A fugitive member of Colombia’s Gulf Clan drug cartel, wanted by the United States, has been killed by police in the South American country, the government said Thursday.
President Ivan Duque announced on Twitter that Juan Larinson Castro Estupinan, alias “Matamba”, a former leader of the Gulf Clan and one of Colombia’s most wanted criminals, had been “neutralized”.
The Gulf Clan, Colombia’s biggest drug cartel, launched a revenge campaign this month, closing schools and blocking transport in the north of the country after its boss, Dairo Antonio Usaga, was extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges there.
Defense Minister Diego Molano said on Thursday that Matamba, who escaped from prison in March pending a decision on his own extradition to the United States, was “killed in action” during of a police operation in the municipality of Bolivar, in the north of the country.
“We continue to deliver blows to the ‘Gulf Clan’,” Duque said, adding, “no bandit will have a burrow left to hide in.”
Matamba had escaped from prison with the help of a guard who had left his cell door open. He fled in a guard uniform.
His assistant was arrested and 55 other guards suspended, as well as the two main bosses of La Picota prison.
His lawyers claimed he never escaped, but was hiding inside the prison as he negotiated surrender to the United States in exchange for information about drug routes.
In Colombia, he was charged with criminal association for the purpose of homicide, extortion and illegal possession of weapons.
On Wednesday, Molano also announced the “presumed death” of Miguel Botache Santillana, one of the leaders of a leftist dissident guerrilla in Venezuela.
Colombia is experiencing an increased wave of violence despite a 2016 peace accord that disarmed FARC guerrillas after nearly six decades of internal conflict.
Many areas abandoned by the FARC have since become battlegrounds for the rebel group ELN, drug cartels and FARC dissidents fighting for control of drug revenues and illegal mining.
Rising insecurity is a key issue ahead of a first round of presidential elections on Sunday.