President Juan Manuel Santos announced a new security plan intended to further disrupt the operations of Colombia’s already weakened criminal organizations, further indication that a demobilization process involving these groups is looking increasingly likely.
At the conclusion of a national security meeting on April 23, Santos said security forces will prioritize dismantling criminal structures in six departments, including Choco, Antioquia, Norte de Santander, and Colombia’s Eastern Plains, reported El Espectador. Within this area, security forces will hone in on illicit activity in 10 municipalities identified as crime hotspots, while more judges, prosecutors, and public defenders will receive training in processing organized crime cases, Santos said.
The president added that criminal activity by these groups has gone down by about 50 percent so far this year, due to the government’s ongoing efforts to combat them.
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Colombia’s neo-paramilitary groups, known as the BACRIM (the Spanish acronym for “criminal bands”) are already greatly debilitated — according to police, only four BACRIM remain, three of which number just over 300 fighters or less. This new government offensive may provide further incentive for these criminal groups to negotiate their surrender, instead of facing the prospect of being wiped out by security forces. “Hand yourselves in to authorities or you will end up in prison or a tomb,” Santos remarked at the security meeting.
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Indeed, emissaries from Colombia’s two most prominent BACRIM — the Urabeños and the Rastrojos — contacted authorities as early as January regarding the possibility of a mass surrender in exchange for judicial benefits, according to the country’s Attorney General. The Urabeños have previously asked to be included in peace talks with the government, and consider themselves political actors in Colombia’s armed conflict.
For their part, Colombian authorities are currently considering two legislative proposals designed to facilitate the mass surrender of BACRIM members. However, a demobilization process involving the BACRIM is highly controversial, and the poor execution of past demobilizations — which gave rise to many of the country’s current illegal armed groups — speaks to the inherent risks involved in such a process.
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