small villages and towns, they try and control the flow of drugs to the coast, where they sell them on to organizations that have larger infrastructures and can move drugs internationally. Authorities believe this includes Mexican criminal syndicate the Zetas. They also control “micro-trafficking” in areas under their command, as well as extorting local businesses and farms.

The Paisas were known for being ruthless, eliminating their enemies and, at times, families of their enemies in an attempt to instill fear. The group relied on many young hitmen who cut their teeth in the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC). Within this context, the Paisas set their sights on destroying the Urabeños at all costs and had reached agreements with other drug trafficking groups, among them fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).

Leadership

The Paisas leadership originally consisted of former mid-level commanders of the AUC paramilitary network. However, many of the group’s top leaders were killed or captured.

The group has also been hit by a wave of defections. Commander Angel de Jesus Pacheco Chanci, alias “Sebastian,” left to join the Rastrojos in 2009, before being murdered by his own bodyguards in July 2011. His faction of the Paisas, working alongside the Rastrojos, was believed to supply drugs to the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas.

The death of another Paisas commander, Cesar Augusto Torres Lujan, alias “Mono Vides,” in October provoked more desertions. His allies Rafael Alvarez Piñeda, alias “Chepe,” and German Bustos Alarcon, alias “El Puma,” (captured in September 2011) left to join the Urabeños. They were recruited by a former colleague from the AUC’s Mineros Bloc, Roberto Vargas Gutierrez, alias “Gavilan.” There is currently no visible leadership other than local leaders in regions where the Paisas have operations.

Geography

At the height of its power, the group operated in seven departments, concentrated in Colombia’s rural northwest. In 2009, homicide rates skyrocketed in the northern half of Antioquia due to clashes between the Paisas and rival gangs like the Rastrojos, the Urabeños and the Aguilas Negras. This hotly contested region is a key corridor for cocaine traffickers and coca growers, as it connects to both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

Since 2018, the Ombudsman’s Office has warned about the presence of Los Paises in Bogota and Soacha, where the group has concentrated its activities primarily on drug distribution and the recruitment of minors to strengthen its structure. The departments of Huila and Tolima have also seen a growth in criminal activities related to the organization. 

Allies and Enemies

The Paisas are enemies with the Urabeños, and fight the group for control and influence over drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the Medellin area.

Prospects

The Paisas have been weakened by desertions and the arrests of its leaders. Additionally, the group has experienced setbacks in confronting the rivals group, the Urabeños, which have proved to be a much stronger organization. The group’s decline has led to activities focused on controlling microtrafficking, especially in urban and municipal environments, with few opportunities for growth.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 23 APR 2021

The Libertadores del Vichada are a splinter group of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) based in…

DON BERNA / 4 OCT 2013

The Medellin mafia, fragmented through bitter infighting, has called a truce and made an agreement with their rivals the Urabeños,…

AUC / 9 AUG 2016

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…