Authorities in Colombia have captured one of the last remaining leaders of the Gaitanistas, a devastating blow to the country’s most powerful drug trafficking organization that could solidify the group’s fall.
In a joint military operation on May 21, authorities captured Daniel Martínez Caraballo, alias “Samuel,” in San Jacinto municipality in the northern department of Bolivar, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s Office.
According to a military press release, Samuel is the alleged successor of Manuel Arístides Meza Páez, alias “El Indio,” the Gaitanistas’ former finance chief and head of operations in various strategic regions. Colombian security forces killed El Indio in March 2018 as part of a joint security initiative known as “Operation Agamemnon II” aimed at taking down the criminal group.
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Samuel allegedly headed the drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining operations of the “Erlín Pino Duarte” armed wing of the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC). According to the military press release, Samuel also orchestrated attacks against Colombian security forces and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), one of the country’s last remaining guerrilla groups.
The arrest of Samuel is a serious blow to the AGC’s finances. According to the military press release, Samuel’s arrest affects up to 30 percent of the group’s illegal earnings.
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The capture of Samuel is yet another setback to the already severely weakened AGC, and could be a sign that authorities are narrowing in on the group’s leader and Colombia’s most wanted criminal.
The AGC’s leadership has been decimated by Colombian security forces in recent months. In late 2017, security forces killed Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, alias “Gavilán,” the group’s second-in-command. This was followed shortly after by the arrest of Luis Orlando Padierna, alias “Inglaterra,” another high-ranking boss, as well as the death of El Indio in early 2018. This has, in part, prompted AGC’s leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” to offer to surrender himself and his organization.
The official strategy now seems to be focusing not only on captures but on cutting Otoniel’s financial sources.
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While Otoniel — Colombia’s most-wanted criminal — has yet to surrender, authorities say that they are “narrowing in” on him after the recent arrest of Samuel. As other competing criminal groups try to stake their claim on territory the Urabeños are no longer able to control, previous talks of a possible surrender agreement between the group and the Colombian government could resurface as Otoniel runs out of options.