The capital of Colombia, Bogotá, is facing a wave of murders, featuring brutal torture, as microtrafficking gangs attempt to clean out rivals and reorganize amid an explosion of local demand.
From April 4 to mid-May, authorities discovered 15 bodies scattered across the capital, each one showing signs of torture. All 15 were allegedly linked to a settling of scores related to microtrafficking activities in disputed territories in southern and central Bogotá, El Tiempo reported.
On May 23, Bogotá's head prosecutor told El Tiempo that most of the casualties were Venezuelan migrants and that the violence was largely linked to a feud between two local gangs, the Camilos and the Aguaceros, to control microtrafficking in the city.
One recent case occurred on May 11, when authorities found two lifeless bodies in the Palmitas de Patio Bonito neighborhood, located in Kennedy, in the southwestern part of the capital, El País reported.
Kennedy chief of police, Luis Acosta, told El País that the two victims were Venezuelan migrants with criminal records, both around 30 years old. Each died of gunshot wounds and had received blows to the head, Acosta stated.
Additional acts of gratuitous violence have been repeated in other areas of Bogotá, including Los Mártires, San Cristóbal, Usme, Santa Fe, Teusaquillo, Engativá and Antonio Nariño, reported.
On May 10, Caracol reported on the court proceedings of the two people police have so far been able to link to the wave of violence. During the trial, prosecutors gave mention of a "massage parlor" - located in San Bernardo, just two miles from the Mayor's Office - that was apparently used by one gang, Los Seguros, as a dedicated torture center. At least six people have been tortured there and local residents were afraid of what happened in the building, prosecutors said.
InSight Crime Analysis
Murders directly linked to score settling between microtrafficking groups are not new to Bogotá. But a striking acceleration has occurred: the capital has seen more murders between April and early May this year than it did during the entire proceeding three years, Andrés Nieto, a security expert at Universidad Central, told InSight Crime.
Between 2019 and 2021, just nine cases tied to microtrafficking were reported, he said, adding that the increase could be explained by the post-pandemic economic reactivation and a return to in-person classes at educational institutions.
“With the economic reactivation and the launch of the academic year again at colleges and universities, drug distribution also ends up being reactivated,” Nieto said.
Other reasons have also been given. A local Bogotá councilor told El País that violence is being fueled by a rise in local cocaine consumption that took place during the pandemic, parallel to an increase in production in the country.
Regardless of cause, the result is two types of conflicts, Nieto explained.
On one hand are the internal disputes within the gangs in reaction to being hit by the city's police forces, who have been attempting to slow the advance of microtrafficking gangs. In these cases, it is common for mid-level managers to attempt to take out other members of the organization in order to assume leadership of the group.
On the other hand are disputes between the rival gangs. “There are gangs that are fighting each other to be able to control these businesses and they begin to send these types of signals as warnings. They hit the mid- and low-levels [of rival gangs] to send a warning and thereby take over the business, the distribution area or the collection points."
Colombia’s capital city has been the epicenter of macabre score-settling linked to microtrafficking in the past. According to El Tiempo, one of the main drivers of microtrafficking violence was a gang led by Néstor Aguirre, alias “Camilo.” Aguirre's gang had been in operation for over 15 years in the city, running over 200 drug dealing locations, known locally as “ollas,” and collecting more than $500,000 in profits each month. It was also responsible for more than 50 deaths related to score settling. Authorities captured Aguirre in 2021.
In 2020, a Venezuelan military officer turned gang leader, Erick Alberto Parra Mendoza, alias "Yeico Masacre," posted pictures of the maimed bodies of his victims on his Instagram account in order to frighten his rivals and take control of microtrafficking in several areas of Bogotá.