Colombian authorities captured yet another drug boss in the country's lucrative Eastern Plains, keeping up the pressure on criminal organizations that are also busy fighting each other over key illicit economies.
Authorities said they captured José Manuel Capera, alias "Nube Negra," the alleged head of the Libertadores del Vichada criminal organization, El Espectador reported. The boss of the group -- which is also known as "Los Puntilleros"-- was arrested in a rural part of Meta department, in central Colombia.
Capera is accused of being in charge of the Libertadores' drug trafficking activities and extortion of local businessmen and cattle farmers. He is believed to be behind a number of targeted homicides in the area, and of leading armed clashes between his group and the Urabeños -- Colombia's largest neo-paramilitary criminal group. Capera is also thought to be responsible for the forced recruitment of minors and forced displacement.
SEE ALSO: Libertadores de Vichada Profile
Capera allegedly took charge of the Libertadores -- a splinter faction of the paramilitary organization Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (Ejército Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano - ERPAC) -- after the death of his predecessor Álvaro Enciso Arias, alias "Venado" in May 2016.
Authorities put the Libertadores' numbers at 180 men, El Espectador reported. Its main activities are protecting coca farms and extortion in Meta, Vichada and Guainía departments.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Libertadores del Vichada are perhaps the dominant drug trafficking group in the Eastern Plains region, which includes the Meta, Arauca, Casanare and Vichada departments. The group has come under heavy fire from state forces carrying out an offensive against organized criminal groups (known as "bandas criminales," or "BACRIM"). The government crackdown is related to an ongoing peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) guerrilla group, who have urged the Colombian government to eliminate the threat posed by such organizations.
Since the death in September 2015 of major crime boss Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey" -- who was one of the first leaders of the Libertadores -- his successors to the top spot have not lasted long. Over the past year, authorities have killed or arrested at least three other leaders -- apart from Capera -- known by the aliases "Calandrio," "Móvil 7," and "Venado."
SEE ALSO: Coverage of ERPAC
However, the Libertadores are not the only criminal organization in the area with security forces hot on their heels. Numerous Urabeños bosses have also been taken down in Meta department of late, as the group pushes to expand its presence in the Eastern Plains. Evidence suggests that the Urabeños are currently fighting the Libertadores in alliance with the Meta Bloc, a rival ERPAC splinter group.
The Urabeños' incursion into the region is unsurprising -- a cocaine trafficking and production hub on the border with Venezuela, the Eastern Plains have long been disputed territory for criminal groups.
The outcome of these security efforts and criminal power struggles -- which are being mirrored in various strategic regions in Colombia -- will determine which groups come out on top once FARC guerrilla fighters lay down their weapons and leave huge criminal economies up for grabs.