HomeNewsAnalysisLocal Drug Gang 'Sold' the Urabeños Access to Colombia's Pacific
ANALYSIS

Local Drug Gang 'Sold' the Urabeños Access to Colombia's Pacific

COLOMBIA / 13 NOV 2012 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

A new report by Cali-based newspaper El Pais details how the decimated remnants of the Norte del Valle Cartel decided to "sell" their province, home to Colombia's third-largest city and its most important Pacific port, to outsider group the Urabeños.

The Urabeños, poised to become Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking organization, are based primarily along the northern Caribbean coast. The most strategic department in Colombia's Pacific southwest -- Valle del Cauca -- has traditionally been controlled by a handful of homegrown groups: the Cali Cartel in the 1980s, the Norte del Valle Cartel in the late 1990s, and the Rastrojos in the mid to late 2000s. 

However, the Urabeños have been fighting the Rastrojos for a foothold in Valle del Cauca and its capital, Cali, since spring 2011. This caused violence in the region to spike and helped make Cali the country's most violent city, with a murder rate of 75 homicides per 100,000 residents.

As El Pais reports, the Urabeños were only able to properly enter Valle del Cauca at the invitation of another local drug trafficking organization: the Machos, a former armed wing of the Norte del Valle Cartel. Once responsible for shipping some $10 billion worth of cocaine to the United States, the Machos are now a fractured and weakened organization, especially after the surrender of their leader last year. According to El Pais, they now have no more than 35 members, led by an alias "Chicho," and are mainly concentrated on running extortion schemes in Valle del Cauca's rural, poorer areas. 

Chicho approached the Urabeños in August 2011 and offered to sell them the Valle del Cauca plaza, in exchange for support for the remnants of the Machos. Included in the deal was a lucrative drug trafficking route that the Machos controlled, stretching from Colombia's Pacific coast to Panama and Honduras. When the Urabeños agreed, the Machos essentially became part of the organization; they began calling themselves the "Urabeños," and gained access to the group's money, weapons, and brand name. The Urabeños, meanwhile, gained an opportunity to siphon territory away from their biggest rivals, the Rastrojos. They were able to strengthen their position along Colombia's Pacific coast, one of the country's most strategically important regions for the international export of cocaine.

The Urabeños are now present in nine of Valle del Cauca's 42 municipalities and are responsible for an upsurge in violence across the department, as they seek to consolidate their control and eliminate any suspected collaborators with the Rastrojos. Northern municipalities are now reporting more violent deaths and mutilations, in which the bodies are destroyed with machetes, as the Urabeños seek to intimidate the local population. 

As El Pais details, the Urabeños were only able to enter Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca's second-most important city and its biggest port) at the behest of another local interest group. Unlicensed miners reportedly asked the Urabeños to protect them from being extorted and harassed by a local organization. The Urabeños agreed to make a play for Buenaventura, one of Colombia's primary exit points for cocaine shipments, and killed the local organization's leader on October 6. This sparked a bloody gang war in Buenaventura, with at least 50 people killed in just over a month. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The El Pais report sheds light on a core part of the Urabeños' strategy: only entering a region far from their home base along the Caribbean if they can rely on the support networks already built up there by a local, more vulnerable group. This was demonstrated in Colombia's second-largest city, Medellin, where the Urabeños were able to establish a foothold after a local mob leader, alias "Valenciano," sold off part of his organization. Additionally, the Urabeños were able to make a bid for Cali by allying themselves with a former member of the Cali Cartel, who is engaged in a violent struggle with the Rastrojos over control of the city

Another key element of the Urabeños' modus operandi is recruiting local youths and urban street gangs to do their bidding, as confirmed by the El Pais article. The more elite recruits -- those in charge of logistics, or overseeing the group's larger economic and military strategy -- tend to be from the group's core, many of them former paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). But the group's foot soldiers are primarily local youths, who are given a salary and an opportunity to act in the Urabeños' feared brand name. 

The Urabeños' attempt to drain territory and resources from the Rastrojos goes against a truce reportedly brokered between the two groups earlier this year. As part of the agreement, the Urabeños agreed to respect the Rastrojos' hegemony in southwest Colombia. As the current tide of violence in Valle del Cauca suggests, the agreement appears to have fallen through. What seems clear is that with the Rastrojos so badly weakened, and with the Urabeños well-versed in co-opting local organizations in order to continue their expansion, Colombia's Pacific Southwest could soon see a changing of the guard.  

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 / 5 NOV 2014

Colombia's Ombudsman's Office warns that the country's narco-paramilitary groups are expanding, suggesting that these organizations could be lining themselves up…

AUC / 15 SEP 2021

Dozens of properties and other assets seized from Memo Fantasma, one of Colombia’s foremost drug traffickers, will be used to…

COLOMBIA / 5 OCT 2021

Colombia’s top military commander says 40 percent of ELN and ex-FARC fighters operate in Venezuela, a figure that must be…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…

THE ORGANIZATION

Coverage of Fallen Paraguay Prosecutor Makes Headlines

20 MAY 2022

The murder of leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, while on honeymoon in Colombia, has drawn attention to the evolution of organized crime in Paraguay. While 17 people have been arrested…