Aristides Manuel Meza Páez, alias El Indio, third in command of the narcotrafficking group Gulf Clan, was neutralized on March 28, 2018, in Montelíbano, Córdoba, a rural area in the north of Colombia. The Armed Forces of Colombia’s Deployment Forces Against Transnational Threats (FUDAT, in Spanish) took down El Indio. FUDAT works within the framework of Operation Agamemnon II (Agamenón II), a joint campaign launched in February 2015 to neutralize organized crime leaders and target their finances.
El Indio had an arrest warrant for terrorism, homicide, threats, and obstruction of public roads. The criminal handled the finances of the Gulf Clan, supporting it with illicit drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering through shell companies, and the purchase of real estate and other property, according to a Colombian National Army press release.
“With [this mission], we dealt a strong blow to the strategic and financial component of the Gulf Clan, to the head of the organization,” Army General Alberto José Mejía, general commander of the Colombian Military Forces, said during a press conference. “We were able to disrupt the hierarchical criminal structure and to fracture the group’s relationship with international crime [structures].”
El Indio established criminal alliances with narcotrafficking groups in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, where cocaine was sent by sea and land to reach the United States and Europe. In Colombia, he also implemented the pistol plan, a tactic criminals use to reward their members for each law enforcement officers killed—almost always shot in the back and in public places.
“The National Police has been [looking for] this criminal for more than five years [since 2013],” Army Brigadier General Jorge Eduardo Mora López, FUDAT commander, told Diálogo. “On March 15, 2018, we received intelligence that was our starting point to plan Operation Oriana. Preparations happened quickly because we knew where the criminal would go, and like with other leaders, he would be in the same place for a maximum of 48 to 72 hours.”
During the planning, authorities concluded it would be necessary to use eight special Army reconnaissance teams. “They were infiltrated by land and air, on routes Army, Navy, and Police terrain analysts selected,” explained Brig. Gen. Mora. “They were able to infiltrate the location where they could not be detected, where there is no civilian population. The area is the Paramillo Massif, one of the most rugged places in Colombia, making the infiltration quite difficult.”
The teams arrived on site and waited 12 days for the criminal to come. “By March 25, , reconnaissance teams already begun reporting [the presence of] armed gangs in different residences,” Brig. Gen. Mora said. “By [March] 28th, we already had several teams in place to observe the residences, and we started to see the arrival of about 15-20 gang members armed with machine guns, and that led us to believe the leader was about to arrive.”
At the same time, six helicopters from the Immediate Reaction Forces were at the ready. The helicopters have fast-rope insertion capacity to support the ground troops that would enter into combat with the criminals. “With the Colombian Air Force Arpía helicopter and two Army attack helicopters, we simultaneously did the closures and the assault,” said Brig. Gen. Mora. During the maneuver, authorities took down El Indio.
Agamemnon’s other achievements
By the second week of April 2018, authorities carried out more than 71 exercises and 25 air assaults against the Gulf Clan within the framework of Operation Agamemnon. “In addition to El Indio, second level leaders Cobra and Chunga were neutralized. Soldado was arrested and 16 members [of the Gulf Clan] were delivered to justice,” Brig. Gen. Mora said.
In the past, organized crime leaders remained in command for years before being caught. “With [Operation] Agamemnon, leaders’ turnover has to be in months,” Gen. Mejía said. “People with less and less experience reach leadership positions within terrorist and narcotrafficking groups because they’re losing their top bosses.”
“The command and control of the Gulf Clan is falling apart,” said Brig. Gen. Mora. “Many of the third and fourth level leaders no longer obey the first and second level leaders, and there are shortage issues in some of the structures.” For General Jorge Nieto Rojas, director of the National Police, “It is precisely this joining of efforts and capacities that makes it so that this organization’s only way out is to stop illegal activity and turn themselves in.”