BOGOTA, Colombia -- Authorities on Monday announced the surrender of one of Colombia's most wanted drug traffickers and leader of the notorious Rastrojos criminal band that allegedly funnels Colombian cocaine to Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Javier Antonio Calle Serna, a member of a clan known as the Combas, or warriors, surrendered to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Aruba on Friday and then was flown to New York City, where he faces a federal indictment on drug trafficking charges, Colombian police said.
Calle Serna had been negotiating terms of his surrender for weeks, sources told The Times. The U.S. State Department had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the 43-year-old’s arrest, alleging that he and his associates had shipped 30 tons of cocaine into Mexico bound for the United States. Calle Serna was once a member of the leftist rebel group FARC.
The Rastrojos are thought to be among the most powerful of half a dozen Colombian cocaine cartels known as bacrims, which is Spanish shorthand for criminal bands. The gangs filled the vacuum created by the demobilization of paramilitary militias, which along with the FARC were thought to have controlled the bulk of the illicit drug trade here.
At a news conference in Bogota, Colombian National Police Gen. Roberto Leon Riaño said the agreement leading to Calle Serna’s surrender was the end product of Colombian authorities’ “relentless pursuit” of the fugitive. A months-long operation that involved 3,000 wiretaps and the seizure of 15 tons of cocaine led to his arrest, he said.
As part of the same operation, Calle Serna’s brother Juan Carlos was arrested in Quito, Ecuador, in March by police who had been tipped to his presence there.
According to an indictment filed by prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York in 2009, Calle Serna was responsible for various aspects of transporting loads of cocaine to Central America and Mexico via so called go-fast outboard motor boats and semi-submersible submarines.
The Calle Serna clan was part of the North Valley drug cartel until a falling out led to a bitter and bloody power struggle. At the news conference Monday, Riaño said Calle Serna was responsible for the 2008 murder in Venezuela of Wilber Varela, a former North Valley capo turned sworn enemy.
According to the State Department, the Rastrojos also conduct extortion of businesses and individuals in several areas of Colombia. Calle Serna has been linked to kidnappings, tortures and assassinations in Colombia, Venezuela and Panama.
Riaño issued a public ultimatum to Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, perhaps the nation’s most powerful drug trafficker still at large -- and Calle-Serna’s associate in the Rastrojos -- to surrender. Giving himself up, Riaño said, is the “only way out for narco traffickers and terrorists.”
-- Chris Kraul