A wave of murders in the Colombia-Brazil-Peru tri-border area has raised concerns about the increasing power of Brazilian groups and the violence they may commit in order to control this key drug trafficking corridor.
Two people were killed and two others wounded between March 24 and March 26 in Leticia, the capital city of Colombia’s Amazonas department, according to local news outlet La Silla Vacía. A Colombian national was also killed in Tabatinga, the town on the Brazilian side of the border that abuts Leticia.
The perpetrators of the attacks remain unknown, but authorities believe they are connected to Brazilian groups from Tabatinga who have managed to establish themselves in Colombia, the newspaper reported.
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Leticia, with a population of around 50,000, is located in the Amazon tri-border region, where the borders of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil meet. This transit zone between the three countries has long been a center of criminal activity, particularly for drug trafficking. As a result, violence there has ebbed and flowed for decades.
Leticia law enforcement sources who spoke to InSight Crime in 2022 said that since 2020, murders have been climbing. Crossing between Leticia and Tabatinga was restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the subsequent reopening sparked an explosion of violence as criminals attempted to reaffirm their presence locally, sources said.
Data compiled by the Colombian National Police shows that, between 2020 and 2021, homicides increased by 300%, from 6 to 24. Murders jumped again in 2022, this time by 33%, with 32 killings recorded. The years prior were far calmer. Seven murders were recorded in 2018, while just five were recorded in 2019.
InSight Crime Analysis
The increase in violence in Leticia and the tri-border area is the result of an explosive combination. Brazilian groups are fortifying their positions in the local drug trade, and Colombia is feeling the consequences.
On-the-ground investigations by InSight Crime found that Leticia’s recent violence is the result of a dispute between the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV), Brazil’s oldest criminal organization, and the Crias (The Kids), a fledgling Brazilian gang.
The Crias grew out of the Family of the North (Familia do Norte - FDN), Brazil’s third major criminal organization, and fought with it for control of Tabatinga in 2021. Prior to 2020, the FDN had controlled the region.
The Crias were victorious against the FDN, but their rule was quickly challenged by the Red Command, which allied with Colombian groups including the Caqueteños to wage a new war in 2022. The Crias was then soundly beaten and the Red Command took control of the town, but its members continue to be killed on both sides of the border.
Although the Caqueteños were believed inactive, the group appears to be operating again through splinter groups, sources told InSight Crime.
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Moreover, according to an official of the Leticia mayor's office who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, the Crias has managed to attract the attention of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC), Brazil’s premier criminal outfit. According to his statements, the two organizations are allied and seek to retake control of the tri-border region to dominate its profitable cocaine trafficking routes.
But in addition to the Brazilian groups and Colombian gangs, the tri-border region is also home to the Border Command and the Carolina Ramírez Front, two factions of the ex-FARC mafia -- dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) -- which focus on drug trafficking and were fighting each other in southern Colombia during 2022.
According to the Peruvian government, 6,472 hectares of coca crops grow in the region, mainly on the Peruvian side which, along with laboratories found in the area, are the main incentive to control this criminal economy.
The situation in the tri-border area is likely to continue to show high levels of violence. Police officials told InSight Crime that the free passage between Tabatinga in Brazil and Leticia in Colombia and a lack of police cooperation between the two sides makes countering crime in the region difficult.