Controversy surrounds (supposed) surrender of Colombian kingpin

Colombia's National Police on May 7 announced the surrender of Javier Antonio Calle Serna AKA "Comba"—supreme leader of the country's most powerful drug gang, "Los Rastrojos." But Colombia’s deputy police director Gen. José Roberto León told the reporters that Calle Serna had turned himself in to US Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Aruba three days earlier, and was flown to New York City, where he faces a federal indictment. DEA chief Michele Leonhart told Bogotá's W Radio that Colombian police did not collaborate with US authorities in securing Calle's surrender. She made clear that Colombia played a role only by pledging to extradite Calle Serna if captured. "If the [Colombian] authorities continue to extradite criminals, they will continue to surrender," she told the broadcaster. Furthermore, she did not explicitly confirm that Calle Serna had turned himself in, and the US Attorney's Office for New York's Eastern District also declined to comment.

Calle Serna allegedly headed a clan within the Rastrojos called the Combas, that funneled cocaine to Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzmán AKA "El Chapo"—fugitive leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. He had apparently been negotiating terms of his surrender for weeks. The US State Department had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest. While media reports said Calle Serna was once a member of the leftist FARC guerilla army, previous media accounts had identified Los Rastrojos as part of the right-wing paramilitary network.

In her comments, DEA chief Leonhart spoke highly of Colombia's outgoing National Police director Oscar Naranjo, saying the police force was a "great success" under his leadership. Deputy director León, who made the possibly presumptive announcement about Calle Serna, has been named to succeed Naranjo. As the news about Calle Serna broke, León used the occasion to pronounce: "I want to send a clear and strong message to all drug traffickers and especially to 'Loco' Barrera, whose days of freedom are numbered. The National Police is out there, using all its capacities to capture or neutralize you." Daniel Barrera AKA "El Loco" is considered one of Colombia's top drug lords, and is said to be hiding in Venezuela. Naranjo has said he hopes to capture Barrera before he leaves office May 15.

In an interview with newspaper El Colombiano, León said he plans to institute a nation-wide neighborhood watch program to combat crime and drug cartels. But León also stated that he agreed with President Juan Manuel Santos' position on drug legalization: "My position is the same as President Santos. The Colombian government has the moral authority to open the debate and, as indicated by [Santos], it is necessary to review the entire anti-drug strategy to explore new ideas and strategies enabling greater effectiveness in the fight against drug trafficking. Another point is that people who are addicted to drugs, especially marijuana, should receive medical treatment, so the issue becomes a matter of public health." (Colombia Reports, May 8; LAT, Colombia Reports, Colombia Reports, May 7) (Sic: cannabis, of course, is not addictive.)

President Santos has broached the possibility of legalization, but has not thrown his support behind a pending bill to decriminalize cultivation of coca leaf and cannabis. Last year, Colombia's highest court rejected a 2009 constitutional amendment pushed through by then-president Álvaro Uribe that had overturned a 1994 court decision decriminalizing personal quantities of illegal drugs. Santos is supporting a bill that would set "personal dose" quantities for illegal drugs, allowing their possession without arrest or prosecution. (Drug War Chronicle, March 13)

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New Rastrojos kingpin busted in Venezuela

Colombian drug lord Diego Pérez Henao AKA "Diego Rastrojo" has been arrested in the Venezuelan border state of Barinas, BBC News reported June 3. Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Pérez Henao—"one of the most wanted criminals in the Americas"—was captured on information provided by the Colombian authorities, and that he will be turned over to them. Pérez Henao apparently took over the Rastrojos cartel following the arrest of "Comba" in early May.

Rastrojos narco-submarine discovered

On June 22, the Colombian navy, with the help of National Police and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), discovered a "semi-submersible vessel" on a jungle riverbank near the town of Mosquera, Nariño department—said to be part of the Rastrojos' fleet of "narco-submarines." (InSight Crime, June 26)