Hermágoras González Polanco has been active in drug trafficking for over four decades, thanks to his ability to adapt to major shifts in political dynamics and rapidly changing criminal landscapes.
For most of his criminal career, González’s best-known alias was “Gordito” or “Fatso” González, owing to his short, stocky frame. In recent years, however, sources on both sides of the Venezuela-Colombian border have identified him by a new alias – “El General” – a nod to his alleged close-knit ties with the Venezuelan military. The name change underscores the importance of González’s network, which allows him to act as a key broker without controlling territory, infrastructure, or armed men.
Hermágoras González Polanco was born in 1959 on the Colombian side of the Guajira peninsula to a family from the binational indigenous Wayuú population.
In the 1980s, he joined the Guajira Cartel, a drug trafficking outfit on the Venezuela-Colombian border. In 1992, the cartel’s then-leader, Alexander Paz, was assassinated, passing the reigns of the Guajira Cartel on to Gordito González.
Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, Gordito González grew the Guajira Cartel into one of the region’s most important drug transport networks, expanding into Venezuela and, for a time, making it a fully binational group.
From around 1998, González worked in partnership with former Medellín Cartel drug runner Salomon Camacho Mora, according to US authorities. He also made powerful allies with high-ranking members of the Venezuelan military, who allegedly helped him grow his drug trafficking operations. This put González in conflict with other drug traffickers and on the radar of US anti-narcotics authorities, both of which repeatedly targeted him and his cartel throughout the 2000s.
US courts charged Gordito González with money laundering and drug trafficking in two separate cases. In Venezuelan, meanwhile, state forces allegedly linked to a rival gang launched an operation against the Guajira Cartel, ambushing the group’s members and killing González’s brother, Eudo. The public attention brought further US and UK law enforcement probes against Gordito González’s collaborators within the Venezuelan state, many of whom were subsequently removed from their posts.
In 2008, Venezuelan authorities arrested both Gordito González and Salomon Camacho in two separate operations. Gordito González was spared extradition to the United States and allowed to remain in Venezuela, where he was tried and sentenced to over 15 years in a Caracas prison.
For the next three years, the drug trafficker was rarely mentioned. But rather than disappearing into obscurity, it seems that Gordito González was regrouping.
He re-appeared in news coverage of the 2016 trial against the nephews of first lady Cilia Flores, highly publicized as the “narco-nephews” trial. The prosecution presented evidence that in conspiring to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine to the US, the nephews had relied on the Guajira Cartel to broker the purchase of the drugs from Colombian guerrillas. The drug trafficking agreement allegedly had a side deal: to free Gordito González.
Evidence in the case corroborates what dozens of sources, including former and active security officials, experts, low-level drug traffickers, and government officials, have told InSight Crime: that after his arrest, Gordito González rebuilt a network from within the prison walls, carving out a new niche for himself in Venezuela’s rapidly changing drug trafficking landscape, shifting roles from a transporter to a narco-broker.
By all accounts, though officially he continues to serve his sentence, González has not been bound by prison walls for years. Those sources that believe him to be in prison at all, disagree on which detention center holds him; many others suggest that if he is imprisoned, he is free to come and go; and, since 2021, a growing number of sources, including security officials have told InSight Crime that instead of prison, Gordito González is living freely abroad in Colombia or Panama.
Throughout his decades-long criminal career, Hermágoras González Polanco was allegedly involved in arms trafficking, contraband, and fuel smuggling, but his primary criminal operations were always focused on drug trafficking.
A 2005 US indictment describes how González’s network bought cocaine from processing laboratories in Colombia and smuggled it over the border to Venezuela, where it was stored and dispatched by sea to US territories. According to the US Department of State, their network shipped up to nine tons of cocaine between 1999 and 2000 alone.
From there, their operations only got bigger. At the time of his arrest in 2008, Gordito González controlled as much as one-third of the 250 tons of cocaine that annually passed through Venezuela on its way to US and European markets, according to US authorities cited in the media.
After his arrest, González’s modus operandi transformed completely. To remain active in drug trafficking, he had to shed both his old alliances and the old structure and territory of the Guajira Cartel. But what González gave up in control, he gained in agility, allowing him to successfully pivot from transporter to broker by rebuilding his drug trafficking organization as a cartel of contractors.
