BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — One of Colombia's most-hunted drug traffickers has been killed in a military raid, President Juan Manuel Santos announced Friday.
Victor Navarro, a 39-year-old better known by the alias "Megateo," long dominated the historically lawless Catatumbo region near Venezuela where he was killed. With a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, he had faced 45 different arrest warrants and was especially hunted for a 2006 ambush in which his men killed 17 soldiers and intelligence agents who had set out from Bogota seeking to capture him.
Santos gave no details about how or when Navarro was killed.
Navarro claimed to lead the last remaining faction of the Popular Liberation Army, a rebel movement that disbanded in 1991, but authorities said he was one of Colombia's biggest cocaine traffickers.
A thickly built man of medium height, he was notorious for wearing flashy, weapons-themed jewelry and for branding underage lovers with a tattoo of his face. He wore a big gold ring on each hand — one encrusted with diamonds, the other emeralds. In one photo police obtained in a raid, a golden pistol hangs from a necklace.
His brazenness drew comparisons, although in miniature, to Pablo Escobar, the cocaine kingpin who terrorized Colombia for two decades until he was killed by police in 1993.
Born into a peasant family, he took to crime in the late 1990s after paramilitaries killed his mother and a sister, according to Colombian investigators. Navarro projected a Robin Hood image, sharing some wealth with local people while putting numerous public officials on his payroll, U.S. and Colombian officials say.
Navarro long evaded capture while lording over the forbidding jungle region that hugs Venezuela's border, bolstered by alliances with various parties in Colombia's half century-old conflict. He cooperated with gangs of former far-right militiamen and with the two largest rebel groups — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the National Liberation Army.
Law enforcement fixated on Navarro because of what he represented: the possible future of organized crime in Colombia if peace talks succeed between the government and the FARC. Negotiators hope to produce a final deal to end that armed conflict within six months, and the smaller National Liberation Army also wants to begin peace talks.
Authorities worry that ideology-free gangsters will fill a vacuum left by leftist rebels, taking control of remote fiefdoms that the government has always had trouble penetrating. They would oversee coca crops, the raw material of cocaine, while employing ex-combatants of all political stripes as enforcers.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.