MEXICO CITY — Colombia’s most-wanted drug trafficker, Jairo Antonio Marin Villarreal — commonly known as “Otoniel” — has been captured by authorities in Mexico, Colombian and Mexican officials said Sunday.
National Security Secretary Jorge Nieto said in a statement that Mexico’s army and federal police had intercepted and arrested Villarreal in Mexico City.
National Police spokesman Carlos Leiva said authorities believed Villarreal was inside an “operational location” when captured.
He had been on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of “kingpins” who were designated for laundering proceeds from Colombian cocaine and marijuana trafficking.
He was believed to have 10 to 12 gunmen, who numbered at least two or three days at a time. The gangs had been robbed off their territories in southern Colombia, but they vowed to return and re-establish their power.
Villarreal was a former member of a contraband mafias who rose to the highest levels of the drug trade before he was captured in 2004 and imprisoned. He was one of the leaders of the Red Command, an ultra-violent criminal organization that was formed in the 1980s and had been most active in the southern half of Colombia. He was implicated in assassinations, extortions and drug trafficking and was a fugitive for more than a decade.
The narco-mafia has existed in Colombia for decades. But the new splinter groups, such as Los Urabeños, the most powerful of these, emerged in the mid-2000s as the former guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, demobilized.
The Los Urabeños grew up beyond Colombia’s borders, driving a wide range of crime, primarily extortion, kidnapping and even drug trafficking. But the second generation of paramilitary group of which Los Urabeños was a part has also suffered a setback since its leader, Pedro Gaviria Marin, was assassinated in Venezuela by the FARC’s military wing. This week, Colombia’s most-wanted criminal, top cocaine trafficker Miguel Angel Marin Arroyave, alias “Don Mario,” was captured.
Villarreal also had ties to Mexico’s La Familia cartel, who was behind the infamous drug-related massacre of 72 migrants in 2010. He was indicted in the U.S. in May 2011 on accusations of narcotics smuggling and money laundering. It is unclear whether he was involved in that operation.
It remains unclear whether Villarreal had ties to Colombia’s other most-wanted narcocorrido singer, Miguel Angel Reyes Huerta, better known as “El Tocayo,” or “El Doyen,” who was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in September 2016.
Also on Sunday, Mexican government officials said Guadalajara saw a 22 percent increase in homicides last year, fueled by violence stemming from local drug cartels seeking to retain power. The sharp increase was attributed to “bandit groups” that are continuing to seek territory and control trade routes in Jalisco state and western Chihuahua state, the Mexican Government reported.
Additional reporting by Cristina Alesci in Mexico City and Philip Morris in Washington.