Drug-Smuggling Militiamen Arrested In Colombia

By Dialogo
September 18, 2009

Twenty-eight suspected members of a paramilitary organization linked to drug trafficking to the United States and Europe were arrested, Colombian authorities said. The arrests were made by Colombian police and prosecutors in coordination with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. One of the most important arrests was made in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, where Donaldo Verbel Garcia - alias "El Gato" (The Cat), the head of the Los Paisas militia on the northern Colombian coast and the person in charge of coordinating drug shipments abroad - was taken into custody. Police said that El Gato shipped drugs using two methods: across the Caribbean Sea in relatively large boats and with human carriers who first go to Venezuela and from there travel to Central America, the United States and Europe. Authorities also discovered an ingenious strategy the band used to transport drugs on the high seas consisting of securing cargoes of some 500 kilos below the water's surface attached to a buoy. During the course of the investigation, police also determined that the band has links with other groups like that headed by Daniel Barrera, one of Colombia's most-wanted drug kingpins. The AUC federation of right-wing militias, which was deeply involved in the drug trade, dissolved in mid-2006 after more than 31,000 paramilitaries laid down their arms in keeping with the peace process agreed to with the government of President Alvaro Uribe. Afterwards, however, other paramilitary bands began cropping up, including Los Paisas, which - in many cases - have developed links with drug trafficking.