urabenos

Colombian Crime Groups Export Loan Sharking to Peru

Authorities in Peru are warning about the involvement of Colombian crime groups in loan sharking, suggesting these organizations are expanding their participation in this activity outside of their home country…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Colombia’s Urabeños Seek Inclusion in Peace Process

One of Colombia‘s most powerful criminal organizations is reportedly asking to be included in an ongoing peace process between the government and the country’s main guerrilla group, a decision that may have been influenced by increased pressure from state security forces…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Are the Urabeños Expanding Their Presence in Eastern Colombia?

One of Colombia‘s most powerful criminal organizations could be moving into new territory in the eastern part of the country in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the death of a top regional crime boss…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Colombia: Vitriol, violence and threats of strikes as election approaches

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 13 April to 19 April 2014.

report from the Washington Office on Latin America entitled “Ending 50 Years of Conflict” expressed confidence in the potential of ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC to realize a final deal by the end of this year. The report also called on the US to increase financial and diplomatic support to ensure that Colombia can meet post-conflict challenges, such as “bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims.” US aid to Colombia has been declining by an average of 10-15% per year for the past few years.

Colombia’s military spending rose by 13% in 2013, one of the largest increases in the region. Military spending throughout all of Latin America increased by 2.2% in 2013, bringing the total regional increase since 2004 to 61%. Colombia spends more than any other country in the region on its military as a percentage of GDP, and is second only to Brazil – the largest country in the region – in total expenditures. The majority of Colombia’s military spending is directed at fighting armed groups like the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as violent organized crime groups.

President Santos reaffirmed his commitment to the peace negotiations with the FARC in an interview with W Radio. He criticized the FARC for ongoing attacks during the negotiations, saying “What objective are you seeking? What military advantage does it give you? None, it only undermines the confidence of the people in the peace process.” The FARC were suspected of bombing another section of the Panamerican highway this week after a similar attack on April 1. Last week, three policemen were killed in an ambush by FARC forces.

Santos also criticized opponents of the peace process as “lords of fear,” perhaps referring to one of his main rivals in the upcoming presidential election, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who (along with his highest-profile supporter, former President and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe) has been critical of the negotiations.

In an interview with a Colombian news outlet, the leader of the ELN, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (alias “Gabino”), said that his group is seeking peace talks with the government. The ELN is not party to the ongoing negotiations between the government and the FARC. Gabino slammed the Santos administration and Colombia’s “oligarchy” saying that they have “no desire” for peace, “they are thirsty for blood and violence” and they “get rich with war…They are selfish, arrogant, warmongering. They despise the humble and only look at them as a work force that enriches [the powerful].”

Two policemen were killed in the northeastern department of Arauca. RCN Radio attributed the attack to the ELN, which is known to be active in the area, but neither that group, nor the FARC have claimed responsibility for the killings. An unidentified group intimidated a work crew making repairs to an oil pipeline in the northeastern region of the country and torched their truck. Last week, repeated ELN attacks on an oil field in that area forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave.

In the interview, Gabino also expressed outrage over the political dismissals of former Senator Piedad Cordoba and former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro and admitted that there were minors associated with his group. Colombia’s Ombudsman’s office demanded that the ELN disclose the number of minors in their ranks.

The ELN is Colombia’s second-largest armed group after the FARC, with about 2,000 troops. President Santos has indicated his willingness to begin a peace dialogue with the ELN in the past.

Headlines:

According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Colombia has the 10th highest murder rate in the world, even though the country’s homicide rate has dropped by nearly half since 2002.

Colombia is the eighth-worst country in the world for impunity in attacks on the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Members of the U’wa indigenous group met with Colombia’s ministers of mines and energy, the interior and the environment after refusing to allow repairs to the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline following attacks from rebel guerrillas that had damaged it.

Four members of the Colombian military were sentenced to decades in prison for killing civilians and presenting them as combat fatalities in order to boost their “body count” in the country’s armed conflict. The ongoing “false positives” scandal has involved hundreds of members of Colombia’s military. In an July 2013 report, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it had found that the armed forces and civilian collaborators had killed 3,896 civilians since 1986.

Two young men were found dismembered in Buenaventura, the port city considered to be one of the most dangerous areas of Colombia. The deaths were the first murders reported since the army took over security operations in the city in late March. For more on the situation in Buenaventura see our previous post.

Seven members of the Urabeños gang were killed in an army operation in the department of Antioquia.

