One of the Gaitanistas' top commanders was killed in a shootout with police in the organization's native Uraba region, in a serious blow to the most powerful of Colombia's new-generation criminal groups.
On his Twitter account, President Juan Manuel Santos said Francisco Morelo Peñata, alias "El Negro Sarley," was the Gaitanistas' "military boss and second-in-command." He was reportedly the brother-in-law of the group's top leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, alias "Otoniel."
Police told press that El Negro Sarley had participated in massacres and was responsible for multiple homicides and large-scale drug trafficking.
Prior to his death, El Negro Sarley was in charge of moving drug shipments out of Colombia and into Panama via the gulf of Uraba, reported Semana. Morelo had remained constantly on the move in the countryside to evade authorities, traveling by mule and never staying in one place for more than a day.
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El Negro Sarley was a key member of the small group that make up the Gaitanistas' top command, and his death will be a significant loss to the organization.
Like many of the other current and former leaders of the Gaitanistas, he began as a member of now-demobilized guerrilla group the Popular Liberation Army (EPL). After the EPL disbanded, many fighters, including El Negro Sarley and the Usuga brothers, joined up with the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) before becoming leaders of the new-generation BACRIM ("bandas criminales" or "criminal bands") after the AUC demobilized.
In November 2012, police sources reported that Morelo had relocated to Panama to oversee the Gaitanistas' money laundering network and rebuild the group's regional alliances. Previously, he had been the Gaitanistas' top commander in the department of Choco, which joins Colombia's Pacific coast to the Caribbean.