Reports indicate that on October 17 security forces killed José Abel Bustamante, better known as “Mordisco”, in an undisclosed part of Colombia. Mordisco was a prominent chief of the Gulf Clan, formally called Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC). President Iván Duque and Minister of Defense Guillermo Botero published a video statement indicating that the death of the militant represents a major development against organized crime in the country. The last time executive authorities delivered a similar statement took place on September 1, 2017, when Former President Manuel Santos announced the death of the Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, also known as “Gavilán”, second in command within the AGC power structure. Gavilan was killed during a security operation in Yarumal, Antioquia.
Mordisco was considered responsible for overseeing the finances and drug-trafficking operations of the Gulf Clan. While his death will probably disrupt the group’s operations and planning, it does not necessarily pose an existential threat to the AGC. Trends in organized-crime suggest that unless the top leadership is neutralized or detained within a short time span, the cartel’s activities will continue unhindered for the most part. That said, Mordisco’s death could potentially undermine unity within the Gulf Clan. In the aftermath of Gavilan’s death in 2017, the leader of the AGC, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, better known as “Otoniel”, published a video statement announcing a willingness to negotiate his surrender in exchange of pardons for his men. Considering that sources suggest that Otoniel has lost influence within the group’s ranks since that statement was published, Mordisco’s death will be seen as damaging to Otoniel’s leadership, and probably cast doubt on his ability to protect the group against the backdrop of mounting pressure from security services. Coupled with precedent suggesting militant retaliations are liable to transpire following security operations, Otoniel’s presumed need to display strength at times of adversity could potentially translate in attacks against the government. This assessment is especially relevant to the Uraba region, located near the border with Panama, which remains the main AGC stronghold.