Colombia extradites kingpin “Rasguño” —thanks to Cuba!

Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante—known as “Rasguño,” or “Scratch”—alleged head of Colombia’s Norte del Valle cocaine cartel, has been extradited to the US to face charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. He was flown by helicopter July 19 from the Combita maximum security prison to an air base near Bogota, where he was turned over to DEA agents. Norte del Valle rose to become Colombia’s most powerful narco mafia after the dismantling of the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1990s. Colonel Cesar Pinzon, head of Colombia’s Judicial Police (DIJIN), called Gomez the “capo of capos.” The DEA says he was the source up to 60% of all cocaine consumed in the US. Gomez got his nickname when he laughed off a bullet wound to his cheek as “just a scratch.” He was first arrested in Cuba in July 2004 after entering on a false passport, and returned to Colombia six months ago. (BBC, July 20)

Bogota’s El Tiempo reported at the time of Rasguño’s arrest in Cuba that he had faked his own death in a bogus FARC guerilla roadside assassination in his turf of Valle del Cauca department when the Colombian authorities were closing in on him. He sought refuge in Cordoba department at the clandestine base of his friend, the disappeared paramilitary boss Carlos Castaño. Cooperating with the paras, Rasguño had waged a “war of extermination” against the forces of FARC Western Front commander “Pablo Catatumbo,” who he accused of being behind the March 16, 2002 assassination of Archbishop Isaías Duarte.

From Cordoba, Rasguño sought the aid of business associates in Mexico, who arranged for a forged passport, with which he traveled to Havana via Caracas, intending to continue on to Mexico. Mexican authorities are trying to determine which of the country’s three top cartels his accomplices were affiliated with—the Tijuana, Juarez or Gulf.

Back in Valle del Cauca, a power struggle is said to be underway between “Don” Diego León Montoya Sánchez and Wilmer Varela for control of the Norte del Valle cartel. (El Tiempo, July 10, 2004, via Cuba Net)

See our last posts on Colombia, Cuba and Mexico’s narco wars.

  1. Colombia’s “Don Diego” busted
    From AP, Sept. 11:

    BOGOTA — Soldiers swarmed onto a farm Monday and captured one of the world’s most wanted drug traffickers hiding in bushes in his underwear. Colombian officials called it their biggest drug war victory since the 1993 slaying of Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar.

    Diego Montoya, who sits with Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list and has a $5 million bounty on his head, allegedly leads the Norte del Valle cartel. It is deemed Colombia’s most dangerous drug gang and is accused of shipping hundreds of tons of cocaine to the U.S.

    Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told a news conference at Bogota’s airport that Montoya was responsible for 1,500 killings in his career.

    “Drug traffickers take note: This is the future that awaits you,” Santos said before Montoya limped out of an air force plane wearing plastic handcuffs and escorted by five commandos.

    Montoya put up no resistance when the army finally cornered him in the cartel’s stronghold of Valle del Cauca state on the Pacific Coast, officials said. He is to be questioned before being extradited to the U.S., a process that Santos said would take at least two months.

    After months of planning, elite commandos raided the small farm before dawn Monday and nabbed Montoya along with an uncle and three other cartel members, authorities said.

    The government has been closing in on the cartel since last year, when soldiers killed eight members of a private militia believed to be protecting Montoya. But a wide network of cartel informants had frustrated the search for the alleged drug boss himself. Local media have recently carried stories on the cartel’s alleged infiltration of Colombia’s army and navy.

    Better known as “Don Diego,” Montoya is said to be in a bitter turf war with his cartel’s other leader, Wilber Varela, who goes by the nickname “Jabon,” or “Soap,” and is reported to be living in Venezuela. Hundreds have died in fighting between their rival armed bands along Colombia’s Pacific coast.

    A U.S. indictment unsealed in 2004 against Montoya and Varela said that over the previous 14 years, their cartel had exported more than 1.2 million pounds — 600 tons — of cocaine worth more than $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale.

    Colombia’s government has made major gains against the cartel this year.

    Montoya’s brother, Eugenio Montoya, was captured in January. Former cartel leader Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, known as “Rasguño” or “Scratchy,” was extradited to the U.S. in July after pledging to cooperate with U.S. authorities. The gang’s alleged money-laundering chief, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, known as “Chupeta” or “Lollipop,” was arrested last month in Brazil.