The US Treasury Department added Colombian neo-paramilitary organization “Los Urabeños” to the list of “drug trafficking organizations,” effectively blocking assets of its members and preventing them from making financial and commercial transactions on US soil.
The Department described the Urabeños as hailing from the northwestern Uraba region and with presence in 24 out of 32 Colombian departments. It said the neo-paramilitary organization had recruited former members of the paramilitary umbrella organization AUC and that it was being led by former leaders of the ELN (National Liberation Army) rebel group.
However, despite the department’s claim, most reports indicate the Urabeños’ top leadership is from the EPL (Army of Popular Liberation) rebel group. Cases in point are the former commander-in-chief’ Juan de Dios Usuga, alias “Giovanni,” and current leader Dario Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel,” both former leaders of EPL before the partial demobilization of the group in 1991.
According to the Treasury Department, the Urabeños has allied with Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC but engaged in turf wars over the control of drug trade with “Los Paisas” (formerly a rural wing of Medellin‘s largest crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado) and “Los Rastrojos,” a drug trafficking group from Colombia’s southwestern Valle del Cauca department. The Urabeños’ inclusion in the list reaffirms its growing importance as a regional rather than local actor in the drug trade.
The list, which was signed by US president Barack Obama and circulated in the Congress, also used the “drug trafficking” classification against other organizations and individuals in Latin America. Among them were the Honduran drug trafficking group “Los Cachiros,” which was said to be an important link between the Colombian drug-runners and Mexican cartels who are using Honduran territory as a transit point for cocaine. US authorities said Los Cachiros, lead by the Javier y Leonel Rivera Maradiaga brothers, controlled up to 90% of all clandestine airstrips in Honduras.
Other notable mentions on the list were the Mexican “Knights Templar,” a recently formed breakaway faction of the drug trafficking Michoacana Family. The Department of the Treasury wrote the Knights Templar, which controls one of the largest meta-amphetamine smuggling networks in the world, had allied with the Sinaloa Cartel to fight against the Zetas in several Mexican states.