The recent bust of a drug trafficking network linked to the Gaitanistas criminal organization exemplifies the type of increased pressure Colombia's security forces are set to apply on organized crime as the FARC rebel group prepares to exit the conflict.
Police have arrested 26 members of a network that trafficked cocaine to Europe for Colombia's most powerful criminal organization, the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), El Colombiano reported. (See video below) The suspects are reportedly key associates of the AGC's second-in-command, Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, alias "Gavilán."
The network allegedly camouflaged cocaine loads in banana shipment containers, which left from the Caribbean ports of Urabá and Santa Marta and were destined for Holland, Belgium and Spain.
The operation took place in eight municipalities across the departments of Antioquia, Magdalena and Risaralda. Over $80,000 in cash was seized in Colombian and US currency.
The alleged leader of the network is Miller Alberto García Buitrago, alias "Chiqui," who was extradited to the United States in 2008 for ties to the Medellín Cartel's Enrique Ochoa Vasco, and returned to Colombia after negotiating with the US government. Authorities say the pastor of a protestant church in Santa Marta used his position to launder drug money. An export company representative who provided the cargo transport paperwork was also arrested.
Published by El Colombiano, courtesy of the National Police
InSight Crime Analysis
This operation is an example of the mounting pressure the AGC will be facing now that a bilateral ceasefire agreement has been announced between the Colombian government and rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). As part of the ceasefire agreement, the government pledged to set up a national commission that will determine the best way to dismantle organized crime and neo-paramilitary groups. And President Juan Manuel Santos has insisted that combating organized crime will become a top priority for Colombia's security forces once a peace deal is signed with the FARC.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Urabeños
Still, this is more of a continuation than a true shift in government policy. The AGC are already being heavily targeted, with the launch of a security operation against the organization in 2015 and later the creation of an elite police unit known as the Search Bloc. The increased pressure has affected the AGC's drug trafficking operations in their home base of Urabá, but it has not led to the capture of any of the group's top leadership.