Reports about the prolonged visit of the son of alleged Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán to Colombia’s city of Medellín have revealed new details about the growing influence of Mexico’s cartels in the city and the cocaine business.
An investigation published by Mexican magazine Proceso revealed that Alfredo Guzmán Salazar -- one of El Chapo’s sons -- lived in Medellín for several months in 2016. The report says that Guzmán Salazar was there for tourism and business under the protection of La Terraza, one of the most powerful criminal gangs in the city. The gang is under the command of the Oficina de Envigado, a mafia group that brings together most of Medellín’s underworld.
Proceso’s investigation indicates that Guzmán Salazar, protected by a contingent of at least 12 men that would have been supplied by La Terraza, stayed in several apartments located in the most exclusive sectors of the city, which he traveled to in luxurious armored trucks.
"El Charro,” as he was also known, is said to have even taken advantage of his passage through the city to hold several meetings with businessmen, with whom he would have agreed to launder drug trafficking proceeds, an informant for Colombian and US security agencies told Proceso.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Chapo
El Chapo's son reportedly had at least two cocaine laboratories in rural Medellín under his command and allegedly had the ability to coordinate the shipment of up to 400 kilograms of cocaine per week to Mexico from Colombia’s Pacific port of Buenaventura.
In June of this year, an intelligence report published by El Tiempo revealed that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) even asked Colombian authorities to investigate the presence of one of El Chapo’s sons in the country.
Although federal accusations in the United States link Guzmán Salazar to the trafficking of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine since at least 2005, it was not until September 2018 that the DEA included him in its list of the 10 most-wanted fugitives.
InSight Crime Analysis
Details about the visit of El Chapo's son to Medellín add to a series of reports about the abrupt increase of power of Mexican organizations in Colombia.
Relations between the Oficina de Envigado and the Mexican cartels date back at least a decade. The relationship reflects the broader, deeper changes involving the internal dynamics of the Colombian conflict, the international cocaine trade and Mexico’s criminal landscape.
The Medellin Cartel established the Oficina de Envigado in the 1980s to help the cartel collect debts. After the death of Pablo Escobar, control passed to Diego Fernando Murillo, alias "Don Berna," a prominent drug trafficker and paramilitary leader with strong ties to Colombia’s political, business and military elites.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Oficina de Envigado
In 2008, Don Berna’s extradition to the United States created a power vacuum. This left many drug trafficking routes available, and several Colombian groups, such as the Urabeños and some factions within the Oficina de Envigado, sought to increase their power.
Some of the leaders of these structures began to dispute control of these drug export routes and began to develop links with Mexican groups such as Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel.
This instability was reflected in a significant decrease in the flow of cocaine that Mexicans were receiving. This is why they decided to take a more direct role in the trade by increasing their presence in Colombia.
The peace agreement signed between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) guerrilla group and the government in 2016, the capture of some top members of the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado, as well as score-settling between rival criminal groups, among others things, triggered a reorganization of Colombia’s criminal landscape and created new opportunities for Mexican groups.
According to a military intelligence report that El Tiempo had access to, in an attempt to increase profits and control over trade, Mexican cartels "bought criminal gangs and residual FARC groups to control coca production [...]. They need territorial control and they are acquiring it very quickly through Colombian organizations that work for them."
Groups like La Terraza seem to be adapting to this new panorama. Some of the Oficina de Envigado’s structures would even be working for the Sinaloa Cartel, and others for its rival, the Jalisco Cartel — New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNJ), according to two official sources who spoke with InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity.
Although up to now the authorities have not publicly attributed outbreaks of violence in Medellín to struggles between Mexican cartels (unlike other parts of the country), some recent cases of kidnappings, torture and disappearances in the city do seem to correspond with the modus operandi and the areas that these groups currently control, according to these sources.
At the moment, La Terraza's criminal income is reportedly around $300,000 per month, not an insignificant sum of money, but insignificant compared to the profits of the Mexican groups that would be keeping the largest portion of the profits from the cocaine trade, and that also have the ability to move hundreds (and probably thousands) of tons of the drug per year. In 2017, Colombia produced almost 1,400 metric tons of cocaine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The wholesale price of a single ton of cocaine is around $30 million in the United States.
The strategy of the Mexican groups to continue increasing their participation and control over the cocaine trade also seems to include the cooptation of local institutions through the support of groups linked to the Oficina de Envigado.
Intelligence sources from the Colombian Police who spoke with Proceso said they are investigating whether Guzmán Salazar learned that authorities were following him through official information that the Oficina de Envigado had access to.