Colombia will hold elections for mayors, governors, state assemblies and city councilors in October. The approach of the local elections raises the perennial threat that the results could be influenced by the large and powerful criminal groups, known as the BACRIMs, which operate throughout the country.
The fears come amidst continuing accusations against and prosecutions of politicians for connections with the BACRIMs’ forefathers, the right-wing paramilitary groups.
Authorities recently charged thirteen politicians in Uraba, a northwestern region close to the border with Panama, with conspiracy and having had ties with the Elmer Cardenas Bloc, a former wing of the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia ( ‘Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia’ - AUC), El Espectador reported.
According to El Espectador, the former commander of the Elmer Cardenas Bloc, Freddy Rendon Herrera, alias ‘El Aleman,’ testified that the politicians’ electoral victories in 2002 and 2006, were due to paramilitary support.
Most of the AUC demobilized between 2004 and 2007. But remnants did not, and remain entrenched in organized crime, most notably in the 'Bandas Criminales' or BACRIMs, as they're known by the Colombian government.
The BACRIMs, authorities say, may be trying to influence October’s local elections. The head of Colombia’s National Registry, Carlos Ariel Sanchez, said that the criminal groups are trying to sabotage the elections by stuffing ballot boxes with the names of their pre-selected candidates.
“They are looking to alter the results to their favor as the ‘paras’ [AUC] did in 2002 and 2006,” Sanchez said, referring to previous elections.
Colombian officials have noticed an unusual increase in the number of registered ‘cedulas’ or identification cards, which are required to vote, in the Casanare and Meta departments, El Pais reported.
According to the same news report, officials say that 300 municipalities are in danger of BACRIM infiltration; 67 were called “high risk.” Regional authorities highlighted four municipalities, all known drug trafficking corridors and staging points.
Authorities have also mapped 111 locations where they believe the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (‘Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia’ - FARC) and the National Liberation Army (‘Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional’ · ELN) guerrillas could sabotage the elections.
The government has given assurances that it will limit the potentially result-altering influence of the criminal groups. Despite government promises, though, the track record of criminal organizations and their influence on elections pose significant concerns.