A profile of a Colombian drug trafficker who, after a long criminal career, disappeared off the radar highlights how key figures in the underworld continue to successfully operate undetected.
According to an investigation by news site Pacifista, Guillermo Camacho Acevedo, alias "Memo Fantasma," was a major drug trafficker who staged his disappearence in order to protect the interests of paramilitary leaders -- and who may still be active today.
Pacifista reports that Camacho began his drug-running career as an envoy for a faction of Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel, handling wholesale distribution of cocaine shipments in New York. When Escobar accused Camacho's bosses of treachery and had them murdered in 1992, Camacho was left alone with his latest cocaine shipment. He sold the load on and used the profits to set himself up as an independent operator.
Camacho returned to Colombia around 1996, where he forged an alliance with the right-wing paramilitary coaliation, known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). He worked with the AUC in driving guerrilla rebels out of key drug production zones, according to Pacifista's sources. Camacho eventually became a key figure in a powerful paramilitary faction, the Central Bolivar Bloc, and helped make them one of the paramilitary units most heavily involved in the drug trade.
Pacifista records how Camacho then participated in the first demobilization talks between the AUC leadership and the Colombian government. However, by 2004, all traces of Camacho's participation began to disappear.
According to Pacifista, Camacho abandoned the peace process in order to secretly protect the assets and drug trafficking networks of the AUC leaders, who had agreed to hand over all their ill-gotten gains and dismantle their organizations as part of the peace agreement.
Since then, Camacho is believed to have become the chief of finances for the Rastrojos, one of the principal criminal groups that emerged after the AUC demobilization. It is a role he continues to perform today, sources told Pacifista.
InSight Crime Analysis
The strange tale of "Memo Fantasma" is illustrative of how the botched demobilization of the AUC gave rise to a new generation of narco-paramilitary groups -- and may have serious implications for the current dynamic in Colombia's underworld.
The failure to break up the drug trafficking networks established by the AUC created the new generation of criminal groups that included the Rastrojos. From the start, these groups were controlled by former paramilitaries who did not demobilize or who rearmed.
SEE ALSO: The Victory of the Urabeños
The Rastrojos emerged as the most powerful of these new networks, largely by filling the vacuum left by the Central Bolivar Bloc. Although the Rastrojos has since suffered a dramatic demise after its known leaders surrendered or were arrested, local factions still operate. Their continued existence may be related to ongoing backing from financers and drug traffickers such as Camacho.
Camacho may not be the only "narco-ghost" operating from the shadows. Key sectors of Colombia's underworld are believed to be run by a network of so-called "invisibles:" long-time drug traffickers who have managed to avoid the attention of authorities.