MEDELLÍN, Colombia – More than 150 alleged members of the criminal organization Los Urabeños, suspected of homicides, kidnappings, forced displacements, drug trafficking and shipping cocaine to Central America and the United States, have been arrested since October 2009.
But the latest – and largest – blow against the drug trafficking network occurred when 40 arrest warrants led to 34 apprehensions on Oct. 7, Minister of Defense Rodrigo Rivera said, adding 25 raids collectively were conducted in 10 of the country’s 32 departments.
Rivera said Los Urabeños have sent “a large amount of drugs” through Venezuela en route to Central America and the United States.
“We’re talking about more than 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of cocaine seized during the last year, in cooperation with Colombian and U.S. authorities,” he said.
The names of Los Urabeños’ alleged leaders were included on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List, compiled by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, in March. Officials then froze their assets and prevented any companies they own – including ones in the United States – from making transactions.
Two of the biggest names on the list, which was updated Sept. 29, are Darío Antonio Úsuga David and Juan de Dios Úsuga David. They are suspected of reorganizing the criminal network led by incarcerated drug trafficker Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias “Don Mario,” who was arrested in Colombia on April 15 of last year, Rivera said.
Rendón Herrera, a former member of the demobilized paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), told Colombian officials the laboratories he headed produced between 800 and 1,000 kilograms (between 1,760 and 2,200 pounds) of cocaine monthly.
Finances and hitmen
Col. Hugo Agudelo Sanabria, police commander of the department of Sucre, said additional arrests likely will be made as part of the “Ocean” operation.
“We dealt a hard blow to Los Urabeños, since we’re talking about not only weakening the hitmen of the criminal organization, but also [hitting] its financial structure,” he said.
The operation’s success, he said, was a result of the collaborative work between the police, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), the Prosecutor’s Office and the Marine Infantry.
The “Ocean” operation blocked the shipment of five tons of cocaine destined for Central America and the United States through Venezuela, officials said.
With more than 10 operations conducted during the past two years, Colombian authorities have been weakening Los Urabeños, which had close to 200 members, officials said.
Most of the members were demobilized paramilitaries who belonged to the AUC’s blocs “Héroes de los Montes de María,” “Élmer Cárdenas,” “Guaviare,” “Centauros” and “Norte.”
The Oct. 7 operation was preceded by the apprehension of several of Los Urabeños’ alleged lieutenants. Officials arrested Marco Fidel Barba Galarcio, alias “Mateo,” on Oct. 5, 2009; Durán Caicedo, alias “Morcilla,” on March 21 of this year; and Conrado Antonio Londoño Higuita, alias “La Araña,” in early September.
Rivera said he will discuss his country’s next step against Los Urabeños when he meets with his Venezuelan counterpart, Carlos Mata Figueroa, on Oct. 22 in the city of Cúcuta, in the department of Norte de Santander. Rivera and Mata Figueroa also will work together to find ways to improve the countries’ cooperation and effectiveness in the fight against narcotics trafficking.
The Oct. 7 operation marked the largest against a criminal group since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August, replacing Álvaro Uribe, whose administration placed a high priority on stopping narcotics trafficking, organized crime and terrorist groups.
Rivera said Los Urabeños have been disbanded along the Atlantic coast.
“This operation affects the whole structure of this organization, which is dedicated to producing and exporting drugs,” he said.