HomeNewsAnalysisPower Plays in Medellin as Crime Lord Killed in Venezuela
ANALYSIS

Power Plays in Medellin as Crime Lord Killed in Venezuela

COLOMBIA / 15 FEB 2012 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

With an alleged heir to the Medellin mafia found dead, dumped outside a Venezuela hospital, it may be that Urabeños, a criminal group poised to take over the city, are eliminating their rivals.

Carlos Esneider Quintero Galvis, alias "Gomelo," was left outside an emergency room in Maracaibo on February 6, with gunshot wounds to the head and no identification. His parents came to Venezuela five days later to identify the body.

Police identified Quintero as the new leader of a faction of the Medellin mafia, known as the Oficina de Envigado. He was one of the 20 most wanted criminals in the Medellin area, and police offered a 250 million peso (about $140,000) reward in return for information on his whereabouts.

The Oficina was founded by Pablo Escobar, and later commanded by paramilitary leader Diego Murillo, alias "Don Berna." After Murillo was extradited in 2008, the Oficina split into rival factions. One was controlled by Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias "Valenciano," who was arrested in Venezuela last year and extradited to the US. Another faction is headed by Erick Vargas, alias "Sebastian."

Bonilla was reportedly a mentor to Quintero, who became a member of one of Medellin's street gangs at age 11, according to El Colombiano. Quintero's first introduction to criminal life was robbing victims as they withdrew cash from ATM machines, a practice known in Colombia as "fleteo."

Quintero rose through the ranks of the underworld until he became the leader of one of Medellin's oldest street gangs, the Mondongueros. This was one of the most powerful gangs who supported Bonilla in his war for control of Medellin, and became his shock troops in a block-by-block war for control of the city.

Bonilla and Quintero worked for a faction of the Oficina de Envigado which controlled international cocaine export routes, shipping the drugs from Medellin to the coastal cities of Barranquilla and Cartagena. Their primary rival, Vargas, fought fiercely for control of the city's drug trade, and for extortion payments made by the city's casinos, brothels, transportation companies, and other businesses.

After US authorities put a $5 million reward on his head, Bonilla went to lie low in Venezuela. According to police intelligence, Quintero may have provided authorities with the information that eventually led to Bonilla's arrest, El Colombiano reports. It is not clear why Quintero was in Venezuela, but he may have fled after receiving threats from Bonilla's allies, looking to take revenge on the suspected informant.

The other possibility is that Quintero was killed on the order of the Urabeños, a powerful paramilitary group interest in taking over Medellin's criminal operations. The Urabeños, whose stronghold is along the Caribbean coast, have had a foothold in the city since late 2010. Since Bonilla's arrest, the Urabeños have expanded into neighborhoods previously controlled by the Oficina, including parts of Comuna 13, Belen, Aguas Frias and Altavista. The leader of the Urabeños' faction in Medellin, Henry de Jesus Lopez Lodoño, alias "Mi Sangre," is a native son of the city and is expanding the Urabeños' control there.

A neighborhood that has remained immune from the Urabeños' influence so far is Medellin's Comuna 5, Quintero's stronghold and the traditional stomping ground of his street gang, the Mondongueros. Unlike many of Medellin's often short-lived gangs, or "combos," the Mondongueros have survived on the streets for over two decades. They first formed in Comuna 5 in 1990, and have built up a strong base of support there, with families who have supplied generations of gang members.

With Quintero gone, the Mondongueros may enter a new period of flux. The group is currently embroiled in another gang war for control of Medellin's sister city, Bello. This could leave their stronghold, Comuna 5, particularly vunerable to the entry of the Urabeños. For the Urabeños, Quintero's death opens up a new strategic opportunity; for the Mondongueros, the timing could not have been worse.

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