The arrest of crime boss “El Contador,” who is accused of being one of Colombia’s most powerful traffickers, could further stoke violence in Nariño, a coca-rich department.
On February 21, President Iván Duque announced the arrest of José Albeiro Arrigui, alias “El Contador.” An elite police unit captured Arrigui at an encampment in jungle region of the Caquetá department.
Arrigui allegedly financed cocaine production and controlled cocaine trafficking in the Pacific municipality of Tumaco in Nariño, Colombia’s greatest coca-growing region. He also is accused of attacking demobilized members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
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It is believed that Contador moved between the small towns of Vaquerio, Sabaleta, Llorente and Caunapi in Tumaco, and that his group, Los Contadores, is responsible for the forced displacement of Awá Indigenous communities in this region, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia – ONIC).
He also allegedly has links to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, whose emissaries have visited Tumaco to negotiate drug shipments and tp ensure the quality of the cocaine, according to International Crisis Group.
Prior to running his own group and before the signing of the 2016 FARC peace agreement, Contador was reportedly instrumental to the drug trafficking business of the FARC’s Daniel Aldana Mobile Column and 29th Front, investigators from the Attorney General’s Office told El Tiempo.
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Contador stands out for taking advantage of alliances to position himself as a major player in the criminal landscape of a post-FARC Colombia, remaining in the shadows and securing his power base in Nariño.
Allegedly financed by the Sinaloa Cartel, Contador made friends fast in drug trafficking circles. It is alleged that he first funded Yeison Segura Mina, alias “Don Y,” the founder of the group Gente del Orden, which later became the United Guerrillas of the Pacific (Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico – GUP), a FARC dissident group.
Later, Contador formed an alliance with Mario Cabezas, alias “Mario Lata,” a former member of the FARC and Los Rastrojos drug gang, International Crisis Group reported. This alliance provided Contador armed men, as Mario Lata convinced a local GUP commander to join them and started to recruit with the promise of better salaries.
This was the origin of Los Contadores, as his army is known. The crime group currently stands at about 400 men, according to public security information obtained by El Tiempo.
Contador also is suspected of providing cash to Walter Patricio Arizala, alias “Guacho,” the leader of the Oliver Sinisterra Front (FOS), which operates on the Colombia-Ecuador border. In turn, Guacho provided passage of drug shipments to the Pacific Ocean through territory under his control in Nariño.
After Guacho’s killing by the Colombian military in December 2018, FOS lost strategic territories to Los Contadores, including Llorente, Alto Mira and Frontera, located in south Tumaco.
The fight between the two groups continues to this day in the rural area of Tumaco, though a non-aggression pact exists between them in the urban areas.
The security situation in Nariño has now been further complicated by a breakaway faction of Guacho’s group that calls itself the Comandante Alfonso Cano Western Bloc and looks to snatch control of towns around Tumaco, including Olaya Herrera, Magüí Payán and Roberto Payán. In January 2020, it was reported that at least 1,600 individuals were forcibly displaced in the region.
Contador’s removal will likely only incite more violence as these groups battle for the territory formerly under his control.
*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the arrest of José Albeiro Arrigui, alias “Contador,” on February 21.