Two of the detainees were leaders who controlled drug trafficking routes in eastern Colombia.
Colombian authorities detained eight members of the Organized Armed Group (GAO in Spanish) Los Puntilleros at the end of May 2018. The captures took place simultaneously in the Vichada and Meta departments of eastern Colombia as part of a joint interagency operation by the Army, the Navy, and Joint Task Force ARES of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish). The operation also counted with support from the National Police and the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia.
The terrorists face charges for drug trafficking and aggravated murder, among other crimes. “The Armed Forces combine all their capabilities to disrupt these structures,” said FAC Brigadier General Iván Hidalgo, commander of the Second Air Combat Command.
Alias Costeño, leader of Los Puntilleros, with an arrest warrant in Puerto Carreño for controlling drug trafficking routes along the border with Venezuela, was among the detainees. In the department of Vichada, authorities charged four other people with extortion, kidnapping, and supporting the organization’s logistics, among other crimes. According to the Colombian Navy, all five stand accused for the murder of nine people in Puerto Carreño.
Authorities captured three other people in the department of Meta at the same time. Alias Boyaco, head of the Vichada Liberators Bloc, part of Los Puntilleros, was among them. Boyaco, who coordinated drug trafficking activities in the area, is accused of 16 cases of extortion in Meta.
A six-month-long joint military intelligence effort made the arrests possible. The Fifth Marine Brigade, the Regional Eastern Riverine Intelligence unit, and the Army’s 28th Jungle Brigade, which monitored and identified GAO members, carried out the operations.
Los Puntilleros started operating in 2015 under the leadership of Oscar Mauricio Pachón, alias Puntilla, who merged the Vichada Liberators GAO and Meta Bloc —both organizations arose after the 2011 demobilization and fragmentation of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia. Los Puntilleros control strategic points of narcotrafficking corridors in eastern Colombia, from the department of Meta to the Venezuelan border.
“Their main modus operandi is to control routes and mobility corridors in the department of Vichada and part of the department of Meta to carry out their illicit activities,” Colombian Navy Rear Admiral Antonio José Martínez Olmos, commander of the Eastern Naval Force, told Diálogo. “They also collect extortion money from riverine and land traders as funding sources.”
The Colombian Ministry of Defense classifies Los Puntilleros, Clan del Golfo, and Los Pelusos as the main GAOs, in addition to remnants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that oppose the peace agreements. The Ministry of Defense seeks to promote and strengthen interagency and combined work for the Armed Forces to counter GAO structures effectively.
Land, rivers, and air
Weather conditions affect mobility in the Eastern Plains region, where the departments of Vichada and Meta are located. Summer lasts six months, at which time rivers are no longer navigable and land becomes the preferred transport route for people, trade, and tourism.
“When winter comes, rivers rise for six months, allowing large vessels to navigate and move transport, tourism, and trade through the main waterways,” Rear Adm. Martínez said. “This situation presents us with two different operational scenarios, in which joint efforts play an important role [with] permanent land, river, and air presence.”
“Through the Victoria Plus Plan for stabilization and consolidation and the Horus Plan, enforced around the country, the Military Forces keep up offensive operations against all GAOs, especially in the Meta and Guaviare regions,” Brig. Gen. Hidalgo said. “In recent weeks, we carried out [maneuvers] with good results to neutralize all these structures.”
According to the General Command of the Colombian Military Forces, the Victoria Plus Plan counters dissidents and new alliances among groups such as Los Puntilleros. The Horus Plan involves law enforcement operations in 603 high-priority townships and 157 municipalities to bring peace to the population.
“We expect to deliver more and better news about the fight against these structures. The National Police and Colombian Military Forces will keep working to secure eastern Colombia,” Brig. Gen. Hidalgo concluded.