On December 21, 2018, the Colombian Armed Forces neutralized Walter Patricio Arízala, alias Guacho, head of the remnant organized armed group known as Oliver Sinisterra. Guacho was considered the main terrorist and narcotrafficker in the region, and was believed to be responsible for the terrorist attacks of January 2018 and the kidnapping and murder of three Ecuadorean journalists on the border between Ecuador and Colombia in April 2018. To avoid the regrouping of criminals who followed him, the Colombian Armed Forces increased operations and checkpoints in southern territories.
“It’s one of the steps we had to take in the area. We know that there are many people behind the narcotrafficking business,” said Army General Ricardo Jiménez Mejía, commander of the Colombian Military Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This will change the situation for the better in Nariño.”
Gen. Jiménez pointed to the joint initiative of the country’s forces as one of the most important aspects of this blow against crime. “Those who do not abide by the law will be captured or neutralized in military operations,” he said.
Death, terrorism, and narcotrafficking
Guacho became a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC, in Spanish) Front 29 in 2007. He soon took over as the financial head of the FARC’s Daniel Aldana mobile column, and then its leader. In early 2017, he left the peace negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government to start his own armed group, known as the United Guerrillas of the Pacific and/or the Oliver Sinisterra Front.
The murder of the kidnapped Ecuadorean journalists led the government of Ecuador to increase the original reward from $100,000 to $230,000 for information leading to Guacho’s capture. Colombia and Ecuador worked together without respite to find the criminal. Partner nations such as the United States, through its Rewards Program, also supported the effort.
“We can confirm that alias Guacho was neutralized in a joint operation the Army, the police, and the Attorney General’s office conducted,” said Colombian President Iván Duque. “Colombia deserves for those who work toward reintegration to be successful, but those who intend to continue with violence will be dissuaded, disrupted, and punished by the government,” he added.
Under Operation David, the troops of the Joint Special Operations Command arrived in Azúcar-Piedra Fina, Tumaco, where alias Guacho hid. Authorities also neutralized one of his most trusted men, alias Pitufín.
It was the end of a precise operation, where many investigative techniques were used to intercept more than 120 phone lines. The information enabled authorities to detect and monitor 16 areas where the criminal operated.
“The entry of our military and police officers into the area, silently and in camouflage, enabled us to get closer to the criminal, who confronted us,” General Óscar Atehortúa, head of the National Police, told the press. “We can’t say that public order was completely restored in the region, but we indeed made a lot of progress in terms of security.”
Authorities intensified joint and interagency operations against Guacho in March 2018, using his communications with subordinates to facilitate the location and destruction of drug labs, which in turn affected his finances and made him contact organizations and people who weren’t part of his circle. He broke security protocols and began using unsafe channels.
“We closed his circle and surrounded him. This is a message for criminals to abide by the law and surrender to reintegration programs,” General Nicasio de Jesús Martínez, commander of the Colombian Army, told the press. “We proved that the teamwork of public forces and government agencies bears excellent results.”
Colombian Minister of Defense Guillermo Botero emphasized the importance of improving the border region’s security and relations with Ecuador, while confirming ongoing interventions in the area. “We know that we can’t let up and that criminals and ringleaders threaten the Tumaco area. We identified Guacho’s possible successors. Our forces’ combined operations won’t stop. These criminals will go down.”