One of Colombia's most powerful criminal organizations could be moving into new territory in the eastern part of the country in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the death of a top regional crime boss.
An army general told El Tiempo that the September 2015 death of Martín Farfán Díaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey," has led to a "reconfiguration" of the criminal landscape in Colombia's Eastern Plains region, which includes the departments of Meta and Vichada.
Until his recent killing during a police raid, Pijarbey headed the dominant regional drug trafficking organization, known as the Libertadores del Vichada. Several weeks after Pijarbey's demise, police captured Darío Andrés León Humanez, alias "Jonathan," the leader of the Libertadores' main local rival, the Meta Bloc.
Now, military intelligence sources say that for several months they have detected the presence of members of the Urabeños, also known as "Clan Úsuga," in the department of Meta. The Urabeños are believed to maintain an alliance with the Libertadores del Vichada.
The sources consulted by El Tiempo said Urabeños leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias "Otoniel," instructed his regional lieutenant, alias "Monar," to consolidate the group's position in the eastern region in order to take advantage of potential revenues from extorting the local agricultural industry.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although it is difficult to draw solid conclusions from this preliminary information, it would be little surprise if the Urabeños attempt to establish a greater presence in the Eastern Plains region. In addition to potential extortion revenues from the agricultural sector, the area also has the attraction of being a hub for cocaine production and transshipment to nearby Venezuela and Brazil.
The cocaine business in Colombia's Eastern Plains used to be dominated by a right-wing paramilitary group known as the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (Ejército Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano - ERPAC), which morphed into a drug trafficking organization in the mid-2000s. After partially demobilizing in 2011, the ERPAC split into the two factions mentioned above -- the Meta Bloc and the Libertadores del Vichada, both of which have been significantly weakened by the recent loss of their top leadership.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile
Nevertheless, the Urabeños would face a number of challenges should they attempt to expand their operations in Colombia's Eastern Plains. For one, the organization is already under significant pressure from the Colombian government, which is conducting a massive manhunt for "Otoniel" and has promised to continue an aerial bombing campaign against the group. And aside from their links to the Libertadores, the Urabeños have little in the way of established networks or criminal infrastructure in the region, which is separated from their traditional coastal strongholds by the Andes mountain range.
Given these conditions, it is possible that a move to deepen involvement in the Eastern Plains could spread the Urabeños too thin. On the other hand, the region's criminal landscape is clearly in a period of transition, which could facilitate the creation of new alliances. In the event of a peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), the Urabeños may try to partner with criminalized elements of the FARC's Eastern Bloc in order to consolidate control of the region's lucrative drug trade.