Written by Julie López
Argentine singer Facundo Cabral’s murder in Guatemala last year sparked an investigation which spans the hemisphere. Plaza Publica reports that his alleged killer may be ensnared in a wider conspiracy, involving a Colombian gang's attempts to turn Sinaloa Cartel boss 'El Chapo’ over to US authorities.
Costa Rican Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez, alias “El Palidejo” (pictured above), had 16 reasons to feel afraid. Jailed in Guatemala, accused of planning the killing of Argentine singer Facundo Cabral (July 9 2011), Jimenez could become involved in a drug trafficking and money laundering trial against 16 defendants in a Brooklyn, New York court. The accused belong to gang the Rastrojos, and their leaders, brothers Javier Antonio and Luis Enrique Calle Serna, are identified as the people who planned to protect Jimenez when he arrived in Colombia, according to the president of that country, Juan Manuel Santos. Palidejo was arrested nearly two weeks ago off the Colombian Pacific coast, where he’d arrived via boat from Panama. Days later, he was extradited to Guatemala for the Cabral case.
It was no coincidence that Jimenez arrived to the Colombian Pacific coast. The zone is the stronghold for Javier Antonio and Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias the “Combatants” or “Comba,” due to [Javier Antonio's] previous service in the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) in the southern Putumayo department. Some media sources identify them as former paramilitaries (AUC), as are many of the Rastrojos.
The Costa Rican left a Panamanian island heading to Choco on the Colombian coast. The police intercepted him shortly before he met with his Colombian contacts, who, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, had sent him an “ID and original Colombian passport,” issued the previous February under the name Carlos Emilio Cardona Martin.
The Comba brothers and the Rastrojos, who also operate in a certain section of Venezuela (according to Colombian authorities), are among the four most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Colombia, according to President Santos. They also operate in Ecuador, where another Calle Serna brother (Juan Carlos) was arrested March 16 for drug trafficking.
The Director of Colombian Police Oscar Naranjo said that El Palidejo was a link between a Colombian cartel and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo.” Afterwards, police involved in the investigation explained that Chapo had asked the Rastrojos to protect the Costa Rican.
The Attorney General’s Office in Guatemala believes that Jimenez hired three hitmen to kill Nicaraguan Henry Fariñas, supposedly because he didn’t want to sell a casino or a nightclub in Costa Rica. Other unofficial versions maintain that a botched money laundering transaction led to the vendetta, which only resulted in a wounded Fariñas, but which killed Cabral, who was riding in the vehicle's passenger seat. The Nicaraguan was taking the singer to the airport in order to discuss organizing other concerts in Central America.
In Costa Rica, Jimenez is accused of laundering money, of inexplicably amassing a fortune in the past decade posing as a “fruit and vegetable distributor.” Nicaragua is investigating whether he has links to drug trafficking inside that country.
But Jimenez played in even bigger leagues.
“Jimenez moved large quantities of cocaine for the Rastrojos to Central America, principally through Guatemala, and he handed tons of drugs over to the Mexican cartels, including Sinaloa,” says Michael Vigil, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. Vigil, retired in 2004, and who worked undercover in Colombia and Mexico, revealed that the Costa Rican also laundered millions of dollars (through banks and real estate purchases) for the Mexicans. Basically, he was the link between several drug traffickers who are among the most wanted by US justice.
In December 2001, the Comba brothers proved they were willing to throw some of their most important drug trafficking allies overboard, in order to save themselves. Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported that the Calle Sernas are negotiating a benevolent deal with US justice, through the DEA. Then, last February, President Santos said that the Comba brothers were also willing to share information which could lead to the capture of El Chapo.
Mexican and Colombian authorities have not revealed whether the failed capture of the Sinaloa Cartel leader in Los Cabos, Baja California, last February, was thanks to intelligence from the Calle Serna brothers.
All of this took place while El Palidejo Jimenez was looking for a good place to hide. It is unknown whether prior to his arrival in Colombia whether he’d already visited the country. But it is clear that he picked the wrong protection, and through his own doing, he put his head in the lion’s mouth. Colombian police intelligence indicated that an emissary of El Chapo was due to arrive. Furthermore, thanks to the ongoing negotiations with the Calle Serna siblings, the areas where they were active were being closely watched. And that is where the Costa Rican, accused of ordering the hit which killed Cabral, tried to hide.
The attack against Fariñas took place after a New York district attorney’s office presented an accusation against 16 defendants. All of them were identified as members of the Rastrojos and were issued arrest warrants. A Brooklyn court released the indictment. The indictment (available since 2006) accuses them of conspiring to traffic at least 33.1 tons of cocaine through Central America, with the intention of distributing it in the US, between January 2004 and February 2011. The court documents have blacked out six out of the 16 names of the defendants. Among the visible ones, there are nicknames like “Dulcecito,” “Animalito,” and “Niño Malo.”
The New York court has not yet revealed whether the blacked out names include Jimenez’s. According to Vigil, the Costa Rican was the key mover of the Rastrojos’ cocaine towards Mexico. Neither does the name of Luis Enrique Calle Serna appear, but his brother Javier Antonio is there, although Santos and Naranjos announced this year that the two of them are involved in negotiations with the US.
Jimenez was arrested nine months after Cabral’s murder, and after the Rastrojos’ leaders were formally accused in a New York court. And the transfer of the Costa Rican to a Guatemalan jail couldn’t have happened at a worse time. For him, the extradition from Colombia to Guatemala only brought him closer to El Chapo, who had plenty of reasons to distrust El Palidejo if – as Colombian authorities maintain – he is or was under the protection of the Calle Sernas, who were planning to hand over the Sinaloa Cartel leader in order to save themselves.
Jimenez has more than enough reason to be nervous, if he is identified as close to those who wanted to help US justice nab El Chapo. A few days after refusing to appear during his first declaration before a Guatemalan judge, the Costa Rican announced he was afraid of being killed in jailed. He offered no further details. But it is not difficult to guess why he is afraid. After all, murders in Guatemalan jails – while infrequent – have happened, and those responsible are rarely identified. And, of course, El Palidejo, with his own reasons to fear for his life, had good reason to worry. There was no shortage of associates who could be asking whether Jimenez, in his haste to save himself, would be capable of throwing them overboard, just like the Calle Sernas tossed El Chapo.
The above is InSight Crime's translation of an extract from this article; the full piece can be read in Spanish at Plaza Publica.
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