Today, González’s shipments arrive by land to his new base of operations on the coast of Falcón. His connections in the Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB) facilitate and sometimes even move the cocaine themselves, according to local fishermen with first-hand experience of trafficking in the region, and active security sources in Falcón.
Falcón’s coast is today a primary drug departure point, especially along maritime trafficking routes. The state’s fishing communities guard and transport the shipments. They have little choice on the matter, given the coercion used by drug traffickers and an economic crisis that has crippled their ability to earn a living any other way.
Journalists, fishermen, and even security officials have consistently told InSight Crime that Gordito González sends emissaries to recruit from within the fishing communities. Even when caught, fishermen bear the punishment without bringing authorities any closer to the Gordito González or his emissaries, who never stay in one location long and avoid building too close of a relationship with those they recruit.
“You don’t know who the shipment belongs to, you don’t have direct contact with them, there is always an intermediary,” one local fisherman, who asked to remain anonymous, told InSight Crime. “It is one person who recruits you, another who pays you, another who hands over the merchandise, each you see only once.”
When González began his career with the Guajira Cartel, it was based in the border city of Maicao in the Colombian department of La Guajira. As it grew, Gordito González began expanding his operations into Venezuela.
At the turn of the century, as Colombian security forces began paying increased attention to Colombia’s Caribbean coast, González shifted his base of operations to Venezuela. Before his arrest, he maintained a stronghold in the state of Zulia, where he owned properties and developed a network of associates.
At the height of the Guajira Cartel’s power, Gordito González controlled routes from Colombia through Venezuela, ending at the Caribbean Islands, including the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, according to allegations made by US and Venezuelan prosecutors in two separate cases.
Since his arrest and re-emergence as a broker, Gordito González’s operations have been most visible in the Venezuelan state of Falcón, where cooperation – not conflict – characterizes the drug trafficking landscape.
Gordito González also maintains a muted presence around the Colombian town of Maicao, where residents report seeing the trafficker – now in his sixties – at wakes and other community functions. There are also unconfirmed reports that Gordito González continues to run operations in the area.
Allies and Enemies
Throughout his career, González relied as much on his ability to establish networks as on his capacity to traffic drugs.
His relationship with Salomon Camacho Mora helped the Guajira Cartel make connections with the Colombian trafficking network, the North Coast Cartel, according to US authorities.
After expanding into Venezuela, Gordito González built strong relationships with the country’s small-time local drug traffickers and became deeply involved with corrupt elements of Venezuela’s armed forces, collectively called the Cartel of the Suns (Cartel de los Soles). His military collaborators allegedly provided the Guajira Cartel with licensed weapons and authentic government credentials, identifying them as military intelligence agents, according to media coverage of the arrest.
His key contact with the military was Clíver Alcalá, an influential army general with close ties to the Chavista elite and, according to US prosecutors, to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Such connections provided protection against security force operations and a direct connection with one of the biggest cocaine suppliers at that time. The business relationship was cemented through marriage when Alaclá reportedly wed Gordito González’s niece, Martha.
However, González’ rapid expansion into Venezuelan territory also put him in conflict with local drug traffickers, including Walid Makled – one of Venezuela’s most important home-grown kingpins, who had his own Cartel of the Suns connections. Their rivalry was characterized by violent confrontations and government operations that killed Gordito González’s brother and, eventually, saw both of their drug trafficking structures dismantled and both Gordito González and Makled imprisoned.
In 2013, González’s network suffered its biggest blow when Alcalá retired from the armed forces, fell out with the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela - PSUV), and fled to Colombia.
Despite the apparent betrayal of his closest regime ally, González was allegedly able to rebuild his network amongst the Chavista elite, as well as within the criminal world. In recent years, he has collaborated with Falcón’s other drug trafficking organizations, including the Paraguaná Cartel, to dispatch larger shipments of cocaine.
Today Gordito González is better known by a new alias – “El General” because of his alleged close working relationship with the Venezuelan military.
González no longer commands an organized armed group to operate. Moreover, he is unlikely to rebuild the infrastructure needed to return the Guajira Cartel to his pre-arrest glory days. He has shown, however, how shedding territorial control and manpower can aid rather than hinders his abilities as a narco-broker. As such, Gordito González will likely continue to play a key role in Venezuelan drug trafficking as long as he continues to benefit the corrupt elements within the Venezuelan state that are involved in drug trafficking.