HomeNewsAnalysisMedellin Mafia Dealt Second Blow With Arrest

Medellin Mafia Dealt Second Blow With Arrest


Colombian police have arrested the alleged second-in-command of a faction of the Medellin mafia, another indication that the security forces are cracking down on the organization as the city's homicide rates continue to raise concerns.

On May 15, Medellin police announced the arrest of Jesus David Hernandez, alias "Chaparro," accused of running an assasin's network for Erick Cardenas Vargas, alias "Sebastian," one of the leaders of the fragmented Oficina de Envigado.

Vargas commands a powerful faction of the Oficina, the most powerful criminal organization in Medellin. It is currently split into two rival groups, one led by Vargas and the other by Maxiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias "Valenciano."

According to El Tiempo, Hernandez had undergone significant plastic surgery on his face in order to evade Colombian authorities and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, who supported the four-month investigation against Hernandez. The alleged "king of assasins" also reportedly had his fingerprints modified, another indication of the kind of pressure he was facing.

Aside from managing the Oficina's network of hitmen, Hernandez reportedly handled other key jobs for Vargas, like the attempted takeover of Medellin's northwest barrio, the Comuna 9

Hernandez's arrest comes soon after authorities captured Valenciano's alleged number two, Gustavo Alvarez Velez, alias "El Gordo," on the Dutch island Aruba.

These recent captures indicate that the authorities are receiving good intelligence on the top level of Oficina command, as well as important support from the DEA. Impacting Oficina operations has become a priority for the government, in light of President Juan Manuel Santos' proposed commitment to reducing urban crime. Last year, Medellin saw 2,019 murders; with 649 homicides registered so far in 2011. 

But it is unclear whether dismantling the upper ranks of the Oficina will do anything to reduce violence in Medellin, which is mostly caused by clashes between rival street gangs, or "combos." The violence is even spreading outside of Medellin to neighboring municipalities like Santa Elena, Rionegro and Marinilla, as gangs have reportedly upped their recruitment in rural towns. 

Medellin is the logistical center of operations for the many criminal organizations operating in northern Antioquia, where much of the region's coca is grown and cocaine is processed. Cocaine flows into Medellin, in order to supply the city's internal market, while weapons and drugs are smuggled out towards the coast or the Venezuelan border. Such is the importance of Medellin as a strategic center that the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) and guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN) all traditionally operated with one foot in the Antioquian countryside and another one in Medellin.

In the long term, the city's strategic importance in the drug trade will not change. And given that much of Medellin's violence is caused by the lack of a central authority keeping the "combos" in check, the arrest of top-level operatives like Alvarez and Hernandez may do little to reduce homicide rates. 

The current fight between Bonilla and Vargas is basically over control of the criminal empire established by paramilitary warlord, Diego Murillo Bejarano, alias "Don Berna." Murillo wielded significant control over Medellin's criminal underworld: after he ordered the "combos" in keep murder rates down, in order to make it appear to authorities that he was collaborating during the peace process, Medellin saw a period of relative calm known as "donbernabilidad," Spanish wordplay on "gobernabilidad" or governability. In 2006 and 2007, the city registered a total of 826 and 788 murders, respectively. After Murillo was extradited to the U.S in 2008, the total murder rate jumped to 1,066, followed by 2,186 homicides in 2009, as the Oficina wars intensified.  

In that sense, the real game changer would be if another criminal strongman were able to impose a new era of "donbernabilidad." This appeared to happen in February 2010, when Medellin's murder rate dropped from 239 cases in January to 116 in February, after a group of public officials brokered a temporary ceasefire between the gangs. 

The weakening of the Oficina may give rival gang the Urabeños, whose stronghold is along the Caribbean coast, the opportunity to impose their own "donbernabilidad." The Urabeños already have presence in Medellin's peripheral neighborhoods like Comuna 13. If the authorities continue arrested top-level Oficina operatives, debilitating the group's operations, the Urabeños' position in the city may only strengthen. 

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.


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.


Related Content


The Honduran government is reportedly set to conduct a review of its gun laws in an apparent effort to combat…


A recent report by a think tank in Mexico underscores that increased security spending has done little to temper escalating…

EL MAYO / 21 MAY 2020

The execution of a top Sinaloa Cartel enforcer who was recently in US custody and fled to Mexico raises the…

About InSight Crime


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.