Extortion in Colombia is decreasing as a peace process advances with the country's main guerrilla group, but this trend could be reversed as some rebel factions criminalize and other armed actors take over extortion activities formerly controlled by the guerrillas.
Of the 233 municipalities occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), extortion dropped in 89 of them, stayed the same in 72 and rose in 70, reported La Silla Vacía.
This decrease could be attributed to the July 4, 2016 order by FARC chief Timoleón Jiménez, alias "Timochenko," to suspend collecting extortion payments. At that time, the order was seen as a sign of good will from the guerrillas to cease illegal activities as negotiations continued. These negotiations eventually culminated in a signed peace agreement with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.
For years, extortion was one of the main ways armed groups financed themselves.
It is possible the announcement caused extortions to decrease in some areas of the country. However, in the departments of Tolima, Huila and Caquetá, extortion persisted and even increased. While the figures indicate a possible end to extortion by the FARC, this data must be carefully analyzed due to Colombia's complex criminal dynamics.
InSight Crime Analysis
A decrease in extortion in 38 percent of Colombia's municipalities represents an advancement in the peace process. However, it is possible not all FARC members will follow the order. Other criminal groups may also take advantage of the void left by the FARC's eventual demobilization.
The fact that one only needs a telephone to extort and terrorize a victim makes it easy for other groups like the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and BACRIM (the Spanish acronym for criminal bands, or "bandas criminales") to continue extorting. The relative simplicity of carrying out extortion makes it hard to eradicate.
Another thing to consider is that militiamen collect the FARC's extortions. And due to their undercover status, doubts remain regarding the militias' demobilization.
Most importantly, some dissidents, militiamen and active guerrillas still refuse to follow the order to stop extorting. Based on monitoring by InSight Crime and complaints made by governments in Huila, Meta, Guaviare, Arauca, Antioquia, Casanare, Caqueta, Tolima and Cesar, it is possible that extortions will continue. While crime has dropped in some municipalities, it has not completely stopped in most.
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InSight Crime investigated the FARC's 21st Front in Tolima. This faction has increased extortion and worked hand in hand with local criminals. Moreover, the unit's new leader is not close to the FARC's top leadership, but rather is one of the guerrilla commanders focused on continuing financial gain. It is very possible that the 21st Front will become another dissident faction involved with criminal activities.
Finally, it is important to contrast the information with a still unpublished report from the Ombudsman's Office accessed by InSight Crime. The report notes that between 2006 and 2015, the rate of threats per 100,000 inhabitants in Colombia increased from 6.1 to 100.7 -- a nearly seventeenfold increase. These numbers suggest the country will undoubtedly face many security challenges ahead.