Conflict | 5/4/2009 12:00:00 AM
The deadly war of a paramilitary leader’s sons
The 30 children and nephews of the paramilitary chief Hernán Giraldo ended up in a fratricide war, fighting for the drug routes in the Sierra Nevada, in northern Magdalena province.
Giraldo was a peasant who arrived at the Sierra Nevada in 1969 to work. But in short time, the guerrilla and marihuana changed his destiny. The guerrilla did it because the constant threat of being kidnapped or extorted led him to create a self-defense peasant group which he called the ‘Chamizos’. Marihuana, on the other hand, because he soon realized that the Sierra was an ideal spot for drug trafficking because the plant grew and was processed right there.
In a few years, he got rich and became a war lord who was willing to kill to defend his land and routes. He came up with the smart strategy of bringing all his family to create support and trustworthy networks that would last. That way, he has able to avoid the DEA, which was looking for him for having killed two of its men; he resisted being fought by Carlos Castaño in a war in which they finally made a pact; and he was able to stop the Farc, which have always wanted to kill him.
What Giraldo was not expecting was that after being extradited, his family ended up fighting a fratricide war, with many dead and displaced, intensified by the emerging gangs and which in the end is not much more than a fight for his inheritance: thousands of hectares of land, huge amounts of cattle, money and the drug trafficking routes that are still as active as ever and are sought after by drug dealers.
The fight started when the members of this block demobilized. Other paramilitary leaders initially tried to get hold of the routes in the Sierra Nevada. Finally Giraldo could have sold that territory to the Mejía ‘twins’. The ‘twins’ created the gang called the “nevados” (snow-covered), which worked together with the ‘paisas’, led by ‘Don Berna’, trafficking drugs from the Sierra Nevada protected by their private armies. Beside those groups were the older sons of Giraldo –Alberto, Amparo and Hernán-.
Nevertheless, Giraldo trusted his younger sons and various nephews who had been with him in the self-defense groups –like Alias “El Grillo” or “The Cricket”-, they were in charge of the business and they were not trusted by others who felt that they were being dispossessed. What started the fire was the assassination of Óscar Giraldo, son-in-law of the paramilitary leader and manager of some of his farms. Then came the threats and two sisters of Giraldo had to leave the mountains. This part of the family were protected by ‘Don Mario’, whose influence was growing in La Guajira province. He took some of his men to the regions of Córdoba and Urabá to fight for the territory and was stronger than the ‘nevados’.
The first fight between the two family gangs happened in a place called Calabazos in the middle of 2008. Since then there has been a merciless war, which the ‘Don Mario’ gang seemed to be winning. Nevertheless, with his recent capture things might change.
The authorities in Madgalena are worried about the situation. According to intelligence information, the group led by ‘Don Mario’ is also operating in Santa Marta and threats and extortion are common again. This new gang is trying to recruit all the demobilized they can and kill the ones who resist. That is how the authorities explain why the homicide rate has risen in Magdalena. In the last two years 756 people have been assassinated, of which 102 were demobilized.
Both groups, the ‘nevados’ or ‘paisas’ and those of ‘Don Mario’ are drug traffickers but, according to General Óscar Gamboa, regional commander of the National Police, they do not control the territory and they have not got the strength or the organization that Giraldo had.
In this new stage of the conflict, the only thing that has changed is that it is a war between brothers. Hernán Giraldo, who united his family because of the war, ended up witnessing how they kill each other with the weapons he taught them to use himself.
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