The “Urabeños,” also known as the “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia,” are a neo-paramilitary group from the north of Colombia that has violently taken control of the country’s Caribbean coast following the demobilization of the paramilitary AUC.
The organization got their name in the late 1990s and early 2000s when its commanders were still members of the AUC and the paramilitaries started an offensive from the region of Uraba towards Colombia’s eastern plains.
When the AUC officially demobilized between 2003 and 2006, mid-level commanders and fighters from the paramilitary groups ACCU, the “Bloque Centauros” and the “Bloque Elmer Cardenas” took over the paramilitary structure in the north of Colombia and began operating under the name of Autodefensas Gaitanistas.
The founder of the Urabeños is Daniel Rendon, alias “Don Mario,” a former mid-level AUC commander and brother of Fredy Rendon, alias “El Aleman,” who demobilized as commander of the Bloque Elmer Cardenas.
Using his home Uraba region as base, Don Mario and his group expanded their territory into the department of Antioquia and along the Caribbean coast, funded with money made with drug trafficking, extortion and contract killings.
While expanding, the group clashed with the “Paisas” and the “Oficina de Envigado” — two Medellin-based groups that had also formed from the demobilized AUC, and the “Rastrojos,” a group former by former members of the Norte del Valle cartel and operating from the southwest of Colombia.
The clashes that followed between 2007 and 2009 — which intensified after the extradition of the former AUC leaders in May 2008 — left thousands dead in the departments of Antioquia and Cordoba.
Don Mario was arrested in April 2009 which forced the group to reorganize and retreat from areas where their expansion was resisted most by rival groups.
The brothers Dario Antonio and Juan de Dios Usuga, known respectively as “Otoniel” and “Giovanni” took over the supreme command of the group and focused the Urabeños’ growing military power on consolidating their Uraba stronghold and expanding along the Caribbean coast while forming alliances with commanders of rival group the Paisas and the Rastrojos.
While authorities in 2010 claimed Don Mario’s group had been dismantled, the Urabeños continued their territorial expansion all the way to the Venezuelan border. Colombian media reports throughout 2012 estimated the groups grew to have between 1,300 and 2,000 fighters.
The group’s most visible show of force came in January 2012, days after police killed Giovanni in Uraba; Spreading pamphlets across the north of Colombia, the Urabeños virtually shut down all economic activity and public transport in the region.
Following the death of Giovanni, another former AUC member, “Mi Sangre,” rose to the top of the organization, leading the Urabeños’ contacts in Medellin.
The group’s ongoing tension with the Rastrojos and remnants of the Paisas continues to cause high murder rates in the Bajo cauca region where a lot of coca plantations are located. The Urabenos’ control over the Caribbean coast is contested by a group operating from the city of Santa Marta and allegedly made up of family members of demobilized warlord Hernan Giraldo and former fighters of the demobilized AUC’s “Bloque Norte.”
Map compiled with data published by Indepaz (orange)