Authorities in Colombia have captured 46 members of a Rastrojos cell and a top leader, indicating that in spite of the blows to the organization in recent years, the group continues to maintain significant operations.
At a press conference on May 30, President Juan Manuel Santos identified the 46 captured as part of a group dedicated to extortion and micro-trafficking in the Atlantico department on Colombia's Caribbean coast.
This Rastrojos cell allegedly extorted local businesses including clinics, gas stations, casinos, and public transportation companies, reported El Heraldo. They also are accused of demanding weekly payments of between $30 and $40, sometimes recruiting children to collect the money, and of launching grenade attacks on businesses that refused to pay.
Authorities dealt another blow to the Rastrojos with the capture of Hector Fabio Garcia Gomez, alias "Chorizo," in the department of Valle del Cauca on Colombia's Pacific coast. Garcia was one of the 12 most-wanted criminal leaders in Colombia. He is reportedly responsible for collecting a significant portion of the coca base produced in the region and overseeing Rastrojos cocaine processing laboratories.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Rastrojos began as a faction of the Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC) and rose to prominence by forming alliances with other criminal groups engaged in drug trafficking.
The group has been in decline since the captures of its leadership -- Diego Perez Henao, alias "Diego Rastrojo," and the Comba brothers Javier, alias "Comba," Luis Enrique and Juan Carlos Calle Serna. This loss of leadership, coupled with their rivals the Urabeños encroaching on their territory, considerably weakened the Rastrojos, and they are no longer thought to have a national reach.
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Nonetheless, the capture of the Rastrojos members in Atlantico demonstrates the significant local structures the group continues to maintain. Those captured reportedly belonged to the Costeños, a faction of the Rastrojos operating in Atlantico, and took orders from jailed leaders who communicated via their wives and girlfriends.
Meanwhile, alias Chorizo's capture could be yet another blow to the group. He had reportedly taken over from the Comba brothers as leader, and while it is unlikely that he exercised the hegemonic control of his predecessors, he ran operations in a key region contested by another rival group, the Machos. His capture could create a power vacuum that serves to strengthen the Machos, who have been battling the Rastrojos for control of Valle del Cauca territory since 2002.