In May 2019, Colombian President Iván Duque vowed to end Los Pachenca, stating that this was a promise from the country's security council. Just over a year on, that promise may soon be fulfilled.
Los Pachenca have been the target of repeated military and police assaults, which have led to many of its top leadership being killed or captured. The latest coup against the group came in mid-June when Deimer Patiño Giraldo, alias “80,” identified as the commander of Los Pachenca, was killed during an operation carried out by Colombia’s Comando Jungla Special Forces of the anti-drug police in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, according to reports from El Tiempo and El Heraldo.
Santa Marta Metropolitan Police Commander Oscar Solarte said that his forces killed Patiño Giraldo during a firefight between the Comando Jungla and the leader’s security team.
Patiño Giraldo had not been in the role for long. He took over the group -- also known as the Conquering Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada (Autodefensas Conquistadoras de la Sierra Nevada -- ACSN) -- after the killing last year of former leader Jesús María Aguirre Gallego, alias “Chucho Mercancía,” and the capture of his second-in-command, Jhon Salazar Salcedo, alias “Flash,” during another police operation in the Sierra Nevada.
As a result, Patiño Giraldo found himself in charge of Los Pachenca’s 200 members. The group has a presence in key drug trafficking zones throughout the Caribbean, including along the route that connects Magdalena department with La Guajira to the north, as well as strategic rural corridors connecting Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada to the Caribbean Sea.
One of Patiño Giraldo’s main duties was taking up arms against the Urabeños, the group's former allies and now rivals, which have been concentrated in the city of Santa Marta since the end of 2019. Both groups are attempting to seize control of the international drug trafficking routes that leave from the city.
InSight Crime Analysis
The death of Patiño Giraldo comes at a terrible time for Los Pachenca. The group is a government target, has seen members increasingly killed or captured and has come under increasing pressure from the Urabeños.
The loss of Patiño Giraldo does not carry the same immediate impact as the killing of Aguirre Gallego, who had led the group for years. But it has also lost a raft of other members.
In October 2019, four months after Aguirre Gallego's death, Leandro Jhonatan Lara, alias “Barbas,” Los Pachenca’s chief financial planner, was also captured. He was one of the group’s founders and believed to be the link with the Urabeños before the alliance foundered.
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In December 2019, Elkin Javier López Torres, alias “La Silla,” a drug trafficker who was facing a US extradition request, turned himself in to authorities.
López Torres was a key actor for Los Pachenca, most importantly for trafficking drugs out of the Port of Santa Marta. His capture has greatly handicapped the group’s ability to ship drugs through the area, according to an analyst of conflict dynamics in Colombia’s Caribbean who spoke to InSight Crime on condition of anonymity.
But the government is not only looking to decapitate the criminal group. Other operations have targeted the flow of drugs leaving the port of Santa Marta, a critical point for the group to send drug shipments to Europe and Asia.
And all of this has occurred as Los Pachencas and the Urabeños have battled across Colombia's Magdalena department.
These combined pressures have left Los Pachenca severely weakened and at risk of losing Santa Marta altogether, according to the analyst.
What’s more, the Urabeños also control the port of Barranquilla, the capital of Atlántico department, as well as the port of Cartagena, the capital city of Bolívar department and Colombia’s most important port. The Urabeños’ control of this stretch of the Caribbean puts them in an extremely advantageous position over drug trafficking routes.
And while Los Pachenca appear to still control their long-term stronghold in La Sierra Nevada, the loss of other key areas has left them severely weakened.