Ricardo Abel Ayala Orrego, alias "Cabuyo," was the leader of the ex-FARC Mafia's 36th Front in the northwestern department of Antioquia.
Ayala Orrego gained relevance after the implementation of the peace process between the government and the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). He was part of the FARC’s Iván Ríos Bloc but he refused to demobilize, preferring instead to lead the 36th Front of the ex-FARC Mafia, dedicated to drug trafficking and illegal gold mining.
About 50 armed men allegedly reported to Ayala Orrego in the municipalities of Ituango, Valdivia, Campamento and Tarazá in the north of Antioquia. This region has a high number of coca plantations and illegal mines, as well as being a nerve center for drug routes out of Colombia through the Urabá Gulf and the Colombian Pacific. He was killed in an army operation in Barbosa, Antioquia in June 2022.
Cabuyo joined the FARC’s 36th Front in 2010, becoming a member of what was considered to be the most active front within the Iván Ríos Bloc.
He reportedly began as an active militiaman in the municipality of Campamento, Antioquia. before becoming a foot soldier within the 36th Front's Gerardo Torres company in 2011, providing security around coca crops and illegal mines. In 2015, he took on more responsibilities within the 36th Front, such as managing drug trafficking money, conducting select contract killings and recruiting new members.
During the peace negotiations between the FARC and the government of Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, Ayala Orrego initially took part in the demobilization efforts. He handed over his weapons in the village of La Plancha in Anorí, Antioquia before being appointed by the FARC to take part in demining efforts in the village of Orejón de Briceño, Antioquia.
However, he appears to have quickly abandoned the peace process and returned to his criminal ways. Ayala Orrego's name next appeared in January 2018, when he reportedly extorted businesses associated with the Hidroituango hydroelectric project located along the Cauca River, especially in the municipalities of Briceño and Ituango.
He was also allegedly involved in the murders of three geologists from the Canadian multinational Continental Gold in the village of Ochalí, in the municipality of Yarumal Antioquia, on September 19, 2018. After this incident, the Colombian military increased its offensives against the ex-FARC Mafia's 36th Front.
Until his death, Cabuyo was one of the most sought after criminals in Colombia, with authorities offering 200 million pesos ($9 million) for information leading to his capture.
Ayala Orrego was recognized as the principal military leader of the ex–FARC Mafia in northern Antioquia and Bajo Cauca.
Under the command of Cabuyo, the 36th Front fought the Urabeños over territorial control and criminal economies in the region since the end of 2017, resulting in an increase in homicides and forced displacements in the region.
In 2019, Yamir Arles Moreno, a key witness in legal proceedings brought against Cabuyo by the Attorney General's Office, was kidnapped and is believed to be dead.
Additionally, Cabuyo controlled much of the illegal gold mining in northern Antioquia, a department in which 80 percent of the gold is extracted illegally, according to Colombia's Comptroller's Office.
In April 2021, media reports circulated that Cabuyo had been killed in February of that year in a clash with the country's armed forces, but he was later found to have only been injured. He was, however, finally killed in June 2022.
Cabuyo began to expand his influence over the municipalities of Ituango, Valdivia and Briceño in northern Antioquia by extorting a number of multinational energy companies.
Similarly, he maintained a presence in the Paramillo Massif, disputing the routes that facilitate drug trafficking from Bajo Cauca in Antioquia to the Gulf of Urabá.
Cabuyo was spotted no several occasions in northeastern Antioquia, seemingly looking to find new recruits around the municipality of Anorí, likely because his front was being weakened by continued military operations and the arrests of some of his collaborators.
Allies and Enemies
Cabuyo maintained his position in Antioquia’s criminal landscape through a careful network of alliances. His most important alliances were with Los Caparrapos and the ELN, which shared his objective of expelling the Urabeños from Bajo Cauca and the Paramillo Massif; a strategic point for the production and transport of coca paste.
Meanwhile, the 36th Front also maintains a close alliance with the 18th Front of the ex-FARC Mafia, a structure led by Erlison Echavarría, alias “Ramiro." It also has ties with ex–FARC Mafia structures led by Iván Márquez, although this does not seem to have materialized into direct military support.
Cabuyo’s relationships within the criminal underworld are not limited to the north of Antioquia in terms of alliances. In the Aburrá Valley, which includes the city of Medellín, the 36th Front has exchanged weapons for drugs with groups including the Pachelly, El Mesa and El Tapón.
Cabuyo’s main enemies in the criminal underworld were the Urabeños, although he was also targeted by 7th Division of Colombia's national army, which has led repeated military operations against the 36th Front.
Cabuyo’s military capacity in the northern part of Antioquia was reduced by operations by military forces and the conflict in Bajo Cauca and the northern part of the department. Now, following his death, the 36th Front will likely face new attempts by the Urabeños to erase them from the criminal map in northern Antioquia, while army operations will undoubtedly continue to target what is left of the front.
With his death, the 18th Front lost a key ally in its efforts to keep the Urabeños out of its territory, and its leader, alias “Ramiro,” is likely to become the armed forces' new high-value target in the area.