HomeNewsAnalysisUrabeños Leader Killed, but Expansion Likely to Continue
ANALYSIS

Urabeños Leader Killed, but Expansion Likely to Continue

COLOMBIA / 3 JAN 2012 BY JEREMY MCDERMOTT AND ELYSSA PACHICO EN

Colombian police have killed one of the leaders of the Urabeños, one of the most powerful criminal syndicates in the country, with links to Mexican cartels and highly skilled gunmen.

In a New Year's Day raid, police surrounded a country house in northern Colombia reportedly owned by Juan de Dios Usuga, alias "Giovanni," leader of the Urabeños. Over 90 people had attended a new year's party hosted by Usuga in Acandi, Choco province and according to reports many guests were still there when police raided the ranch. During a 30-minute shootout Usuga was shot dead, along with a police officer. Another three men were arrested at the scene.

Police General Leon Riaño told reporters that they were led to Usuga's hideout by a human source, who will receive a $600,000 reward.

According to police, Usuga ran Urabeños operations in the north of the country and was "in direct contact with all the 'narcos' in the area. He was the one who gave orders: control of trafficking routes, distribution points, crystallization labs for [coca] base and cocaine, as well as taking care of [illicit] crops."

While it seems that Juan de Dios Usuga was the military head of the Urabeños, he has long worked alongside his brother Dario Antonio, alias "Otoniel," who will be able to provide continuity of leadership and ensure that the Urabeños’ drug smuggling business and international contacts remain intact. Dario Antonio may also have been at the New Year celebrations, but managed to escape the police dragnet. The Urabeños also work with Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, alias "Mi Sangre," a top level drug trafficker who is leading the group’s expansion into the city of Medellin. Over the last three years the Urabeños have been expanding from their base in the region of Uraba, from where they get their name, along the Caribbean Coast and into more than 13 of Colombia’s 32 provinces in up to 181 municipalities. This expansion is likely to continue, even with the death of Juan de Dios Usuga.

The strength of the Urabeños lies in their criminal roots. The Usuga brothers and much of the Urabeños top leaders were firstly in the left-wing rebel group, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which laid down its arms in 1991. They then joined the right-wing paramilitary army of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which demobilized in 2006. This means that the group a long criminal pedigree, discipline, military training and deep connections with the communities in many of the areas it operates. Other operatives are either members of the security forces, or received training from former members of the military, ensuring that Urabeños tend to bring serious firepower and professionalism to their operations.

The raid which killed Juan de Dios Usuga had striking similarities to one carried out on December 25, 2010 when police assaulted a ranch owned by another powerful drug trafficker, Pedro Oliveiro Guerro, alias "Cuchillo." Guerrero was celebrating Christmas with his men when the police closed in, although he managed to slip away during the raid, apparently still drunk, and later drowned in a nearby creek. It took police several days to find his body. His organization, the Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) splintered, with much of the group turning itself into the government in December 2011.

Usuga's death is the latest in a string of operations by the Colombian security forces aimed at "High Value Targets," a term and strategy used by the US government, which still provides funding and intelligence to Colombia. The strategy is having a great deal of success, taking down leaders of the main rebel group the Revolutionary armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), like Guillermo Saenz Leon, alias "Alfonso Cano" and Jorge Suarez, alias "Mono Jojoy," and leaders of the new generation paramilitary groups, dubbed the BACRIMs by the government (‘bandas criminales’ or criminal bands).

However the evidence to date suggests that the elimination of these "High Value Targets" rarely disrupts the business of drug trafficking for long.

The Urabeños are engaged in a war with a rival BACRIM, the Rastrojos, which is also led by two brothers, Javier and Luis Enrique Calle Serna. The Rastrojos are unlikely to be able to take much advantage of the death of Juan de Dios Usuga, as the area where he was killed is an Urabeños stronghold and the leadership of the group is strong enough to absorb his loss. There have been rumors that the Calle Serna brothers are seeking to negotiate their surrender to US authorities.

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

COCAINE / 1 SEP 2020

Authorities say a submarine intercepted off Colombia's Pacific Coast was carrying more than a ton of cocaine bound for Mexico's…

COLOMBIA / 24 OCT 2013

A FARC document obtained by the media lays out the rules governing life in guerrilla-controlled territory in southern Colombia, providing…

COLOMBIA / 5 MAY 2011

The arrest of an alleged cousin of Osama bin Laden, accused of running a human trafficking ring in Ecuador, is…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…