An ever increasing string of enemies meant the notorious drug lord had to radically expand his network of contract killers in Medellin and adjacent municipalities.
Out of several of loosely organized, semi-independent assassination branches, the “Oficina de Envigado,” named after the municipality south of Medellin were it was born, stood out as one of the most effective.
After the death of Escobar in 1993, the Oficina overtook many of the drug lord’s extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking duties.
Today, rather than being a wholly coherent organization, the Oficina works as a patchwork of smaller, autonomous units seeking alliances with local neighborhood gangs, known as Combos. However, it still attracts highly trained recruits from former paramilitary groups and ex-members of the police force.
The Oficina’s main business interests are drug trafficking, contract killing, extortion and money laundering.
The Oficina de Envigado was long run by Diego Murillo, better known as “Don Berna,” a former fighter in the left-wing EPL guerrilla movement and one of the main drug trafficking chief os paramilitary organization AUC.
Berna, initially an ally of Escobar, fell out of grace with the drug lord after a series of loyalty spats with Berna’s bosses in the Galeano and Moncada families.
Escobar planned to have the families assassinated in 1992, which is when Don Berna sided against Escobar.
Teamed up with Escobar’s enemies, among them members of the Colombian state apparatus, the National Police, the Cali Cartel and rivaling Medellin criminals, Berna formed the PEPES (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), a paramilitary-like group designed to wear down Escobar’s criminal empire.
After Escobar’s assassination in 1993, Don Berna, brutal and cunning, emerged as the natural leader of the Oficina and the Medellin underworld. With other PEPES leaders, he became involved with the right-wing, anti-guerrilla paramilitary organization, AUC, or the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
Berna, now the commander of the AUC’s feared Cacique Nutibara Bloc, steered the gang towards a pragmatic, economic route, avoiding the highly-politicized one of the AUC.
After the left-wing guerrilla militias had been driven from Medellin, Don Berna surrendered to authorities but continue to exercize a quiet, but total control over the city’s underworld.
The relative peace allowed the city government of then-Mayor Sergio Fajardo to carry out a number of social investment projects. The peaceful co-existence between the city’s politicians and underworld became known as “Donbernability” and led to a sharp reduction in homicide rates between 2003 and 2008.
After Don Berna’s extradition to the United States in 2008, the quiet consensus which had shaped Medellin’s underworld broke down. Homicide and displacement rates rose dramatically, and the Oficina splintered into several, rivaling factions. The two most prominent came under control of alias “Valenciano” and alias “Sebastian.”
Having lost the income of international drug trafficking, the Oficina took to other means to finance its organization. Extortion rackets became common practice and the individual combos that made part of the Oficina ventured into the Bajo Cauca region searching for coca, marijuana and heroin, while in the city of Medellin the combos created drug consumption markets for the drugs imported from Bajo Cauca.
By the end of 2010, the war between Valenciano and Sebastian came to an end as the latter had assumed control of approximately 90% of the city’s territory, leaving his rival only the eastern Comuna 13 district.
Valenciano, the assassin turned commander-in-chief, was arrested in Venezuela in November 2011, while Sebastian was captured in Copacabana, just northeast of Medellin in August 2012.
Following these arrests, the crime syndicate further fractured. Reports of deadly, internal battles surfaced again on New Year’s Eve 2012, when nine suspected members of the syndicate were massacred in Envigado, in what media described as a showdown between two generations of Oficina leaders.
However, despite reports of heavy infighting, the Oficina is believed to remain in control of micro-trafficking and extortion in Medellin. The appearance of a new actor in Medellin’s metropolitan area in 2009, the neo-paramilitary group “Los Urabeños,” seems to have done little to halt the Oficina’s control over the majority of the city’s drug dealers and street gangs.
While the Urabeños, who hail from the northwestern Uraba region, control some neighborhoods and many exit routes that lead to Colombia’s Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, the Oficina is believed to be the number one crime syndicate in Medellin and surrounding municipalities.
Without a clear leadership, the Oficina is up for stiff competition against the hierarchically-structured Los Urabeños. But with a history of infiltrating Medellin’s local state apparatus and an obvious standing in many economically vulnerable neighborhoods, the Oficina seems to have an edge over its newly-arrived enemy.
According to crime analysis website Insight Crime, the Oficina generates approximately $31.4 million a year from money laundering alone. In order to maintain its businesses on the street, the Oficina uses pistols with silencers and is believed to have a large arsenal of machine guns and explosives.
Due to its decentralized nature, the Oficina often makes temporary alliances with other criminal organizations, such as the Valle del Cauca-based drug-trafficking group “Los Rastrojos” and Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas. These alliances facilitate the drug trafficking routes that lead all the way to the United States and Europe.