Drug Trafficker and Paramilitary Sought in Colombia Dies
By Dialogo January 03, 2011
Pedro Guerrero, alias ‘Cuchillo’ [‘Knife’], one of Colombia’s most-wanted drug traffickers and former paramilitary leaders, accused of around three thousand murders, died in a police operation on Christmas Eve, President Juan Manuel Santos said on 29 December.
“The murderer of murderers fell. We’ve been after him for many years,” Santos specified at a press conference, after adding that this is “the heaviest blow that has been struck against the criminal gangs.”
The director of the police, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, displayed a pistol encrusted with gold and diamonds that Guerrero used to carry, according to him, as well as a knife with which the forty-year-old drug trafficker was in the habit of “beheading his victims.”
Guerrero, for whom the United States was offering a 2.5-million-dollar reward, died in an operation by around two hundred “jungle” commandos, in the town of Puerto Alvira, between the departments of Meta and Guaviare (in southeastern Colombia), according to the police.
After battling with his bodyguards, the uniformed personnel arrested seven men, including “El loco Harold” [“Crazy Harold”], the criminal organization’s finance chief.
Nevertheless, Guerrero was not found, and a search began that ended on 28 December with the discovery of his corpse floating in a stream located two hundred meters from the site where the fighting was concentrated, according to Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera.
All the same, ‘Cuchillo’s’ body did not show any wounds on an initial examination. “It has not been documented that he died from a bullet or a stab wound,” affirmed the director of the state Institute of Legal Medicine, Juan Isaac.
“Guerrero’s cause of death is being studied,” Isaac added. Nevertheless, an official announced later that the Colombian police believe that ‘Cuchillo’ drowned in a spring in the eastern part of the country, after suffering a heart attack and while fleeing drunk through the jungle.
“‘Cuchillo’ was drunk, and when he became aware of the presence of our helicopters over the house where he was celebrating Christmas, he succeeded in escaping together with two of his bodyguards, while others shot at us with machine guns,” affirmed Gen. Carlos Mena, director of the Judicial Police (Dijín).
Accused of around three thousand crimes, ‘Cuchillo’ was the subject of four open arrest warrants for criminal conspiracy, aggravated homicide, and narcotics trafficking. He was also under investigation for forced disappearance and forced displacement of peasants.
Despite announcing in April 2006 that he would demobilize, amid negotiations between the United Self-Defense Units of Colombia (AUC, extreme right-wing paramilitaries) and then-president Alvaro Uribe’s administration (2002-2010), ‘Cuchillo’ declined to do so and became the leader of the self-proclaimed Anticommunist Popular Revolutionary Army of Colombia (Erpac), an AUC dissident group.
He then became a kind of heir to Carlos Castaño, one of the founders of the AUC, an organization that he promised to refound after the process of demobilization.
According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Erpac has around one thousand men. Other sources, such as the private Institute of Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz), indicate that the group has influence in twelve of the country’s thirty-two departments, even in the capital itself.
According to the United States, the organization led by ‘Cuchillo’ is one of the chief suppliers of cocaine to its territory.
In addition to Erpac, which the Colombian authorities classify within the group of criminal gangs (Bacrim), criminal organizations at the service of drug traffickers and made up of former paramilitaries, at least five other similar factions are active.
Prominent among them are the Águilas Negras [Black Eagles], the Urabeños, the Paisas, the Renacer [Rebirth] gang, the Machos, and the Rastrojos [Stubble], which are believed, according to Indepaz, to be made up of between 7,400 and 12,000 men, counting the members of their support networks.