Colombian miners said they will join with farmers in a nationwide strike planned for April 28, less than a month before the country’s presidential elections. For more on the planned strike, see our previous post.

Colombian authorities arrested 15 members of the criminal group known as “La Línea” who were accused of assassinating a businessman last year for failing to make a $50,000 extortion payment.

Colombian police arrested 5 men wanted for extradition to the United States to face charges of cocaine trafficking.

Members of a neo-Nazi group known as Tercero Fuerza (“Third Force”) allegedly vandalized a Bogotá graffiti mural honoring the thousands of victims of violence committed against the Union Patriótica (Patriotic Union or “UP”), the political party co-founded by the FARC in the 1980s. The UP performed better during the 1986 elections than any other leftist party in Colombian history. However, after the election, a brutal campaign of assassination and murder by right-wing paramilitaries brought about the massacre of 4,000-6,000 UP members, including the party’s leader, Jaime Pardo.

To Watch:

Colombia’s success in combating the production of cocaine within its borders is likely pushing drug traffickers to use product sourced from Peru. “We are seeing the same phenomenon as 30 years ago, when coca base arrived from [Peru and Bolivia] and they produced [cocaine] hydrochloride here,” said the chief of the Anti-Narcotics Police General Ricardo Restrepo. Restrepo said that the port of Cartegena is particularly affected because of its status as a major point of departure for containers, especially those destined for European markets.

One of the oldest crime syndicates in Medellín, the Oficina de Envigado, apparently wants to lay down its weapons. According to two of the group’s self-proclaimed leaders, the demobilization “won’t happen overnight” but their desire to dismantle the gang is fueled by the feeling that “those who have been victimized most are [their] own families.”

The FARC may be selling coca plantations and cocaine labs to the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel in anticipation of a peace deal with the Colombian government. The FARC are estimated to control a majority of the country’s cocaine trade.

Extra:

Acid attacks against women in Colombia are receiving increased attention after a wealthy woman was victimized. According to Colombian officials, more than 900 cases of acid attacks have been recorded in the last 10 years.

Criminals in the US, Central America and even Colombia appear to be using homemade guns more often. As Fusion puts it, these weapons are “unserialized, unregistered and totally legal – and they’re being used to kill people.”

World-renowned Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away this week. President Santos declared three days of national mourning for the “most loved and most admired compatriot of all times.”

Colombia: Citizens remember victims of conflict as peace talks continue ahead of elections

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 6 April to 12 April 2014.

Colombia commemorated the National Day of Victims this week, remembering those who have suffered in the country’s decades-long internal armed conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing-paramilitaries, criminal gangs and state security forces . Many citizens took the opportunity to reflect on the progress of the Law of Victims and Land Restitution signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2011, which aims to return stolen and abandoned land to internally displaced Colombians and provide reparations to victims of human rights violations and infractions of international humanitarian law.

Ana Teresa Bernal, a tenured lecturer at the High Council for Victims Rights, Peace and Reconciliation said there are still “many issues to be corrected” with the law. According to Bernal, “compensations and restitution of lands [are happening] at quite a slow pace.” Even President Santos admitted in a  radio interview that despite a “monumental institutional and financial effort” by his administration, the state “does not have the capacity to attend to all the victims right now.” Most estimates put the number of victims of the conflict at 6 million or more.

The national director of the Liberal Party, Simon Gavaria Muñoz, said in a statement that he “[would] like to apologize to all the victims of Colombia’s internal conflict, on behalf of the Liberal Party, the historical party that has both victim and victimizer.” In the 1950s, Colombia experienced a period of unrest known as La Violencia (“The Violence”), during which Liberal- and Conservative-aligned paramilitaries battled for years, helping to the scene for the decades of armed conflict that followed.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court announced that President Santos – along with the inspector general, prosecutor general, peace commissioner and other officials – will be expected to make a public appearance before the court to provide details on the agreement reached with the FARC regarding their potential future political participation. In November last year, the negotiators came to an agreement regarding the FARC’s possible participation in the formal political process, but the details of the deal have remained under wraps. The court is expected to ask how that deal would be implemented in accordance with the 2012 Legal Framework for Peace, a law passed by congress that lays out some stipulations for the political incorporation of the FARC in the event of a final peace deal. The hearing will be held just five days before the country’s presidential election, which is scheduled to take place on May 25.

The FARC have ruled out pausing the peace negotiations with the government during the presidential election to be held next month. The group also reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process saying that “it is the majority will of the Colombian people that in Colombia there is peace.”

