Police in Colombia have stated that the country's major drug trafficking syndicates currently have more than 3,400 members, present in at least 15 of the Colombia's 32 provinces.
The leading daily newspaper, El Tiempo, reported that Colombia's National Police registered 3,410 armed members of the BACRIM (from the Spanish "Bandas Criminales"), the latest generation of drug trafficking organizations. The article went on to note that the BACRIM have a presence in 130 municipalities in 15 of the country's provinces.
The government now recognizes the existence of three BACRIM, down from over 30 in 2008. These are the Urabeños, the Rastrojos, and the successor groups from the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC).
The Urabeños are far and away the most powerful BACRIM in the country now, with 2,650 members, over 70 percent of the total number of BACRIM registered by the police. They are the only BACRIM with national reach, as illustrated in our map below, which shows the group's presence based on data from 2013.
However, the Urabeños are also under the greatest pressure from law enforcement, both national and international. The arrest yesterday of Cesar Daniel Anaya Martinez, alias "Tierra," one of the group's senior commanders, is the latest sign of this pressure. The police believe they are closing in on the Urabeños top leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, alias "Otoniel," and that his capture is imminent.
InSight Crime Analysis
The numbers given by the Colombian police are interesting, but perhaps slightly misleading. Such is the nature of Colombian organized crime today: much of the work carried out by BACRIM is subcontracted out to other lower-tier criminal groups, or common criminals. Thus while the core, armed members of the BACRIM number around 3,400, the total manpower the groups are able to call upon is actually a great deal higher.
Also relevant is the recognition that the Urabeños are today the most powerful BACRIM in Colombia. The Urabeños not only dominate the drug trade within Colombia, but now have a presence in many other countries around the region, and further afield. If recent arrests are anything to go by, it seemed the Urabeños are working aggressively to exploit the European market, leaving Mexico's domination of the US cocaine market largely unchallenged.
Of the other two BACRIM recognized by the Colombian government, the Rastrojos appear to be in terminal decline after the surrender of their leader Javier Calle Serna, alias "Comba," while the ERPAC dissident group the Liberators of Vichada, under the leadership of Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey," is aggressively expanding.