He now works as a graphic designer, a skill that grew from his early years as a graffiti artist.
But it is in music that he has a growing reputation.
As the rapper Ceromundo, he has several Spanish language videos on YouTube, including his latest, "Mota-Vacion," where over a chugging rhythm he tosses off rhymes including Lucca Brazzi, Benghazi, kamakazi, posse and Nazi.
One local disc jockey who plays Ceromundo's music, Mauricio Rivera, who goes by DJ Moe, said the Laurel resident is drawing attention from the growing audience for Latino rap music.
"He has that raw Colombian sound," Rivera said. "He has become well respected."
Cali, Colombia's third largest city, was a sinkhole of drug-related turmoil at the time.
"It was one of the most violent, dangerous cities in the world. It was crazy," he said. "But now it's not like that."
He spent some time translating rap lyrics into Spanish and found encouragement.
"People said, 'Hey you ought to rap. You get attention from girls.' I said, 'Hey, that sounds cool,'"
He returned to the U.S. in 1997 and found a job at Reagan National Airport working for an airline. Airline employees can fly for free and he made the most of it. He was soon shopping demos and making contacts in New York, Chicago, Boston and Miami.
"I knew about him even before I worked with him," Arbaiva said. "Working with him has been an experience. He's really hardworking and dedicated. And he's evolving with the times. That's his strong suit."
Ceremundo, who once went by the moniker Carnicero (the butcher) because of the rawness of his sound, is now a husband and a property owner in Laurel.
When Laurel launched an arts council last September, he submitted a resume and was accepted.
"Maybe I can open some doors to kids coming up," he said. "You want tranquility in your life after a while. I've lived on the crazy streets of Colombia."