Among 12 alleged members of the Gaitanistas captured in western Colombia were local community leaders and elected officials, highlighting the role corruption plays in securing the interests of Colombia's premier criminal network.
Colombia's National Police arrested the 12, and accused them of homicide, fraud, arms trafficking, extortion, and drug trafficking, reported Caracol. Among those arrested were the President of the Indigenous Community Council in Rio Quito and the President of the Municipal Council in Paimado, both located in the Pacific state of Choco.
According to investigations, the two men -- who were popularly elected -- aligned themselves with the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), to extort illegal mining operations in the region. Mining operators who refused to pay would be reported to the AGC leadership, who used death threats to ensure payment.
Also arrested were a lawyer, a councilman from Istmina, and the President of the Citizen Oversight Network for the municipality Canton de San Pablo, reported Caracol.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the AGC lack the national political clout of their paramilitary predecessors, which controlled up to a third of congress and even allegedly had the ear of the president, political corruption remains an important weapon in their arsenal. The group will commonly seek out those with political or community influence in the areas they operate, with the aim of getting protection from the attentions of security forces and the judicial system, or for ensuring their criminal interests are taken care of -- as appears to have been the case in Choco.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile
The AGC's alliance with local political officials from remote, marginalized communities is likely facilitated by the Colombian government's limited presence leading to feelings of exclusion and neglect by the state, which leaves these officials more susceptible to collusion with illegal entities. As seen in Choco, these sentiments may push local officials to form alliances with criminal groups, especially if doing so grants them a backing of force to promote their own interests.
This is a pattern repeated in several of the region's organized crime hotspots, such as Honduras, where peasant organizations were linked to organized crime during a series of land rights conflicts.