Eight members of Colombia's most powerful criminal group the Gaitanistas were murdered in what authorities say was an internal purge, in an illustration of the chaotic and highly unstable crime dynamics in the country's southwest.
On October 3, eight members of the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), -- including a high-ranking leader, Julio Cesar Paz Varela, alias "J1" -- were killed in Colombia's third-largest city, Cali, reported El Pais. Police said the violence -- which took place during a meeting of gang members -- was due to conflict between Paz and other members of the group. No arrests have yet been made.
According to El Pais, Paz reportedly attempted to collect debts from other AGC members after being released from prison in September, which led to the dispute.
Paz allegedly controlled the synthetic drug trade in the Valle del Cauca department and headed a Cali "oficina de cobro" -- a criminal structure more sophisticated than a street gang, which typically works for a larger drug cartel.
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So far, all indications point to internal gang rivalries as the primary motive behind the killings, which reflects the highly fragmented nature of organized crime in Cali. This southwest city -- the unofficial capital of Colombia's Pacific coast -- has long been a highly strategic center of Colombia's international drug trade. But unlike the Cali Cartel and their criminal heirs the Norte del Valle Cartel, the AGC operate more like a franchise than a centralized organization: they rely on local gangs and "oficinas de cobro" to act as their muscle, in exchange for arms, drugs, cash, and the advantage of using the AGC's well-known name. As the head of a local oficina de cobro, Paz likely bought into the AGC's "franchise," but clearly was unable to get along with other members of the organization.
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These types of tensions between the AGC's smaller franchise groups has led to increased gang violence in cities like Cali, once the undisputed terrain of criminal group the Rastrojos, whose power has sharply declined in recent years. This power void opened the way for the AGC to enter the city, although -- as indicated by these recent killings -- they have frequently been unable to keep their local franchise groups in check.