Narco-Cartel Leader Escapes Prison in Colombia

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent has years of experience and training in open source intelligence gathering and journalism. He specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs, with a broader interest in European politics. Trent serves as the Latin America Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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An alleged ringleader of the narco-cartel Los Rastrojos, Jesús “El Enano” Agudelo Hernández, escaped prison alongside another convict on Friday, according to Colombia’s National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC), the agency responsible for prison management.

A Prison Break

Hernández was sentenced to 13 years in La Picota, Colombia’s largest prison which houses an average of 9,000 convicts, for conspiracy to commit a crime, illegal use of uniforms, and possession of firearms. At the time of his escape, the alleged narco-cartel leader only had two more years to serve in his sentence. Hernández was originally captured in 2013 following a confrontation with the narco-cartel in the municipalities of Amalfi and Yolombó, Antioquia where the organization is active.

Three members of the narco-cartel were killed in the confrontation, but Hernández, wounded, managed to escape for a brief period of time before being captured by Colombian soldiers. Hernández was known for conducting a large-scale extortion racket targeting farmers living in the rural reaches of Antioquia.

Members of Los Rastrojos. (Photo – Orinoco Tribune)

“A disciplinary investigation was ordered for all the officials who were on duty at the establishment last night and copies were sent to the Attorney General’s Office so that an investigation can be started in a timely manner,” INPEC stated during while addressing the escape.

Alongside Hernández, another criminal identified as Sebastián Molina López, who was held in La Picota on charges of attempted murder, aggravated criminal conspiracy, terrorism, and aggravated homicide, escaped.

“These men apparently escaped through a window and left through the back of the establishment. Since they realized at La Picota that two prisoners were missing, a disciplinary commission was sent to begin reviewing the videos, the books, the services, everything that had been presented with the purpose of investigating who was responsible, what omissions there were, what failure in the service could have occurred at that site,” INPEC’s director, Colonel Daniel Gutiérrez, stated during a press conference.

Los Rastrojos

Once considered one of Colombia’s premier criminal organizations, Los Rastrojos has significantly fallen in influence since a number of the group’s leaders surrendered to authorities or were captured. The group was born from the Cartel del Norte del Valle (CNDV) under the leadership of Wilber “Jabon” Varela who was engaged in a brutal power struggle with fellow CNDV leader Diego Montoya, also known as “Don Diego.” The group was primarily used to protect narcotics production centers, trafficking routes, routes for the movement of high-ranking members of Jabon’s faction, and to act as frontline soldiers in the internal conflict.

After a peace agreement was established with the Colombian government and the largest coalition of right-wing paramilitaries, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), Los Rastrojos began expanding into territories previously held by the AUC. With the power vacuum left from the dissolution of the AUC and the rapid expansion of the CNDV, Jabon quickly lost control over the organization and was assassinated by Luis Enrique “Comba” Calle Serna who took the reins of Los Rastrojos. The organization continued to expand, eventually believed to control a third of all territory within Colombia while holding firm control over the production and distribution of cocaine.

Members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia in the field. (Photo – Masaru Goto Photography)

But Los Rastrojos’ prosperity was limited. In 2012, the group would lose much of its upper leadership. Comba surrendered to the United States in May, while his brother Luis Enrique surrendered in October. Diego Pérez Henao, known as “Diego Rastrojo,” was captured in June, and Daniel “El Loco” Barrera Barrera was caught in Venezuela. In 2013, the United States imposed sanctions on the criminal organization, striking a massive blow to the group already struggling with leadership losses.

The power struggle and effects of sanctions by the US ultimately led the organization to lose most of its influence, leaving only a handful of cells active throughout the country. Since 2015, the group has been a part of a fierce war for control over territory across the Venezuela-Colombia border with their historic rivals, Los Urabeños. However, the group all but fell to the encroaching forces of the National Liberation Army (ELN), a leftist guerilla group designated as narco-terrorists by the Colombian government, who took advantage of Los Rastrojos’ weakened state amid their conflict with Los Urabeños. In a final attempt to survive, Los Rastrojos formed an alliance with their rivals, which led to their ultimate survival, albeit as a reported vassal to Los Urabeños.

While the group is largely seen as insignificant, with only 60 armed members being believed to remain, they played a large role in the ongoing Colombian crisis and are believed to be responsible for thousands of murders of rivals and civilians.