The neo-paramilitary “Los Urabeños” organization has arrived in Cauca’s strategically important Pacific coast, threatening to further cement their status as Colombia’s only nationwide drug gang, the local Ombudsman said.
“Los Urabeños have arrived in Lopez, Timbiqui and Guapi along Cauca’s Pacific coast,” the Cauca department’s ombudsman, Victor J. Melendez , told Colombia Reports.
The presence of Los Urabeños could mark a significant shift in the criminal underworld of southwest Colombia. In 2010, the ombudsman’s office reported that the drug trafficking organization “Los Rastrojos” remained in control of the lower parts of Timbiqui and Guapi, including the rivers leading to the Pacific, while the FARC’s 29, 30 and 60 Fronts maintained control over the mountain ranges.
Cauca’s Pacific coast carries great importance as an exit point for illegal drugs and is close to some of Colombia’s most extensive coca growing areas, which is why the region carries a strategic importance for drug traffickers. Los Urabeños’ arrival indicates a displacement of Los Rastrojos towards more mountainous areas of Cauca.
Melendez said Los Rastrojos in Cauca had “concentrated their forces to Balboa, Argelia and Buenos Aires [along Colombia’s western mountain range]” while Los Urabeños gained strongholds in the Pacific areas during 2013.
Los Urabeños’ alleged presence in Cauca’s Pacific coast marks another chapter in the expansion of the neo-paramilitaries. While Los Rastrojos has lost unified command with the arrest or surrender of the organization’s three main leaders in 2012, Los Urabeños still have a clear, hierarchical structure and seem to be gaining increased importance as a national rather than local actor in the drug trade.
Los Urabeños, hailing from the northwestern Uraba region, have over the past years taken significant swaths of territory from their rivals in Los Rastrojos. Reports of fighting between the two groups in the southwestern city of Tulua emerged in 2010. Since then, Los Urabeños are believed to have challenged the rivals in the western Choco department and the Pacific port city of Buenaventura and Colombia’s third largest city, Cali.
According to a report by Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Los Urabeños, with 2,366 members, is currently outnumbering Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN. The neo-paramilitary group is believed to be growing and strengthening in large parts of Colombia, while other criminal groups, such as Renacer and Los Rastrojos, are losing force.
The group was former by former mid-level commanders of paramilitary umbrella organization AUC after it’s demobilization between 2003 and 2006.
PROFILE: Los Urabeños
Colombia’s Pacific departments
- Interview with Victor J. Mendelez, Ombudsman of Cauca
- Los Urabeños tienen 2.366 hombres y supera en número al Eln (W Radio)