Security forces have arrested three Venezuelans who are allegedly members of the Gaitanistas, suggesting Colombia’s most feared drug traffickers may be establishing a permanent presence across the border.
The three were arrested by the Venezuelan National Guard in the border state of Tachira, and stand accused of running kidnapping and extortion operations on behalf of the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC).
Agents seized weapons and ammunition as well as cell phones and motorbikes from the suspects, reported El Diario de Los Andes. Authorities announced they are still searching for two further alleged members of the group.
InSight Crime Analysis
If it is true that the three Venezuelans arrested are members of the AGC and are not just using the name to instill fear, this is a strong indication that Colombian armed groups are establishing a permanent presence in Venezuela.
For some time, leaders of Colombian drug trafficking organizations have taken refuge in Venezuela, and as the country has become a key cocaine transit nation, it is clear they would also have a significant presence to oversee operations.
However, the latest arrests suggest the AGC are not only using Venezuela as a route and a refuge, but they are also recruiting Venezuelans who are running local criminal enterprises, suggesting the group is looking to establish itself as a genuine cross-border criminal organization.
In recent years, the border region has been a stronghold for the AGC’s main rivals, the Rastrojos, and a base of operations for one of the group’s founding members and military leader, Diego Rastrojo. His capture in 2012 and the nationwide fragmentation of the organization have presented an opportunity for the AGC to move in on this valuable turf.
However, sources tell InSight Crime that recent confrontations between the two groups in the region have seen the Rastrojos come out on top, suggesting even if the AGC are setting up cells in Venezuela, the Rastrojos’ domination of the border region remains intact — for the time being.
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