Arms supplier for Los Urabeños captured by Colombian security forces
By Dialogo February 13, 2014
Colombian National Police (PNC) recently arrested Gustavo Velásquez Rodríguez, who is suspected of being the primary arms supplier for the organized crime group Los Urabeños. Velásquez is known as “The Lord of War” and “Strong Hand.”
National Police agents captured The Lord of War on Jan. 18, 2014, in Medellin. In addition to illegally possessing weapons, authorities accuse The Lord of War with murder and involvement with organized crime. Police did not provide details of the arrest because of ongoing criminal investigations.
Before he was captured, The Lord of War was the main supplier of long-range weapons for Los Urabeños, one of the largest organized crime groups in Colombia. The Lord of War also allegedly supplied illegal weapons to Víctor Ramón Navarro, a drug trafficker who is affiliated with the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), according to a statement from the PNC. Navarro is also known as “Megateo.”
International weapons trafficking
The Lord of War, 44, has contacts with arms manufacturers in Israel and Russia, authorities said. He allegedly purchased high-powered weapons from the manufacturers, had them transported to Colombia, and sold them to Los Urabeños, the drug trafficking group led by Megateo, and other organized crime groups. The Lord of War allegedly supplied AK-47 rifles, Benelli shotguns, and Barrett rifles with telescopic sights to organized crime groups.
The Lord of War allegedly arranged for weapons to be transported into Colombia through the provinces of Norte de Santander and La Guajira. .
The Lord of War allegedly supplied weapons to Los Urabeños through a contact who is known as “Albeiro” or “Lobo,” authorities said. Authorities believe Albeiro has assumed a greater role in the operations of the organized crime group since the November 2013 capture in Madrid of Carlos Andrés Palencia González, a high-ranking Los Urabeños leader. Colombian police worked with Spanish security forces to locate and capture Palencia González, who is also known as “El Visaje.”
El Visaje is suspected of murdering a police officer, extortion, and drug trafficking. In 2009, El Visaje was serving a prison sentence when he escaped as he was being transported to court for a hearing. He remained a fugitive until November by using a second identity, authorities siad.
Connection to ‘Megateo’
The Lord of War is believed to have been the primary weapons supplier to Megateo, who is one of the top leaders of the EPL, authorities said. The Lord of War allegedly supplied weapons to Megateo through Fraydeman Rincón, an organized crime operative who is also known as “Ricardo Boquete.”
Megateo is wanted for murder, illegal possession of firearms, and organized crime activity, authorities said.
The capture of The Lord of War should lead to a significant reduction in violence in the Urabá and the Catatumbo regions, authorities said.
The Lord of War “isn’t just anyone. He is an arms dealer, a key figure for a criminal organization. Someone like that cannot be replaced spontaneously,” said Gustavo Duncan, a security analyst at the University of the Andes. “His arrest is a victory for the authorities, but does not put an end to drug trafficking.”
Velásquez Rodríguez is not the first arms dealer to be known as The Lord of War. In 2008, authorities in Bangkok arrested Viktor Bout, a former Russian Army lieutenant who was believed to be the biggest international arms dealer in the world. Bout was known as “The Lord of War” and the “Merchant of Death.” In 2010, the Thai government extradited Bout to the United States, where he is now serving a 25-year prison sentence for providing firearms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutes war criminals and perpetrators of human rights violations. In 2013, the ICC issued a report warning about the “power of Los Urabeños,” which is Colombia’s largest organized crime group.
Los Urabeños “is organized enough to become involved in a non-international armed conflict,” according to the report. Los Urabeños is led by Dayro Antonio Úsuga David, who is known as “Otoniel.”
Los Urabeños is a paramilitary-style group of drug traffickers based in north-central Colombia. The group is comprised primarily of members of the now-defunct United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Some of the group’s members were once affiliated with the Medellin Cartel.
The organized crime group operates in 17 departments. It also controls drug trafficking routes in the Choco-Darién region, Gulf of Morrosquillo, the mountains of Perijá, the Paramillo Massif, and in large cities like Bogota and Medellín.
Los Urabeños are a legacy of the Medellín Cartel, who have gained entry to Buenaventura, historic territory of the Norte del Valle Cartel, said Duncan.
Los Urabeños has expanded and consolidated its power in different regions by recruiting new members and forging alliances with local street gangs, Duncan said. Street gangs work for Los Urabeños as informants, and engage in such criminal enterprises as homicide, extortion, prostitution, money-laundering, and micro-trafficking in densely populated urban areas.
In 2013, security forces seized about 550 weapons from Los Urabeños, authorities said. The weapons were seized in different security operations which were carried out in various regions.
Between June 2006 and June 2012, security forces detained more than 12,000 members of Los Urabeños and Los Rastrojos, another large Colombian organized crime group which engages in drug trafficking and extortion. In addition to the arrests, security forces seized more than 6,000 firearms and more than 90 tons of drugs.
Los Urabeños has ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, the Mexican transnational criminal organization which is led by the fugitive drug lord, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán. Los Urabeños has about 1,200 hard-core members. Los Urabeños have fought with the FARC for control of territory in the Colombian Eastern Plains, according to published reports.
Colombian security forces must remain vigilant in their battle with Los Urabeños, according to Duncan.
“The government has an obligation to repress these criminal organizations. The State’s response must be relentless, just as they did with Pablo Escobar, the Cali Cartel, and the paramilitaries,” Duncan said. “The Army has the technology, intelligence, machinery, and control of airspace to conduct an intense government persecution operation when a criminal organization expands and acquires power.”
“The government has an obligation to repress these criminal organizations. The State’s response must be relentless, just as they did with Pablo Escobar, the Cali Cartel, and the paramilitaries,” Duncan said.
Colombian security forces should strengthen their presence in villages that have served as a recruiting base for organized crime groups, Duncan said.