HomeNewsHas Cali Become an Operational Hub for Mexican Cartels in Colombia?

Has Cali Become an Operational Hub for Mexican Cartels in Colombia?


The extent to which Mexican cartels maintain an active presence in Colombia is again up for debate after the arrest of an alleged top Sinaloa Cartel broker.

Following the arrest of Brian Donaciano Olguín Verdugo, alias “Pitt," Colombia's top police officer alleged that Olguín was the “most important link” between the Sinaloa Cartel and dissident fronts of the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). Authorities captured Olguín on April 8 at a residence in Ciudad Jardín, a wealthy neighborhood in the southern part of Cali, Colombia's third-largest city and the capital of Valle del Cauca department.

Colombian National Police Director Jorge Luis Vargas connected Olguín to FARC fronts that operate in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño. These fronts are part of the leading faction of the ex-FARC Mafia, led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte,” and Nestor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco.”

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel Profile

Colombian police said that US prosecutors in the Southern District of California have requested the extradition of Olguín on charges that he conspired to import cocaine into the United States in 2014. Despite an Interpol Red Notice, Olguín arrived in Colombia in February. He later travelled to Valle del Cauca to negotiate the purchase of coca with FARC dissidents, according to officials.

The arrest was made in collaboration with US law enforcement.

Olguín reportedly once worked with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as "El Chapo," the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, according to Colombian police. He, however, is part of a string of suspected Mexican drug traffickers to be arrested in Colombia.

In 2019, two Sinaloa Cartel emissaries were arrested within a week of each other, one of whom had links to the dissident FARC 30th Front in Cauca and Valle del Cauca. Suspected members of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) have also been arrested in Colombia in recent years.

InSight Crime Analysis

The ongoing presence of Mexican cartel emissaries in Colombia has traditionally been attributed to business dealings with Colombian actors, primarily regarding the purchase and supervision of cocaine shipments, as Olguín was allegedly doing in Cali.

However, the alleged Sinaloa Cartel trafficker’s arrest also draws attention to claims by authorities, think tanks, journalists and locals that the Mexican cartel presence in Colombia has become more pervasive.

To be sure, a 2021 police intelligence report obtained by Reuters indicated that Mexican cartel brokers were present in 11 of Colombia's 32 departments, including along the border with Venezuela.

SEE ALSO: Mexican Cartels in Colombia: Setting Up Shop or Seeking New Partners?

There have been a growing number of allegations detailing Mexican influence in the department of Valle del Cauca, where Olguín was arrested.

In 2019, Colombia's former Ombudsman, Carlos Negret, warned of an increased Mexican cartel presence in Jamundí, a major coca-growing area.

A former high-ranking police officer, who served in Valle del Cauca and wished to remain anonymous, told InSight Crime that he had listened to many intercepted phone calls between Mexican nationals in Cali and Jamundí. He added that several Mexican drug traffickers are believed to live in Cali's more affluent neighborhoods, such as Ciudad Jardín.

The former police official said that Mexican cartels are working with FARC dissident groups to secure regular coca supplies in the southernmost part of Valle del Cauca, particularly between the municipalities of Jamundí and Potrerito.

“They are looking to control the Naya,” the former official said, referring to a well-known drug trafficking route in Cauca, along which coca is moved to the Pacific Coast and shipped out of the port of Buenaventura.

After Olguín's arrest, Cali mayor Jorge Iván Ospina told local media that the capital of Valle del Cauca has become an epicenter for such emissaries. “I don't believe that [foreign emissaries] come to assert territorial control or to manage micro-trafficking, [but rather] to control the Pacific routes that transport cocaine to Central America and the United States.”

Meanwhile, Cali councilman Roberto Rodríguez told InSight Crime that there is reason to believe some Mexican actors may also be involved in growing coca, the raw ingredient used to make cocaine.

Rodríguez emphasized that Olguín was just one of many Mexican cartel members living in Cali, and that his arrest highlights the need for greater controls at the airports where such individuals are entering Colombia. He also called for a crackdown on money laundering and a review of purchases of large estates and luxury cars.

Politician and former presidential candidate Juan Manuel Galán took the assessment of the Mexican presence in Cali a step further, declaring earlier this year that Cali “had become the capital of the Mexican cartels.”

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