Los Rastrojos Comandos Urbanos
|Founding location||Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia|
|Territory||Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Central America, Mexico.|
|Ethnicity||Colombians and criminals of various ethnicity are employed|
|Criminal activities||Murder, drug trafficking, extortion, arms trafficking, money laundering and illegal gold mining|
|Allies||Sinaloa Cartel, Daniel Barrera Barrera, The Office of Envigado|
Los Rastrojos is a Colombian drug trafficking paramilitary organization engaged in the Colombian armed conflict. The group was formed by Norte del Valle cartel capo Wilber Varela, alias "Jabon" and one of his right-hand men, "Diego Rastrojo", around 2004 when Varela fell out with fellow-capo Diego Leon Montoya, alias "Don Diego". The group became independent after the murder of its main founder in Venezuela in 2008 and has since become one of the most important drug trafficking organizations in Colombia.
Los Rastrojos are, together with the Norte del Valle cartel, considered the "heirs" of the Cali cartel. Other reports allege Los Rastrojos are in fact the same as the Norte del Valle cartel, only working under a new name and taking advantage 'of a strong network of assassins, distributors and contacts in the international markets'. the group focuses on buying coca from the source, processing it themselves and selling it wholesale for international distribution or shipping it themselves through Central America and Mexico.
They are believed to operate mainly in Valle del Cauca and Cali, although there are reports of them spreading their zone of influence to other parts of Colombia and western Venezuela. Membership is estimated at 1,200 to 1,500 fighters and hitmen. Several members of Los Rastrojos have been killed or arrested in Venezuela by the Venezuelan armed forces.
The expansion of the group under the brothers Javier Antonio and Luis Enrique Calle Serna, both referred to as "Comba," has been exponential. Since 2009, it has left its traditional hub along the Pacific Coast and now operates in a third of Colombia's 32 departments. The Rastrojos, who take their name from one of their militia leaders, are primarily engaged in exporting cocaine and heroin to international markets. At the local level, they are also involved in extortion and kidnapping. The Rastrojos move drugs primarily up the Pacific Coast to Central America and Mexico where they sell it to Mexican drug traffickers who take it to the United States. They also have control of one of the primary smuggling routes into Venezuela, which is a bridge for cocaine moving towards Europe and northwards into the US on aircraft and go-fast boats.
"The Rastrojos started in 2002, as the armed wing for Wilber Varela, alias "Jabon." At the time, Varela was fighting a rival in the Norte Del Valle Cartel, Diego Montoya, alias "Don Diego," and Montoya's private army, the "Machos." Varela lieutenant Diego Pérez Henao, alias "Diego Rastrojo recruited its first members, hence the group took on his name."
Conflict with FARC-EP and ELN
Los Rastrojos have frequently fought battles against the guerrilla groups FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) in the southern Cauca department.
Currently, the Rastrojos have an agreement with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) for several years in the departments of Cauca and Nariño. More recently they obtained a similar agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) in other parts of the country. In both cases, these alliances give the Rastrojos direct access to coca base, which provides them the raw material to convert into cocaine at very cheap prices. The Rastrojos' other ally, Daniel Barrera Barrera, alias "El Loco," struck similar agreements with the FARC in other areas until his arrest in September 2012. Together the Rastrojos and Barrera have obtained a huge competitive advantage, one that has also led to strong partnerships with Mexican cartels.
The Rastrojos suffered a series of major setbacks in 2012, a year in which all three of its top leaders either surrendered or were arrested. In May 2012 one of the leaders of Los Rastrojos, Javier Antonio Calle Serna (alias "Comba"), handed himself in to US authorities in Aruba. As a result, Diego Rastrojo and Calle Serna's brother Luis Enrique (also alias "Comba") became leaders; Rastrojo's leadership was short-lived, as he was captured in western Venezuela in early June. The Venezuelan government said it would hand him over to the Colombian authorities. "El Doctor" is accused of the murder of Varela, having been Varela's right-hand man for a decade. On October 4, Colombian authorities announced that Comba, the last remaining leader of the Rastrojos, also surrendered to U.S. narcotics agency DEA.
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