Venezuela extradited the military leader of drug trafficking organization the Rastrojos to his native Colombia, though it is not yet clear whether he will be extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges.
On July 24, Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” was handed over to Colombian intelligence police the DIJIN in the Venezuelan port city of Maiquetía. Perez was arrested in the central Venezuelan state of Barinas on June 3, where authorities said he had been living for about a year.
He was detained just one month after the Rastrojos’ other top leader, Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” surrendered to US authorities.
Henao was the leader of the military wing of the Rastrojos, descendants of the Norte del Valle Cartel in Cali, Colombia. The Rastrojos are considered one of the wealthiest and most powerful of Colombia’s drug trafficking organizations and are active primarily along the Pacific Coast and the eastern Venezuela-Colombia border.
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Colombian authorities have still not decided whether Henao will be extradited to the US where he faces drug trafficking charges, or whether he should remain in Colombia where he is charged with homicide, the financing of terrorism, and supporting an armed group, among other crimes. While Colombia has relied heavily on extraditions in the past as a way to break up criminal organizations, former Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra implied earlier this year that the government may soon re-assess this strategy, due to concerns that extradited Colombian crime lords receive shorter prison sentences in the US.
But if Diego Rastrojo remains in Colombia, this could raise concerns that he would continue to run some part of the Rastrojos’ business from behind bars.
Contrary to fears there have so far been few signs of a violent power struggle within the Rastrojos, despite the fall of two of its leaders. The only original leader that remains is Luis Enrique Calle Serna, who is currently fighting a war against remnants of the Norte del Valle Cartel in Cali, as well as the Rastrojos’ long-time rivals the Urabeños.