President Santos said he would “think twice” about ordering the killing of FARC leader “Timochenko,” although he claimed that military intelligence showed “more or less” the location of the rebel leader. Santos said that he was “not telling whether [he] would or would not take that decision.” The FARC issued a statement in response saying that the way to peace is not by “acting like bullies.”

Headlines

Over 10,000 displaced people are seeking refuge from Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict in the Caribbean state of Atlantico already this year. According to the US Human Rights Council, 4.7 million people – more than 10% of the country’s total population – were internally displaced, one of the highest rates in the world.

Three policemen were killed in an attack by FARC guerrillas, who took for themselves the prisoner the police had been transporting with them.

Repeated ELN (National Liberation Army) attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oilfield have forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave. The site, which is Colombia’s second-largest oilfield, has been attacked dozens of times in recent months, causing significant damage.

Three hundred soldiers will be sent to Bogotá to assist with security operations in 10 areas of the city. The army has denied that this move represents a “militarization” of law enforcement in the capital.

President Juan Manuel Santos claimed that security forces had arrested 136 members of criminal gangs over the last month and a half in the pacific port city of Buenaventura. He also touted $100 million worth of investments in social programs aimed at helping the city recover from devastating violence caused by a turf war between the Los Urabeños and Rastrojos gangs.

The Colombian government seized $90 million worth of property linked to Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias “Comba” or “Combatiente,” the leader of the Rastrojos gang who surrendered to US authorities in October 2012.

Seven tons of cocaine were seized by authorities in the port city of Cartegena, bringing the total amount of cocaine seized this year to 30 tons.

Costa Rican authorities arrested four Colombian nationals who were allegedly transporting a ton of cocaine in the Gulf of Mexico.

A municipal judge ordered the Santos administration to publicly apologize for statements made by its predecessor hinting that some of the country’s unions and their members had ties to guerrilla groups. Although there have been some improvements in the protection of worker’s rights to free association and collective bargaining, 73 Colombian labor activists have been executed in the last three years, and nearly 1,000 death threats were registered in 2013 by the Escuela Nacional Sindical (National Union School, or ENS). 

Senator Juan Manuel Corzo accused Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo and his brother Andres Cristo of having ties to paramilitary groups. Cristo and dozens of his colleagues been investigated for links to paramilitary groups in the past. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, more than 11,000 politicians, officials and businessmen are suspected of having made pacts with such groups.

To Watch

Farmers are planning a national strike later this month, similar to the strike conducted during August of last year. Agricultural workers are upset at government policies such as free trade agreements, which they view as harmful to their livelihoods. They are also frustrated because the government has fulfilled less than half of the promises it made after last year’s strike. President Santos’s administration is pressing for a dialogue with the farmers to head off a major protest just weeks before the presidential election. Last month, tens of thousands of farmers took to the streets of Bogotá to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with government policies. Rice growers planned a national strike this week. The Colombian government has offered a promise to purchase rice at $52 per ton to avoid a strike by the farmers.

President Santos said that he will reinstate ousted Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro if he is ordered to do so by a Colombian court now considering the case. Petro was removed from office and banned from politics for 15 years over supposed “irregularities” that occurred during his attempt to de-privatize the city’s trash collection services. Santos’s recent decision to ignore an order from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights demanding that he reinstate Petro spurred the resignation of the entire government of the city of Bogotá.

President Santos announced that his government will begin demolishing and repossessing dozens of buildings being used as points-of-sale for drugs, saying that “We have recognized that if we manage to destroy these [buildings] – literally destroy them…we will be able to tackle the root of these mini-structures that are causing so much damage.” However, many experts believe that this effort will harm legitimate property-owners while causing only a small inconvenience to drug dealers forced to relocate their operations. Santos also announced the addition of 100 police to target “micro-traffickers” in Antioquia state, designating such criminals “high value targets.”

Spain extradited suspected Urabeños member Carlos Andrés Palencia (alias ‘Visaje’), who was wanted on multiple drug trafficking and murder charges.

President Santos signed an order approved by Colombia’s Supreme Court authorizing the extradition of seven gang members accused of an attempted kidnapping that resulted in the death of US DEA agent James Terry Watson in June 2013.

