HomeNewsAnalysisColombia Captures Last High-Profile Rastrojos Leader
ANALYSIS

Colombia Captures Last High-Profile Rastrojos Leader

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

The capture of the only remaining leader signaled as a possible inheritor of the Rastrojos is another sign that the Colombian drug trafficking organization may be on the verge of unraveling. 

On November 9, Colombia’s judicial police (DIJIN) arrested Jose Leonardo Hortua Blandon, alias “Mascota,” in the central department of Risaralda. Mascota had taken over the Rastrojos faction once headed by Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo” following Rastrojo’s arrest in June.

According to National Police Director Jose Roberto Leon Riaño, Mascota was apparently hosting a major internal meeting — the police chief referred to it as a “mafioso summit”— at the time of his arrest. His two right-hand men, known as “Picante” and “Chinga,” were also arrested during the operation, along with 22 other members of the Rastrojos.  Officials seized an array of communications equipment, some $2,700 in cash, 11 vehicles, and an unspecified number of firearms.

Mascota is believed to be the group’s main contact with Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel. He narrowly avoided capture on October 2, when Colombian authorities arrested four members of the Rastrojos in Bogota, while they were planning a meeting with Sinaloa Cartel representatives in Mexico City.

El Tiempo reports that Mascota had previously been arrested in August 2010 after he sought treatment for a gunshot wound in the southwestern department of Cauca. At the time, officials believed that he had been injured in a shootout with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, but it later emerged that he had been shot by an ex-girlfriend. A judge released him hours after his arrest for health reasons, and Mascota took the opportunity to escape.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mascota’s arrest is an indication that the Colombian government is pressing forward with its efforts to dismantle the Rastrojos, while the group is still reeling from the capture and surrender of its top leadership. Following the May surrender of Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” the June arrest of Diego Rastrojo and the October surrender of Luis Enrique Calle Serna, there appears to be no one left who is capable of uniting the organization. Mascota was the only figure police named as a potential leader, and even then his ability to head the organization as a whole was tenuous at best, as he only controlled one faction of the group.

In response to this power vacuum, the Rastrojos have been hit by a wave of desertions, with low-level leaders and foot soldiers defecting to other, stronger groups. Police say the group has lost 20 percent of its members in the past two years, and had just 1,600 fighters as of October. 

The capture of Mascota comes just days after the government blamed the gang for the massacre of 10 farm laborers in Antioquia department, a region where virtually all of Colombia’s armed groups — the Rastrojos, the Urabeños, the Medellin-based Oficina de Envigado — are fighting for control. While the official narrative linking the Rastrojos to the Antioquia killings is suspect, the government has vowed to pursue those directly responsible for the incident. Still, it is unlikely that Mascota’s arrest was prompted directly by the massacre. 

Law enforcement’s continued harassment of the Rastrojos raises the question of whether Colombia has chosen to pursue a strategy similar to that of the Mexican government: prioritizing the takedown of one group above all others. In Mexico’s case, the government chose to focus its security strategy on the Zetas in response to the group’s use of brutal violence. In Colombia, it is less clear that this is the case: while the Rastrojos have sustained heavy losses, so has virtually every other criminal organization in the country.

The loss of Mascota makes the Rastrojos’ future even more uncertain. With the organization in flux, it becomes more unlikely that Mexican criminal organizations will continue to partner with the Rastrojos in the cocaine trade. With the group’s business connections at risk and with no viable leader waiting in the wings, it becomes ever more unlikely that the Rastrojos will be able to rebuild their criminal empire.  

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 / 11 NOV 2011

"A Cautionary Tale: Plan Colombia's Lessons for Mexico and Beyond," uses Colombia's lesson-learned and tries to apply them to the…

COLOMBIA / 27 JAN 2016

Venezuela's capital city of Caracas has reportedly overtaken Honduras' San Pedro Sula to become the most violent city in the…

COLOMBIA / 14 JUL 2020

Authorities in Colombia have captured several Venezuelan gang members, alarming officials who say that the groups are playing out rivalries…

Institutional Content

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

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. …