Revelations that a Bogota drug gang had international criminal contacts across the Americas and in Europe illustrate the increasing role that local groups play in international organized crime.
Earlier in the week, police arrested the two leaders of a Bogota gang known as the Cordillera, Oscar Alcantara Gonzalez, alias "Mosco," and Cesar Gonzalez Diaz, alias "Homero."
According to prosecutors, the gang has a tight grip on criminal activities in the sector of Bogota known as El Bronx, the center of microtrafficking in the city, and is thought to be responsible for close to 30 murders in the capital in recent years.
Prosecutors also said the gang had formed a pact with Colombian trafficking group the Rastrojos to assassinate police officers in the capital, reportedly offering an $11,000 bounty for each officer killed.
The gang also operated in Quito, Ecuador -- where Mosco had been located since 2010 -- controlling micro-trafficking in the city's La Mariscal tourist district, reported EFE. The gang also had criminal connections in Spain, Peru and Costa Rica, according to El Espectador.
The Cordillera's activities brought in between $40,000 and $100,000 a day in Bogota, and $20,000 a day in Quito, according to various estimates from the Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities.
While it remains unclear exactly what activities the Cordillera gang were involved in outside of Bogota and Quito, it should come as no surprise that an ostensibly local group has international contacts, nor that it is forming pacts with more powerful Colombian international trafficking groups.
Local gangs often play a substantial ground-level role in international organized crime around the Americas, with many transnational and national groups employing or co-opting them as hitmen, money collectors, protection for drug shipments and street level drug distributors.
A prime example of this relationship is in Medellin, where local gangs known as "combos" have long provided a supply of foot soldiers for larger organizations with international interests. Since the dominant Medellin mafia, the Oficina de Envigado, started to weaken and fragment in 2008, many combos have become more independent, diversifying revenue streams and looking for their own criminal connections. Some have outgrown the "combo" label and are now referred to as "super combos."
This trend is likely to be reflected across the region in the near future as monolithic cartel-like structures fragment and their centralized hierarchical control weakens -- a process long seen in Colombia and currently underway in much of Mexico. With this fragmentation, localized, independent gangs such as the Cordillera are likely to play an increasingly significant role, either partnering bigger organizations as they do with the Rastrojos, or managing their own national and international networks.