Two brothers known as “Los Rudos” have been identified as new major players in a drug war raging in the eastern plains of Colombia since the split of neo-paramilitary group ERPAC.
The brothers have joined the fight for the lucrative drug trafficking routes which stretch along the Brazil and Venezuela borders, believed to be worth as much as $300 million per year in cocaine sales.
The Eastern Plains have seen intense violence since the capture of powerful drug lord Daniel “El Loco” Barrera in September 2012 in Venezuela. He had been in the area since the 1980’s and, through strategic alliances with a wide variety of criminal organizations, El Loco achieved complete control over the area, shipping an estimated 400 tons of cocaine a year.
PROFILE: El Loco Barrera
El Loco would act as a middleman, buying cocaine base from the FARC and selling it on to the highest bidder. For a time that was paramilitary group AUC, and in particular its powerful Centauros Bloc, headed from 2001 by Miguel Arroyave.
In an attempt to expand his control over the different sectors of the drug trade El Loco joined forces with two commanders of the Centauros Bloc, “Jorge Pirata” and “Cuchillo”, to assassinate Arrovaye in September 2004.
While Jorge Pirata handed himself over to the police as part of the demobilization of the AUC between 2003 and 2006, Cuchillo went on to create the neo-paramilitary group ERPAC out of the ashes of the Centauros Bloc.
With the backing of “El Loco” Barrera, ERPAC became a powerful force on the Eastern Plains, but began to lose their way after a series of arrests in 2009, including that of “Pijarvey”, second in command to Cuchillo, who would spend just two years in prison.
After the demise of Cuchillo, who drowned while drunkenly fleeing police on Christmas Eve in 2010, ERPAC was weak and began to fall apart. New leader “Carancho” ostensibly demobilized the group in December 2011, but in fact only 267 members surrendered to the police, leaving 560 members to continue in the region, according to a report by the International Crisis Group.
As the names suggest, Bloque Meta mainly operated in Meta department, while the Libertadores de Vichada had an active presence in Vichada department, on the border with Venezuela, and in the north of Meta close to Bogota. Bloque Meta had the advantage of maintaining ties with “El Loco” Barrera, still the most powerful player in the Eastern Plains.
When El Loco was captured in September 2012, a power vacuum was left, setting the stage for all-out war. Various groups moved to take control of the territory. Apart from Bloque Meta and Libertadores de Vichada were FARC rebels, who controlled cocaine production, and the expanding crime syndicate Urabeños, who moved into the departments of Meta and Vichada after a December 2011 agreement with criminal gang Rastrojos.
Two days before “El Loco” Barrera was captured, Flaco Freddy, leader of Bloque Meta, was arrested. His successor, “Jean Claude”, handed himself over to police in October 2012.
Bloque Meta suffered more losses as first new leader “Calamisco” – who had previously been a military commander in Los Libertadores, switching allegiances when Pijarvey tried to assassinate him – was captured in January 2013, followed by his successor, “Mostrico”, in April.
It was Mostrico who first made overtures to Los Rudos, at that time operating out of the capital of Guaviare, the department bordering Meta to the south. By this point Meta Bloque’s numbers had dwindled down to 40 members, according to the regional chief of police.
Since then little has been heard of Bloque Meta, and it is quite possible that “Los Rudos” have taken over the group. Evidence that Bloque Meta still exists came on July 31st, when an alleged member was captured while extorting money from a shop. The shopkeeper was given a receipt with the ‘Bloque Meta’ letterhead.
While Bloque Meta has all but disappeared, rival group Los Libertadores de Vichada has grown under the leadership of Pijarvey. Although his second-in-command, “Farid”, was arrested in Meta, June 2013, Pijarvey remains at large. At that time newspaper El Tiempo claimed that Los Libertadores had 143 members.
It may be the case that Pijarvey has formed an alliance with the Urabeños, the largest criminal gang in the country, who – according to a police report in April – now possess in excess of 2366 members, more than major paramilitary group ELN. Evidence of a pact emerged after the capture of Hector Urdinola, head of “Los Machos”, a criminal gang that, like the Rastrojos, descended from the Norte del Valle cartel.
Urdinola was closely allied with the Urabeños, if not a fully-fledged member. Since the August 2011 sale of Los Machos territory to the Urabeños in the Valle del Cauca department in the Pacific Southwest – as reported by Cali-based newspaper El Pais – Los Machos have ostensibly been operating under the Urabeños banner.
At the time of his capture Urdinola was in Meta department because, police say, he was looking to form an alliance with Los Libertadores de Vichada. The evidence strongly suggests that he was operating on behalf of the Urabeños.
If an alliance has been formed between Los Libertadores and the Urabeños in the Eastern Plains, then it is difficult to see any other group competing with them for complete control over the territory, despite the posturing of Los Rudos.
An intelligence report cited in newspaper El Tiempo on Monday claimed that Los Rudos have cocaine-processing laboratories in parts of Guaviare department, as well as Meta and Cudinamarca. It also describes how the Los Rudos brothers began as lowly drug-runners for the ERPAC, but have become major players in the region. Still, they will find it difficult to unseat the potentially combined powers of Los Libertadores and the Urabeños.
Apart from the profits to be made from cocaine sales, the Eastern Plains are also one of the most productive regions in Colombia, to the extent that crime analysis website Insight Crime traces the root of Colombia’s 49-year civil conflict to these plains.
The website also highlights the fact that the group that controls the Eastern Plains also controls the provincial capital Villavicencio, which links the plains to Bogota and represents Colombia’s “biggest local drug market”.
Intelligence sources told Insight Crime in February that at least 40 men had been killed in recent fighting in the area.
Los Rudos’ area of operations
- Guerra de capos del narcotráfico por el poder en los Llanos (El Tiempo)
- New Fighting for Colombia’s Lucrative Eastern Plains (Insight Crime)
- Juez dejó en libertad a ‘Pijarvey’, uno de los capos de ‘Cuchillo’ (El Tiempo)
- Policía captura a alias El Flaco Freddy, jefe de la disidencia del Erpac (El Pais)
- Capturado alias “Calamisco”, máximo cabecilla del autodenominado “Bloque Meta” (Minuto30)
- Captura de alias ‘Mostrico’ es golpe fatal al ‘Bloque Meta’ (El Universal)
- ‘Arcángel’, Miguel Arroyave (Verdad Abierta)
- ‘Urabeños’ y ‘Rastrojos’ se repartieron las narcozonas de Colombia (El Tiempo)
- Un pitbull llevó a la Policía hasta capo de nueva generación (El Tiempo)
- Familiar del capo Iván Urdinola asumiría el control de ‘Machos’ (El Tiempo)
- Capturado segundo de ‘libertadores del Vichada’ (El Tiempo)
- ‘Los Urabeños’ tienen 2.366 hombres y supera en número al ELN (RCN Television)
- Gaula captura a nueve personas por extorsión en el Meta (El Tiempo)
- Gaula Militar Meta capturó integrante de la banda criminal Bloque Meta en el municipio de San Martin (Ejercito de Colombia)