Authorities claim to have captured the head of a local criminal offshoot responsible for the notorious “chop houses” in Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest Pacific port city, reported national media Wednesday.
National Police General Rodolfo Palomino confirmed the capture of Orlando Cuervo Martinez, alias “Oreja,” in the western state of Tolima, several hours away from the coastal city of Buenaventura, where authorities have recently uncovered a series of abandoned houses in which Martinez allegedly ordered his enemies be dismembered, according to Colombia’s RCN Radio.
Martinez is believed to be the head of the criminal group, “La Empresa,” a drug-trafficking offshoot of the national neo-paramilitary group, “Los Rastrojos.” For years, La Empresa has been engaged in a gruesome gang war for control of Buenaventura that has produced thousands of forced displacements and casualties and plunged the city into one of the deepest human rights crises in the country.
According to Palomino, Martinez will be transferred to the capital, Bogota, to be charged with drug trafficking, murder, and extortion. The police chief claimed that Martinez’s capture would leave La Empresa leaderless and cripple the gang’s 200-person operation in Buenaventura, reported RCN.
A recent report from the state-sponsored displacement monitoring group (CODHES), however, casts doubt on the effectiveness of targeting individuals. “Illegal armed groups, mainly macro-criminal apparatuses formed after the demobilization of the AUC, keep growing or showing their adaptability [in Buenaventura], constantly replacing leaders killed or captured by the security forces,” reads the report.
In other words, the capture of Oreja will probably have little impact on the operations of La Empresa, as a new leader will replace the captured Martinez, if not from within the local organization, then from the national umbrella group behind it.
La Empresa, along with the criminal group “Los Urabeños,” are responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities in the country, dismembering their enemies in chop houses and leaving the remains scattered throughout the city or dumping their bodies in the Pacific Ocean.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published in March, residents claim to regularly hear people screaming for mercy as they are slaughtered with machetes and chainsaws. Incidents of violence tend to go unreported to authorities because “the fear is absolute,” according to the report.
As of June 30 of this year, at least 15 bodies have been found dismembered in Buenaventura, which contains access to some of the most important drug trafficking routes in the country, as well as shipping operations to Asia and Central America.
Various human rights groups, including the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, have visited the city in recent months, though the government has yet to propose any lasting solution to the situation plaguing what is an important city in the country’s long-term trade goals.