Security forces in Colombia killed a high-level leader of a criminal group descended from recently demobilized leftist guerrillas, potentially paving the way for an outbreak of conflict on the Pacific coast as rival organizations try to fill the vacuum.
Colombia's Defense Ministry announced in a September 8 press release that Víctor David Segura Palacios, known widely as "David," was killed in a joint military-police operation near the port city of Tumaco, an important launching point for international drug shipments.
Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said security forces arrived by helicopter at two in the morning at a house where David was staying. He said a shootout ensued, in which David and his sister were both killed.
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"We would have preferred to have detained him and later extradited him where he would have received a very long sentence in the United States," Botero said.
Authorities accused David of leading a crime group known as the United Guerrillas of the Pacific (Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico), which David's late brother, Yeison Segura Mina, alias “Don Y,” founded with other defectors from the 2016 peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) -- although there is some confusion as to whether or not the group Don Y founded was originally named "Gente de Orden."
The United Guerrillas of the Pacific is one of the most significant criminal organizations operating on Colombia's Pacific coast, specifically in the Nariño department along the Ecuador border. Defense Minister Botero accused the group of being responsible for 4 percent of all cocaine exports from Colombia during the previous year, which could amount to around 60 tons, according to InSight Crime's estimates.
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The death of David could create a power vacuum in one of the most important drug trafficking corridors in the world.
Now it's possible that another major criminal force composed of dissident FARC members could try to strike a blow against the United Guerrillas of the Pacific, while the group is reeling from the loss of its leader.
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One of the main rival groups, led by Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho,” has been linked to brazen, violent attacks against both security forces and civilians, and has already clashed with David's organization in Nariño.
According to various reports, both groups are associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations, who will have an interest in maintaining the steady passage of cocaine out of the country.
How such a scenario would ultimately play out is unclear. But with cocaine production in Colombia at record levels, it's certain that the drug will continue to flow, fueling violence in Tumaco and elsewhere.
*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime's Colombian Organized Crime Observatory.