Friday, 27 January 2012 13:49

Arrests Highlight ELN-Rastrojos Alliance in Southwest Colombia

Written by  Christopher Looft

Colombian authorities have announced the capture of 27 members of drug gang the Rastrojos, who were reportedly working in partnership with the ELN rebel group.

Police Director General Oscar Naranjo said the traffickers ran an operation worth $30 million, Caracol reported.

The smuggling network was based in Tumaco, Nariño, a stronghold for both the Rastrojos and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The traffickers reportedly shipped up to 1,000 kilos of cocaine per month in go-fast boats from the Pacific port city.

Among those arrested is Giovanni Alberto Agudelo Urrego, a key financier wanted for extradition by Spanish authorities for trafficking drugs to Europe, according to Semana.

Also arrested was Robinson Días Rodriguez, alias "El Gordo," a lieutenant for a top Rastrojos hitman known as "Lucker," who was arrested in June 2011.

InSight Crime Analysis

The relationship between the ELN and Los Rastrojos began in 2006, as InSight has reported. The partnership between a left-wing guerrilla army and a drug trafficking organization (made up of many former paramilitary fighters) was the first of its kind. The ELN supplied coca base for refinement into cocaine, guarded laboratories, and transported cocaine shipments for the Rastrojos, and in return were supplied with badly-needed funds and equipment.

The ELN began working with the Rastrojos while they were under pressure from then-rivals the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a much larger organization. The ELN were a crippled force at the time and could not afford to fight the FARC and the neo-paramilitary gang on two fronts. Thanks to the Rastrojos alliance, the ELN were able to rebuild their strength in departments like Nariño and Cauca, which have great strategic importance for the drug trade.

But the Rastrojos-ELN alliance endured even after the FARC and the ELN declared a ceasefire, first announced in 2009 but only properly enforced nationwide in 2011. When FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, alias "Tirofijo," died in 2008, his successor Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, alias "Alfonso Cano," changed the FARC's policy toward the ELN. While Marulanda wanted to confront and absorb the ELN, Cano was willing to work alongside the group.

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