Fighting between criminal groups in Colombia displaced more than 1,000 people in just four days, signaling a new generation of conflict-related displacement following the demobilization of the country’s largest guerrilla group.
Between January 17 and January 20, nearly 300 families comprising over 1,000 individuals were displaced due to fighting between criminal groups throughout various departments in Colombia that are strategic to lucrative criminal activities, according to a press release from Colombia’s Ombudsman's office.
On January 17, fighting between the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) displaced 172 people from the municipality of Magüí Payán in the southeastern department of Nariño, the country’s primary coca production center.
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The following day, 375 individuals were forced to flee the town of San José de Uré in the northern department of Córdoba after receiving threats from a criminal group identified as the “Caparrapos.” According to the press release, the Caparrapos are fighting against the Urabeños, Colombia’s most powerful crime group, likely for control of coca crops and drug trafficking in the region.
The largest displacement occurred on January 19, when more than 500 people fled the towns of Cáceres and Caucasia in the northwestern department of Antioquia after receiving threats from an armed group allegedly operating in the area. Another 350 families are also at risk of being displaced from the area, according to the press release.
Three more families were displaced from the town of Paya in the central department of Boyaca on January 20 due to fighting between Colombia’s armed forces and the ELN.
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The recent wave of conflict-related displacements across Colombia illustrates how the demobilization of the FARC has changed the dynamics of violence driving displacement in the South American country.
Colombia has traditionally had one of the largest internally displaced populations due to conflict and organized crime, and was recently identified as having the second highest number of internally displaced citizens of any country in the world. This ranking has largely been attributed to the decades-long civil war between the FARC and the Colombian government.
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But following the historic peace deal signed by the FARC and the government in 2016 that marked the official end of the conflict, mass displacements actually rose, fueled by violent competition for control over criminal economies left up for grabs by the FARC’s demobilization.
The recent fighting exemplifies this dynamic. For example, the ELN fighters and FARC dissidents battling it out in Magüí Payán are vying for control of key drug trafficking routes leading to Central America through Ecuador. In Córdoba’s San José de Uré municipality, criminal groups are also fighting to control key aspects of the drug trade.