HomeNewsAnalysisUptick in Colombia Massacres Highlights Shifting Criminal Dynamics

Uptick in Colombia Massacres Highlights Shifting Criminal Dynamics


A new United Nations report has revealed a scandalous increase in the number of massacres carried out in Colombia, revealing new criminal dynamics in strategic areas of the country.

Massacres in the Andean nation increased 164 percent from just 11 cases in 2017 to 29 cases in 2018, according to an annual report from the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The OHCHR report found that the greatest number of massacres took place in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander and Caquetá, areas particularly affected by Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile

"In the first three of these departments, the OHCHR has also observed a higher rate of murders of human rights defenders," according to the report.

The authors explain that 66 percent of such cases were related to the work of human rights defenders, including those who support the implementation of the historic 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC), specifically regarding the substitution of illicit coca crops.

The annual report also makes a general diagnosis on the human rights situation in Colombia, highlighting the increase in violence, the challenges posed by the fight against impunity and corruption, and the need to accelerate the implementation of the peace accords.

InSight Crime Analysis

The departments highlighted in the OHCHR report are an example of how criminal dynamics have changed in strategic areas throughout Colombia since the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas.

Northwest Antioquia department is at the heart of a conflict between the Urabeños, Caparrapos, ex-FARC mafia groups and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional -- ELN). As a result, massacres and systematic assassinations have become a common reality in the north and northeast of the department.

One such massacre occurred in the municipality of Yarumal at the beginning of 2018. Unsurprisingly, it was members of the Urabeños who reportedly attacked suspected members of the Caparrapos, leaving seven people dead.

SEE ALSO: Caparrapos Thriving in Colombia Due to Alliances With ELN, Ex-FARC Mafia

In southwest Cauca department, which was also included in the OHCHR’s list, a conflict is brewing between the ELN and former FARC fighters over control of key municipalities for coca and poppy cultivation, as well as illegal mining.

In fact, a June 2018 massacre in the municipality of Algeria, where seven bodies were found dead, occurred as a result of battles over illegal mining in the area.

The OHCHR’s list also includes Colombia’s Catatumbo region, which consists of 11 municipalities in the department of Norte de Santander near the border with Venezuela, where the ELN and Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación -- EPL) are waging war against one another. Several municipalities have become trenches of this war and, in the process, the scene of massacres and displacements.

In 2018, 10 people were massacred in the municipality of El Tarra in Norte de Santander. Among the victims were several former FARC guerrillas. Although the ELN and the EPL denied responsibility for the carnage, the most credible hypothesis is that the massacre was due to the breakdown of a pact between the two groups regarding drug trafficking activities in the area.

However, the last department included in the OHCHR’s list -- Caquetá in the Amazon region -- came as a surprise.

Low levels of violence had been seen there since the final leg of the FARC’s peace negotiations between 2016 and the end of 2017. No massacre had been recorded here since 2015.

This is due in large part to the strong control that the FARC had over this strategic drug trafficking area. Caquetá has coca cultivation and cocaine-producing zones, as well as strategic drug trafficking routes into Guaviare, Meta, Nariño and Putumayo departments.

This area had been so important for the FARC guerrillas that it was considered the perfect spot for the birth of the ex-FARC mafia -- dissident factions of former FARC combatants that continued controlling criminal economies after the group’s demobilization.

It is in this context in Caquetá that former members of the FARC’s 40th and 62nd fronts -- led by Euclides Mora up until his 2017 death -- and a group commanded by Edgar Mesías Salgado Aragón, alias "Rodrigo Cadete” -- a key ally until his 2019 death for the 1st Front Dissidence led by Miguel Botache Santillana, alias "Gentil Duarte" -- continued fighting.

SEE ALSO: Gentil Duarte’s Master Plan to Reunite Colombia’s FARC Dissidents

This relationship was based on the fact that Gentil Duarte and Rodrigo Cadete shared the intention of creating a single unified structure. The 1st Front Dissidence exerted control in Guaviare and the south of Meta, all the way to Caquetá where Cadete was strong. Such an alliance would allow them to grow stronger and control a large part of the criminal economies in the area.

This is why the massacre of five people in the rural town of Montañita came as a surprise. Simply put, such events are not within the normal actions of the groups there. Much less so due to the 2,500 hectares that Montañita’s used for coca cultivation in 2017, in addition to the drug trafficking routes it posses.

What this massacre seems to show is that criminal dynamics in Caquetá may be changing. This could usher in a new wave of violence, either between the groups that were previously allied, or between those groups and another armed actor wishing to take control of this strategic zone.

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


Ever greater quantities of cocaine are making their way across the Atlantic and are being sold at ever greater prices…

COCAINE / 9 FEB 2022

As Colombian traffickers and police continually try to outfox each other, liquid cocaine has returned to the fore as an…

COCAINE / 13 APR 2022

The arrest of yet another alleged Sinaloa Cartel emissary in Colombia has once again raised questions about the extent of…

About InSight Crime


All Eyes on Ecuador

2 JUN 2023

Our coverage of organized crime in Ecuador continues to be a valuable resource for international and local news outlets. Internationally, Reuters cited our 2022 Homicide Round-Up,…


Open Position: Social Media and Engagement Strategist

27 MAY 2023

InSight Crime is looking for a Social Media and Engagement Strategist who will be focused on maintaining and improving InSight Crime’s reputation and interaction with its audiences through publishing activities…


Venezuela Coverage Receives Great Reception

27 MAY 2023

Several of InSight Crime’s most recent articles about Venezuela have been well received by regional media. Our article on Venezuela’s colectivos expanding beyond their political role to control access to…


InSight Crime's Chemical Precursor Report Continues

19 MAY 2023

For the second week in a row, our investigation into the flow of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been cited by multiple regional media…


InSight Crime’s Chemical Precursor Report Widely Cited


We are proud to see that our recently published investigation into the supply chain of chemical precursors feeding Mexico’s synthetic drug production has been warmly received.