Colom­bia mil­i­tary kills war­lord of re­mote ru­ral co­caine fief­dom


A years-long man­hunt for a ruth­less co­caine war­lord who ruled a re­mote ru­ral fief­dom with an armed band and gen­er­ous bribes has ended with a mil­i­tary raid that killed the man con­sid­ered Colom­bia’s sec­ond most-wanted crim­i­nal.

Vic­tor Navarro, a 39-year-old bet­ter known as alias “Me­ga­teo,” long dom­i­nated the his­tor­i­cally law­less Cata­tumbo re­gion that hugs Venezuela. It is where he was killed Thurs­day night in a ground and air at­tack, author­i­ties said.

Law of­fi­cials had been fix­ated on him be­cause of what he rep­re­sented: the pos­si­ble fu­ture of or­ga­nized crime in Colom­bia if nearly three-year-old peace talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the coun­try’s largest rebel group suc­ceed. In another sense, he was a throw­back to an ear­lier age of brazen, high­pro­file nar­cos who rev­eled in public no­to­ri­ety.

Six pre­vi­ous at­tempts to cap­ture Navarro had failed when he slipped away at the last minute.

With a US$5 mil­lion U.S. bounty on his head and a 2011 drug­traf­fick­ing in­dict­ment pend­ing in Florida, Navarro had faced 45 ar­rest war­rants and Colom­bian pros­e­cu­tors said he was sus­pected in dozens of killings.

He was es­pe­cially hunted for a 2006 am­bush in which his men killed 17 sol­diers and in­tel­li­gence agents who had set out from Bo­gota to cap­ture him but were be­trayed by a dou­ble agent, a se­cret po­lice de­tec­tive who aban­doned the op­er­a­tion at the last minute and is now serv­ing a 40-year sen­tence for mur­der.

Navarro claimed to lead the last re­main­ing fac­tion of the Pop­u­lar Lib­er­a­tion Army, a rebel move­ment that dis­banded in 1991. But to author­i­ties, he was noth­ing more than a ma­jor co­caine traf­ficker, a crim­i­nal heavy­weight whose mus­cle and abil­ity to evade cap­ture de­rived from the fear he in­stilled and al­liances he made with gangs of for­mer far-right mili­ti­a­men and with the coun­try’s two largest rebel groups.

Colom­bia’s most-wanted crim­i­nal, Dario An­to­nio Usuga, is a vet­eran of far-right mili­tias who heads a much larger but low­pro­file or­ga­ni­za­tion known as the Urabenos, with an es­ti­mated 2,000 gun­men.

A thickly built man of medium height, Navarro was no­to­ri­ous for his gar­ish jew­elry. He wore a big gold ring on each hand — one en­crusted with di­a­monds, the other emer­alds. In one photo po­lice ob­tained in a raid, a golden pis­tol hangs from a neck­lace.

His brazen­ness drew com­par­isons, although in minia­ture, to Pablo Es­co­bar, the co­caine king­pin who ter­ror­ized Colom­bia for two decades un­til he was tracked down and killed by po­lice in 1993.

Jay Bergman, then- An­dean re­gion chief for the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 2013 that Navarro was be­lieved to have only about 60 men un­der arms but that many more from his al­lies would come to his aid if he were un­der siege.

“He’s king of the hill in a very pro­lific and re­mote drug traf­fick­ing area and cor­ri­dor,” Bergman said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how Navarro and the four oth­ers who died with him were killed, though po­lice said Thurs­day’s raid in­cluded an air at­tack and ground in­fil­tra­tion.

De­fense Min­is­ter Luis Car­los Vil­le­gas did not pro­vide de­tails of what he called “one of the most in­ge­nious un­der­cover oper­a­tions in Colom­bia in re­cent years.”

Born into a peas­ant fam­ily, Navarro took to crime in the late 1990s af­ter paramil­i­taries killed his mother and a sis­ter, ac­cord­ing to Colom­bian in­ves­ti­ga­tors. He pro­jected a Robin Hood im­age, shar­ing some wealth with lo­cal peo­ple while putting nu­mer­ous po­lice, sol­diers and lo­cal politi­cians on his pay­roll, U.S. and Colom­bian of­fi­cials say. Those of­fi­cials said Navarro also gained a rep­u­ta­tion for per­son­ally tor­tur­ing and killing in­fil­tra­tors.

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