HomeNewsAnalysisViolence in West Colombia Foreshadows Problems for Peace Deal

Violence in West Colombia Foreshadows Problems for Peace Deal


A mass displacement in west Colombia, due to clashes between leftist guerrillas and drug trafficking paramilitaries, may be a foreshadowing of one scenario awaiting the country should the insurgents from the FARC agree to a peace deal in coming months.

Around 220 people have been displaced from southwest Colombia as a result of clashes between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) and presumed members of criminal group the Urabeños, Colombia's Ombudsman's Office reported.

On February 13, fighting reportedly broke out between the Daniel Aldana Mobile Column of the FARC and members of an "unidentified illegal armed group associated with drug trafficking" in a rural Afro-Colombian community in the municipality of San Andrés de Tumaco, Nariño department.

Fleeing the violence, a number of families made their way to the municipal capital, finding lodging with other family members and friends.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Rights

As early as November 2015, the Ombudsman's Office had issued warnings on the dangerous situation faced by the population of San Andrés de Tumaco, due to ongoing FARC presence and the possible incursion of the Urabeños. In late 2015, graffiti started appearing, alluding to armed groups such as the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), as well as pamphlets referring to the "Gaitanistas" -- another reference to the Urabeños.

Other displacements in western Colombia have also been reported. On February 26, the Ombudsman's Office confirmed the displacement and "confinement" of over 900 people in the Alto Baudó municipality of the western department of Chocó, for fear of clashes between the ELN and the Urabeños. The paramilitary group allegedly told the local community it intends to expand its presence and social control in the region.


Urabeños territory as of 2014. Source: INDEPAZ

InSight Crime Analysis

There are several possible reasons for this recent outbreak of violence in west Colombia.

Firstly, it may be partly due to the government's crackdown on the Urabeños, a security push known as "Operation Agamemnon." This was launched in response to demands by the FARC leadership in Cuba that the government take action against the country's neo-paramilitary organizations. Known as BACRIM (an amalgamation of the Spanish words "Bandas Criminales"), the groups are hybrid political-criminal organizations that littered the country following the demobilization of right-wing paramilitary groups a decade ago.

As a result of Operation Agamemnon, Colombia's security forces pushed the Urabeños out of their home turf along the Caribbean coast, and into more western departments like Chocó. This may explain the clashes between the Urabeños and the FARC's 57th Front in this region. It is also possible that the Urabeños were pushed even further south, into Nariño department, and hence resulting in clashes with the FARC in that area. 

The violence in Chocó and Nariño may also be linked to a growing scramble for control of drug routes and crops between criminal groups as the proposed deadline for the peace talks draws near. The deal, originally scheduled to be signed in late March, will likely be delayed for several months at least. 

A peace deal may result in at least a third of FARC troops refusing to demobilize in order to retain their lucrative criminal economies. Meanwhile, the Urabeños -- whose main supplier of coca base is the FARC -- will also be looking for the best way to continue their drug business under the new conditions.

SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile

Both organizations therefore have interests in securing territorial control of coca cultivations, drug corridors, departure points and safe areas for setting up laboratories -- much of which is currently in the hands of the guerrilla group. This situation could lead to a series of different scenarios.

In one possible outcome, the Urabeños could look to take total control of FARC economies in certain areas. This hypothesis supported by the group's territorial advances in recent years. The Urabeños have nearly doubled their area of influence since the peace talks began in 2012, entering areas that have historically been under FARC control.

As a December 2015 report by the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz - INDEPAZ) explains, these new strategic areas include parts of the Pacific Coast, which is a drug smuggling gateway and has become a key territorial objective for the Urabeños. (See INDEPAZ map above)

Another key area the Urabeños could be looking to take over is Nariño, currently the main coca producing region in Colombia, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

However, it's also quite possible that other factions of the FARC and the Urabeños will have a less belligerent relationship in other parts of Colombia. In areas like the department of Bolivar, strong commercial ties between the Urabeños and the FARC may see dissident guerrillas continue to collaborate with -- or simply join the ranks of -- the paramilitary organization.

Such suspicions were made more acute in mid-August 2015, with the discovery of email exchanges between FARC leaders, which suggested that the guerrilla group was selling drugs to the Urabeños and providing security to the group in Urabá.

Nevertheless, there is also the possibility that FARC factions that refuse to demobilize will opt to run their criminal economies independently.

The leader of the FARC unit behind the displacement in Nariño, who is known as "Rambo," may be among those unwilling to share their stake in the drug trade with the Urabeños. The head of this FARC unit controls drug trafficking in the department, including cultivations, cocaine laboratories and drug routes. Rambo also appears to have cut out the middleman in commercializing illegal goods, and is negotiating directly with the Sinaloa Cartel to export cocaine out of the country.

It should be noted that the peace process has brought about a relative drop in hostilities between the FARC and security forces, with the government diverting more time and resources into fighting other armed actors such as the Urabeños and the ELN. With many FARC elements continuing to advance their criminal economies, this easing off -- along with the foreseen reduction in military troops post-peace deal -- could paradoxically see dissident guerrilla factions become stronger and richer as a result.

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.


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.


Related Content

COLOMBIA / 27 JUN 2017

The Colombian government has made some discrete changes to its hunt for the country's most wanted criminal, changes that may…

COLOMBIA / 23 MAR 2016

This InSight Crime project defines elites as: specific groups of people with a privileged position that allows them to control,…


Organized crime structures are known to be moving entire arsenals from Peru into Ecuador and on to armed groups within…

About InSight Crime


Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…


Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…


Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…


Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.


Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…