The family of Conservative politician Alvaro Hurtado Gomez, who was killed in 1995, plans to sue the Colombian government at the InterAmerican Court on Human Rights. The family alleges that the Prosecutor General’s Office has impeded the investigation into Gomez’s death causing “monetary and moral damages” to his family, constituting a human rights violation. Gomez, the son of former Colombian president Laureano Gomez, ran for president three times and was a media mogul who founded the newspaper “El Siglo,” the magazine “Sintesis Economica” and a TV news station. His family alleges that he was murdered for editorials he wrote claiming that contemporary president Enrique Samper’s campaign was funded partially by the Cali drug cartel.

Extra

The Red Cross presented a report documenting 207 violations of human rights in 39 Colombian cities. The spike in violence in likely attributable to the supposed demobilization during the mid-2000s of right-wing paramilitary groups known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, which were originally formed to protect wealthy landowners from attacks by left-wing guerrillas. Since then, many former members of those groups have integrated into criminal organizations, such as the Urabeños and Rastrojos gangs.

Colombia: Ousted Bogota mayor continues legal fight

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 23 March to 29 March 2014.

Days after President Juan Manuel Santos rejected an order from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to reverse the decision to remove the now-former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, from office, he and interim mayor Rafael Pardo announced an “emergency plan” for the city.

Petro’s firing brought tens of thousands into the streets protesting against the decision back in December. This week, Petro filed another appeal for a court to overturn the decision to remove him from office and ban him from politics for 15 years. A poll released this week showed 57% of respondents said Santos’s decision will affect the upcoming election “a lot,” but the poll did not ask how the decision would affect their vote.

Another recently-released poll showed the incumbent Santos and Green Party Enrique Penalosa advancing to the second round of Colombia’s upcoming presidential election, with Penalosa winning the second round by a small margin. Polling results published last week had similar results.

General Secretary of the Mayor of Bogotá Susana Muhamad called for the legalization and regulation of the marijuana trade in Colombia. While it is unlikely that such a move would do much to curb violent crime in Colombia, Muhamad’s statements align somewhat the FARC’s position in the latest round of peace talks with the FARC, which have focused on the issue of illicit drugs.

In the past, President Santos has also expressed support for such a policy. Despite recent tensions, the FARC said they were “optimistic” about the negotiations with the government, saying that they “have without a doubt advanced the construction of peace accords.”

Headlines

General John Kelly of the US Southern Command released a statement saying the US will do “everything in our power” to help the Colombian military fight “terrorism,” presumably referring to the FARC, which is designated by the US as a terrorist organization.

Police blamed the FARC for a bomb blast that killed 1 police officer killed and injured 9 people injured in the Guapi municipality of the southern state of Cauca.

Two soldiers were killed and two civilians injured in a bomb attack attributed to the FARC in the Amazonas department.

A ton of cocaine, with an estimated value of $13 million, was seized in Buenaventura just 24 hours after Colombia’s Defense Ministry sent additional security forces to the city. The cocaine is believed to have belonged to the Urabeños gang.

Hector Castro, alias “Hector Largo”, a member of the Urabeños who controlled the largest synthetic drug distribution ring in the country, was arrested. In addition to drugs charges, Castro was also wanted for a number of homicides.

87 homicides have been reported in the port city of Buenaventura so far this year and more than 1,000 have been displaced due to violence stemming from the presence of drug gangs. The city is widely considered to be the most dangerous place in Colombia.

Authorities in Medellin imprisoned four alleged drug traffickers with ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office seized $7.5 million worth of assets from Victor and Miguel Angel Mejia, alias “Los Mellisos” (The Twins). The brothers were considered to be among the country’s primary narco-traffickers. Victor was killed during his arrest in 2008 and his brother was subsequently extradited to the United States.

A report from watchdog group Amnesty International said Colombia has “failed spectacularly” to guarantee the human rights of its citizens during the country’s decades-long civil war ahead of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual review. The group plans to deliver a statement to the Human Rights Council highlighting its concern with forced displacement, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, abductions, and enforced disappearances.

A spokesman for the International Office for Human Rights in Colombia criticized the ongoing peace talks with the FARC for not allowing “direct participation” by victims of the guerrillas. The spokesman also voiced his concern that negotiations will end in impunity for FARC.

A report by Oxfam estimates that almost 50,000 children have been victims of sexual violence during Colombia’s civil war. However, the report claimed that many acts of sexual violence have become normalized to the point where they are no longer considered crimes or even wrong and therefore may go unreported. Other reasons these crimes may be unreported include shame on the part of victims and fear of retributive attacks by perpetrators.

