The death of a top guerrilla commander in southern Colombia has unveiled an all-too-familiar situation: the leaders of criminal groups may be replaced, but this rarely leads to any meaningful change in the security situation.
On August 15, Colombian authorities killed Anderson Perlaza Caicedo, alias “Borojó," in the town of Tumaco in the southern department of Nariño, President Iván Duque announced on Twitter. Perlaza Caicedo was the main leader of the United Guerrillas of the Pacific (Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico - GUP), part of the ex-FARC Mafia, a term for dissident criminal groups that refused to disarm as part of the 2016 peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). It is believed the group currently has about 220 members, according to one police investigator cited by El Tiempo.
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Perlaza Caicedo had headed up the GUP in Nariño's municipalities of Mosquera and Tumaco since 2018 after his predecessor, Héctor David Segura, alias “David," was also killed. He was one of the most-wanted men in Colombia, with authorities offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
Perlaza Caicedo was a key part of a complex network of ex-FARC Mafia drug traffickers in southern Colombia, which oversees the country's most abundant coca plantations, the production of cocaine and its dispatching to Mexico and the United States via the Pacific.
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The police operation to remove Perlaza Caicedo was carefully planned. Colombian commandos reportedly moved through the jungle for ten days until they reached the community of Bajo Jagua, where they knew he would be visiting a girlfriend.
But while one of the heads of Nariño's complex criminal hydra may have been removed, a successor is sure to emerge. The story of the GUP, the group Perlaza Caicedo led, exemplifies these criminal actors' boundless capacity for renewal.
The GUP emerged due to a split within the Oliver Sinisterra Front, one of the more dangerous ex-FARC Mafia groups in southern Colombia. Since then, it has become just one of many players fighting over criminal economies in Nariño, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), the Urabeños, also known as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC), and various ex-FARC Mafia groups.
The killing of Perlaza Caicedo is likely to lead to reckoning as his lieutenants seek to maintain the unity of the GUP and other criminal groups seek to move on its lucrative territory.
Earlier this year, GUP members fought with armed men from the Oliver Sinisterra Front to control drug trafficking routes in rural Tumaco. At least 400 people were displaced by the violence.
However, while being present in one of Colombia's most contested areas, the GUP had been quiet in recent months. According to the Conflict Responses Foundation (CORE), a Colombian non-profit monitoring security, the GUP has not picked a side in ongoing efforts to reunite the ex-FARC Mafia. Currently, there are two groups led by rival commanders: Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte," and Luciano Marín Arango, alias "Iván Márquez."
While this rivalry has embroiled most ex-FARC Mafia groups, staying out of the conflict may have helped the GUP stay independent, but it also meant that it did not have access to logistical and financial support.