Source: The Times
Date: 15 April 2009

Colombia's most wanted drugs baron
arrested by 300 commandos

Don Mario
(El Tiempo/Handout/Reuters)
Daniel Rendón Herrera was known as Don Mario

Graham Keeley

Known as Don Mario, he had a particular taste for killing police officers, offering his assassins $1,000 for each one they managed to murder.

But Daniel Rendón Herrera, the most wanted drugs baron and right-wing paramilitary in Colombia, was outwitted by those he sought to wipe out.

Rendón, 43, was arrested by Colombian police today in a specialised operation in Necoclí, in the northeastern jungles of Colombia.

Three hundred elite commandos from the Dijin unit arrested Rendon at 2am, said Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, a spokesman for Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian President.

“The Government confirms that it has captured this drug dealer,” Mr Velasquez told Radio Caracol while on a visit to Brazil with Mr Uribe. “The President breathed deeply and with satisfaction.”

In Washington, Anthony Placido, Drug Enforcement Administration Chief of Intelligence, said Rendón was wanted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges and that the US Government would seek his extradition.

Nicknamed Don Mario and El Paisano (The Peasant), his gang used its base in the jungles of northeast Colombia to smuggle thousands of tonnes of cocaine towards the United States.

Rendón's ruthless style was reminiscent of Colombia’s most infamous drugs baron Pablo Esobar, who waged an all-out war with the state in the 1990s until he was finally cornered and gunned down by the security forces in Medellin in 1993.

He is the brother of the jailed former paramilitary chief Freddy Rendon Herrera, who is known as The German for the iron discipline with which he led his fellow criminals.

Rendón was a great friend of Carlos Castano Gil, who was the ‘comandante maximo’ of the United Self Defence Force, one of Colombia’s largest Rightist paramilitary groups. In honour of Castano, Rendón named his own criminal organisation ‘The Heroes of Castano’.

In 2006, the United Self Defence Force, which was heavily involved in the cocaine trade, demobilised its 31,000-strong private army, leaving a vacuum in the country’s lucrative drugs trade.

The United Self-Defence Force waged an all-out war with Leftist paramilitary groups like the Farc for control of the jungles of Colombia.

But Rendón refused to admit his crimes as required in the demobilisation deal with the Colombian Government and went into hiding.

He staged a bid to takeover for Colombia’s multi-million dollar drugs business and started a war to the death with rival drug gangs.

His control of the underworld in western and northern Colombia grew stronger after the extradition of prominent paramilitary leaders to the US.

Known for his taste for ostentatious luxury and his rumoured use of a different Rolex watch every day. He was also said to have carved an alliance with a new paramilitary group, the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles).

At the start of the year, as Colombian authorities began to close in on Rendón and his organisation, the drugs baron offered his 1,000-strong private army: $1,000 for each police officer which they killed.

In reply, Mr Uribe offered $2 million for information which led to his arrest.

The Colombian Government was tonight hailing the drugs baron’s arrest as a major success in the war against the drug barons.

But other commentators were less sure. “Don Mario was the most important drug trafficker out there, but someone will take his place very quickly and it will be business as usual,” said Pablo Casas, a Bogota-based security consultant.

“His organisation is as well structured as any company, where the CEO can be replaced at any time.”

The extradition of Rendón to the United States, where he is also on the most-wanted list, is expected to take many months.

Colombia continues to export about 600 tonnes of cocaine every year - some of it to Britain - and law enforcement efforts have done little to reduce production, according to the United Nations.

see also
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Pablo Escobar
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Coca eradication
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Colombian cocaine
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UK cocaine use soars
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