To Watch

Coffee farmers are considering an agrarian strike to protest unfulfilled promises made by the government after demonstrations last year. The farmers say that a new crop subsidy program has not been fully implemented, causing farmers to take losses on their harvests, and that a debt forgiveness program has not been realized.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the FARC to hand over the guerillas responsible for the murder of two policmen last week. President Santos said the “cowardly assassination…will not go unpunished.”

Kidnappers appear to be opting for the “express kidnapping” technique more often as of late. The technique involves asking for smaller amounts of money and releasing victims more quickly.

Carlos Arnoldo Lobo, alias “El Negro,” a drug trafficker with links to Colombia’s Rastrojos gang, was arrested in Honduras.  The US Southern District Court of Florida is seeking El Negro’s extradition under a 2012 Honduran law that allows for the extradition of Hondurans charged with drug trafficking, terrorism, or organized crime. If he is extradited, “El Negro” would be the first person to whom this law has been applied.

According to Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, the United States has approached the Colombian government about receiving some of the prisoners currently held at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. It was reported that Uruguay was contacted with a similar proposal. [CITE]

Extra

Colombia reports published part one of a planned three-part series that was highly critical of many of the US-led policies of the Drug War. Part one criticized the extradition of over 1,600 criminals to the US since 1997, claiming that extradition feeds the US “prison industrial complex” while simultaneously allowing Colombian government officials to avoid investigating crimes they might be linked to.

Colombia: Former president Uribe wins Senate seat

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal.

This is a weekly roundup of events from 9 March to 15 March 2014.

Former president Alvaro Uribe won a seat in the Senate in elections held this weekend. His newly formed party, the conservative Centro Democratico (Democratic Center), won 19 seats to become the second most powerful force in the senate behind current president Juan Manuel Santos’s National Unity coalition, which now holds 21 seats.

Uribe and his party are staunchly opposed to the ongoing peace negotiations with FARC rebels. It’s likely that Uribe and his conservative allies will attempt to frustrate the talks as well as other aspects of Santos’s agenda.

According to various sources, about one-third of Colombian senators and one-fifth of lower house representatives have ties to right-wing, anti-FARC paramilitaries largely demobilized during the administration of former president Uribe. Former AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) leader, Carlos Mario Jimenez (also known as, “Macaco”), who is serving a 33-year drug trafficking and terrorism sentence in a United States jail,  claimed last December that former Colombian General Flavio Buitrago had links to the right-wing paramilitary from 1996 to 2005. Macaco’s son revealed this week that he has received a number of anonymous death threats since his father’s revelations.

Headlines:

Allegations that the Colombian military has engaged in illegal wiretapping, embezzlement, arms trafficking and obstruction of justice have increasingly been a source of tension at the peace talks between the government and the FARC.

Colombian police seized 1.5 tons of cocaine being shipped in a speedboat near Panama. Authorities suspect the drugs belonged to the Los Urabeños gang.

Colombian police report that the FARC is cooperating with rival criminal gangs (also known as, “bandas criminales,” or BACRIM) in illegal gold mining operations. The FARC and BACRIM already collaborate in the cocaine business, but gold is believed to have become a bigger source of income for Colombia’s illegal groups than cocaine in one-quarter of the country’s departments.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry defended proposed cuts in aid to Colombia and Mexico, some of which will include reductions to funding for anti-narcotics programs.

Gen. John Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command (also commonly known as SOUTHCOM), said 80% of Colombian drugs escape interdiction and reach their target market in the United States.

Four Colombian soldiers were killed and four civilians injured in an attack allegedly carried out by members of FARC disguised as highway construction workers.

A Colombian court ordered the defense ministry to stop illegally recruiting citizens for involuntary military service.

A witness to the murder of 5 Colombians in Venezuela over the weekend claims the killers were members of Los Urabeños, the gang that controls much of Colombia’s drug trade along the Caribbean coast into the neighboring country.

To watch:

The Colombian government is tightening security in coffee-growing regions ahead of the upcoming harvest.

Colombian businessman Eduardo Vives, the cousin of a former congressman imprisoned for ties to paramilitary groups, was kidnapped.

“Chopping houses” used by gangs for dismembering victims of forced disappearances in the western port city of Buenaventura will be demolished. For more on “chopping houses,” see InSightCrime.

While women are often victims of violence by gang members, they are also becoming increasingly involved in gang activities, analysis finds.

Hundreds of right-wing paramilitary troops jailed for various crimes under a 2005 demobilization deal will be released this year. Some citizens and government officials have expressed concern that the paramilitaries will regroup and resume killing displaced peasants who are trying to reclaim land stolen from them by right-wing forces.