Emerging from the ashes of Colombia’s bloody paramilitary counter-insurgency in the mid-2000s came a new type of criminal network Colombia’s authorities christened “bandas criminales” (BACRIM) or criminal bands. The BACRIM have since become the dominant criminal force in the Colombian underworld.
These criminal hybrids oversee cocaine trafficking and have established illicit empires in illegal mining, extortion, and the trafficking of everything from people to weapons. The most powerful of these networks in Colombia is the Urabeños, whose network stretches into two-thirds of Colombian states and whose criminal “franchise” has become the model for much of organized crime in the country.
Today, the Colombian underworld — flooded with cocaine from booming coca production and rife with criminal opportunities created by the withdrawal of thousands of demobilizing leftist insurgents — stands on the cusp of seismic change. The Urabeños and other BACRIM will play a decisive role in shaping this new order.
This special multimedia report takes you deep inside an Urabeños’ cell in the prized criminal territory of Bajo Cauca, a region in the northern part of the department of Antioquia. It offers a unique insight into how a BACRIM network operates and what their role in the underworld is.
Based on three years of investigation and interviews with current and former BACRIM members with different ranks and responsibilities, this report presents the BACRIM in the words of its members, as well as their victims and the Colombian authorities. The section on money examines the ways the BACRIM profit from a broad and diversified portfolio of criminal activities. Power analyzes the BACRIM’s inner dynamics, structure, and social control. Murder breaks down the functioning of the BACRIM’s armed wings and their assassin networks.
Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.
The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia’s underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.
The BACRIM’s control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.