HomeNewsAnalysisColombia Troop Surge in Nariño: Too Little Too Late?
ANALYSIS

Colombia Troop Surge in Nariño: Too Little Too Late?

COLOMBIA / 6 MAY 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

Authorities are following through on a promised security surge in southwest Colombia, one of the most troubled areas in the country. But it is not clear what the government hopes to achieve, considering that a similar operation in northern Colombia produced very few results.

President Juan Manuel Santos said that 1,400 police officers will be deployed to the Nariño, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca departments, perhaps the most conflict-ridden area in Colombia right now. Accompanying the police surge is the creation of a naval brigade, based in Tumaco, Nariño, a port city highly valued by drug-trafficking organization (DTO) the Rastrojos.

This bit of attention for Nariño, one of the poorest and most violent departments in Colombia, is a welcome step forward. All of Colombia's armed actors are present in this area: rebel groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN); and DTOs like the Rastrojos and Aguilas Negras.

Nariño is a highly valued strategic holding ground for criminal groups: some of Colombia's densest coca cultivations are found here. After the government stepped up fumigation efforts in neighboring Putumayo in 2002, coca production shifted westwards into Nariño. According to the most recently available statistics on Colombia's coca production, in 2009 the United Nations (UN) counted 16,228 hectares of coca in Nariño, compared to Putumayo's 5,316.

The department's southern border with Ecuador and over 60 miles of coastline along the Pacific also makes Nariño a vital holding ground for both the rebels and criminal bands (bandas criminales - BACRIMS).

Key to controlling Nariño is Tumaco, which, with an estimated 4,681 hectares of coca, is the municipality with the highest concentration of coca crops in the country. In the district capital, local gangs fight over micro-trafficking profits, contributing to a murder rate of 139 per every 100,000 inhabitants, compared with the national murder rate of 33. These kinds of numbers led Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera to promise in January that the government would soon launch an "intervention" in Nariño, with a focus on securing Tumaco.

Committing additional forces in Colombia's Pacific southwest is a welcome development. But it's unclear if the number of troops and the proposed time -- six months -- is enough to achieve long-lasting results.

The surge is called "Operation Troy," after a similarly dubbed operation launched January in the northern departments of Cordoba and Antioquia. The government has praised the results of this two-month assault, which include the reported arrest of 236 presumed BACRIM members.

But many of these arrests were of low-level BACRIM members who worked as local drug dealers. We can also assume the courts will allow many to walk away on a technicality (as occurred with the much-publicized case of one member of the Paisas, Oscar Mauricio Galvis, alias "Pantera," who was arrested in 2010 and promptly set free by a local judge).

To definitively break the cycles of violence in Nariño will require much more than a six-month military and police surge. But the government's resources are increasingly stretched. The FARC are leading offensives in Cauca and Arauca, while the Urabeño-Rastrojo war threatens to boost violence in major cities like Medellin and Cali. This makes it unlikely that Nariño will see much more from the government than the currently promised aid.

Nariño is a long neglected corner of the country, which has helped turn it into a center for Colombia's coca cultivation. This makes the current attention from Bogota a step forward. But the new "Plan Troy" may amount to little more than a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 9 FEB 2021

On April 30, 1984, the Mercedes taking Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla home after work was strafed with machine…

COLOMBIA / 12 MAY 2022

The assassination of a crusading Paraguayan prosecutor while on honeymoon in Colombia has caused widespread alarm about the rising levels…

COCAINE / 29 SEP 2021

Accused paramilitary drug lord “Memo Fantasma,” or “Will the Ghost,” has petitioned a judge to be let out of a…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…