Three retired Colombian army commanders have been accused of belonging to a criminal network that served the Urabeños drug clan, in a case illustrating how the highest ranks of Colombia’s armed forces continue to be accused of colluding in trafficking activities.
According to a 663-page investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, retired General Leonardo Alfonso Barrero Gordillo is alleged to have conspired with accused trafficker Juan Larinson Castro, alias “Matamba,” the leader of the Urabeños structure known as the Cordillera Sur, Blu Radio reported. Barrero Gordillo, a 38-year veteran and commander of Colombia’s military from August 2013 to February 2014, has not been formally charged and has denied the allegations.
Also named in the investigation are retired colonels Harry Leonardo Gómez Tabares, alias “Júpiter,” and Robinson Javier González del Río, alias “Coro” or “Comando.” Both men were arrested in early February and face charges that include criminal conspiracy.
According to the investigation, Matamba – who was arrested in October of last year – controlled cocaine production and trafficking in four municipalities in Nariño, a department along the Pacific coast of southern Colombia. Prosecutors say that Matamba counted on retired and active military personnel to provide him with a “criminal monopoly” in the region. This included conducting operations against another criminal group in the area controlled by alias Sábalo.
Matamba was also provided with military intelligence and the location of troops. Military personnel and paraphernalia were also used in the purchase and transport of cocaine, according to the investigation.
Barrero Gordillo was named 74 times in the investigation, in which he was also referred to as “El Padrino,” or “the Godfather.” A judge from Pasto had previously approved an arrest warrant against him, but prosecutors later requested that it be revoked on the basis of insufficient evidence.
Both Barrero Gordillo and González del Río have been accused of war crimes during Colombia’s conflict. They were previously tied to the assassination of civilians who were then presented as enemy combatants, known as the false positives scandal.
González del Río was convicted of participating in two false-positive cases. He also admitted to participating in 26 similar cases during testimony before Colombia’s Special Justice for Peace (Justicia Especial para la Paz – JPE), through which he regained his freedom. Barrero Gordillo also testified before the peace court, acknowledging that at least 220 false-positive cases occurred under his command.
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Colombia’s military has a long and dark history of collusion with traffickers, dating to their support of paramilitary armies that fueled themselves through cocaine trafficking.
One of the first cases to reveal drug ties reaching the highest level of Colombia’s security forces was that of Mauricio Santoyo, a police general who pleaded guilty to having links with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC), the country’s former paramilitary army and one of the world’s largest trafficking groups. Santoyo was accused of taking millions in drug bribes from the AUC and Medellin-based criminal syndicate the Oficina de Envigado between 2000 and 2008.
In 2012, former Colombian Army intelligence chief Pauselino Latorre was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted of acting as a frontman for Carlos Aguirre Babativa, alias “El Señor,” who was extradited to the US on drug charges.
More recently, in 2019, the former head of the Recruitment and Control of Reserves Command, Elkin Alfonso Argote Hidalgo, was removed from office after being arrested along with Miguel Antonio Bastidas, alias “Gargola,” the head of a trafficking group known as “La Constru.”
Army counterintelligence documents, published by Caracol in 2021, gave an account of the relationship between two generals and two lieutenant colonels with the Barros family clan, an ally of the Urabeños. According to the documents, the military gave orders to allow the group to continue its criminal activities in the Guajira department.
Some military officials have continued to justify their links to drug trafficking groups. In January of this year, Sixth Division Commander General Jorge Hernando Herrera Díaz was dismissed from his post following allegations of colluding with a trafficking group in a war against dissidents from the extinct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). The commander acknowledged the alliance, saying “that’s war.”
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