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 / 13 MAY 2015

Colombian authorities have recently detained large groups of migrants originating from as far as Asia and Africa, highlighting shifting migration…

COLOMBIA / 13 JAN 2011

Colombian rebels appear to be increasing their recruitment of foreign nationals after an Ecuadorean was captured and a Panamanian surrendered…

AUC / 11 MAR 2011

Paramilitary commanders have said that the demobilization of some elements of the AUC was faked, with the blessing of government…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.