A one-time associate of Pablo Escobar, who spent 27 years in prison in the United States, is behind bars once again – this time in Peru – showing how older generations of narcos may still be in the mix.
The latest incident involving Jorge Roca, alias “Techo de Paja,” began on March 9, 2021, when he was arrested in Lima, Peru, as part of a joint operation carried out by US and Colombian authorities. Roca is accused of leading an organization dedicated to shipping drugs from Bolivia, his home country, and Peru, where he was arrested. The shipments reportedly pass through Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico before they reach the United States.
This is far from the first time Roca has faced justice. His criminal history dates back to the 1980s, when authorities considered him to be a major player in the drug-trafficking underworld. He was identified as having provided cocaine shipments to Pablo Escobar, along with his uncle Roberto Suárez, known as the “King of Cocaine” in Bolivia.
In his heyday, his wealth was enough to own a supermarket, a jockey club and a luxury residence in Santa Cruz de la Sierra as well as a number of ranches near the city of Beni.
In 1990, he was arrested and sentenced to 35 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking, money laundering, bank fraud, tax evasion and extortion.
In 2018, after 27 years in prison, he returned to Bolivia, where he was to serve 15 more years in prison. However, shortly upon his arrival, he escaped from a private clinic in La Paz. Subsequently, the country's justice system granted him his freedom, considering that there was no point in continuing to search for him given his age.
Roca maintained a low profile for two years until 2020, when, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he appears to have returned to his old ways. Operating this time from Peru, he allegedly formed a new organization for shipping cocaine from the Andean nation to the United States.
According to information published by the newspaper El Deber, Roca and his allies “had made contact with Colombia, with the "goal of increasing the level of production per hectare [of coca crops] to improve the alkaloid and move the technical part to Bolivia.”
The cocaine reportedly came from laboratories in Peru and Bolivia, close to the border with Brazil.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Roca case illustrates how some drug traffickers manage to revive their illegal activities after spending decades in prison, building off their criminal pasts.
The return of drug traffickers to their home countries after serving their sentences in the United States has led to speculation about their possible return to the underworld. But Roca, if he is sentenced, would be one of the few demonstrable cases in which this has become reality.
Roca is not the first trafficker accused of resuming drug trafficking activities upon returning to his home country. A 2018 report published by El Tiempo warned about the risk of Colombian traffickers trying to reactivate their criminal networks upon returning from prison in the United States.
In 2011, Víctor Patiño Fómeque was at the center of a war between Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos over the control of assets belonging to the Cali Cartel. According to information published by El Tiempo, Patiño Fómeque had played the role as a go-between for the Beltrán Leyva Cartel in Mexico and the Urabeños in exchange for support from the latter in the war against the Rastrojos.
In other cases, the return of old kingpins flares old tensions. A wave of violence in the Valle del Cauca department in 2015 was linked to the return of several old-school drug traffickers and frontmen.
More recently, the return of drug trafficker and former paramilitary Hernán Giraldo generated the same reaction in January of this year.
His family clan, which has since formed into a criminal group known as Los Pachenca, still maintains a degree of control over drug trafficking activities along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, and his return has generated fear among communities in the region.