HomeNewsAnalysisNarco’s Capture Highlights Shifting Alliances Among Colombian Gangs
ANALYSIS

Narco's Capture Highlights Shifting Alliances Among Colombian Gangs

COLOMBIA / 25 SEP 2012 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

The arrest of a leader of Colombian gang the Paisas reveals the fast-changing dynamics of the drug conflict, in which gangs change names and sides constantly in the shifting world of narcotics trafficking.

Police announced the arrest of German Bustos Alarcon, alias “El Puma,” one of the most wanted criminals in Colombia’s Antioquia province, who had a 250 million peso (about $140,000) reward on his head. In 2011, he was indicted by a US court in the Southern District of Florida for drug trafficking, alongside powerful figures like Diego Perez Henao, the now-captured leader of the Rastrojos. This was part of the first set of indictments issued by the only prosecution unit set up in the United States to target the Colombian drug trafficking groups known as “criminal bands” (bandas criminales - BACRIM).

Puma was arrested in the subregion known as Bajo Cauca, the center of the Paisas’ operations, and one of the areas most hotly contested by Colombia’s organized criminal groups. Much of the area was once controlled by factions of paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). But after the AUC officially demobilized in 2006, Bajo Cauca turned into a battleground between groups made up former paramilitary fighters, which the government has labeled BACRIMs. Almost all of Colombia’s BACRIMs -- the Urabeños, the Rastrojos, the Paisas, and to some extent the Oficina de Envigado -- have a presence in Bajo Cauca.

InSight Crime Analysis

In many ways, Puma is representative of the kind of criminal actor now driving Colombia’s conflict. He was able to work uninterrupted for generations of Colombian criminal groups, changing his allegiances many times.

Puma started out as a mid-level commander in the AUC’s Mineros Bloc, under the command of paramilitary leader Ramiro “Cuco” Vanoy. He was among the 2,789 paramilitaries who demobilized from this bloc in January 2006.

But like hundreds of other mid-level paramilitary commanders who went through the motions of demobilization, only to establish new criminal organizations under different names, Puma never truly left the drug trade. Along with other former members of the Mineros Bloc, he enlisted in the Paisas, an organization dedicated to trafficking cocaine through Bajo Cauca. This recycling of former AUC members into the BACRIMs is one of the main drivers of Colombia's drug conflict. 

The Paisas fought a bloody war with the Rastrojos and the Urabeños in Bajo Cauca between 2008 and 2010. This conflict is, again, representative of how Colombia's drug war is now being fought between neo-paramilitary successor groups. It involved many former mid-level AUC commanders who never fully demobilized, with a constantly switching set of alliances between rival groups. Between 2008 and 2010, for example, the Paisas fought against the Urabeños in Bajo Cauca and were allied with the Rastrojos. But after the death of Paisa leader Cesar Augusto Torres Lujan, alias "Mono Vides," in October 2010, the Paisas switched sides, and worked alongside the Urabeños in Bajo Cauca. However, these highly regionalized alliances are not enforced on a national level, as they were during the era of the AUC.

Even with Puma captured, the Paisas can still rely on Rafael Alvarez Piñeda, alias "Chepe," another demobilized member of the Mineros Bloc, to hold the group together. While Mono Vides' death apparently had the effect of switching Bajo Cauca's conflict dynamics around by 180 degrees, it is unlikely that El Puma's exit will cause a similar shift in the Paisas-Urabeños partnership, as the Urabeños move to become the most powerful drug smuggling network in Colombia.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 2 MAY 2016

Colombian authorities have detained and deported one of Peru's most sought-after criminal suspects, signaling a potential shake-up in the Peruvian…

COCAINE / 12 OCT 2020

A new major report about drug trafficking and consumption in Europe has provided key insights into how a record production…

COLOMBIA / 18 FEB 2014

Guatemala has extradited a woman reported to have served as a link between Colombia's rebels and international drug trafficking organizations,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Combating Environmental Crime in Colombia

15 JUN 2021

InSight Crime presented findings from an investigation into the main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Collaborating on Citizen Security Initiatives

8 JUN 2021

Co-director Steven Dudley worked with Chemonics, a DC-based development firm, to analyze the organization’s citizen security programs in Mexico.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Deepens Its Connections with Universities

31 MAY 2021

A partnership with the University for Peace will complement InSight Crime’s research methodology and expertise on Costa Rica.

THE ORGANIZATION

With Support from USAID, InSight Crime Will Investigate Organized Crime in Haiti

31 MAY 2021

The project will seek to map out Haiti's principal criminal economies, profile the specific groups and actors, and detail their links to elements of the state.

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.