The Urabeños are reportedly recruiting former FARC rebels and have taken over part of the guerrillas' drug trafficking operations, suggesting that the criminal group is already poised to take advantage of the FARC's possible demobilization.
The director of Colombian think-tank the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), Jorge Restrepo, told EFE that the Urabeños have already made inroads into territory controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the southern border department of Nariño and the Bajo Cauca region in the north.
According to Restrepo, the Urabeños are not seeking to merge with FARC fronts, but are co-opting fighters one by one. The criminal organization is also buying fields of illicit crops and drug trafficking routes once controlled by the guerrillas, he added. In at least one part of the country -- the Pacific coast along Nariño and Cauca department -- the Urabeños are in conflict with the FARC, along with rival organization the Rastrojos, over control of the region, Restrepo said.
InSight Crime Analysis
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, which began in October 2012, have continued at a sluggish pace. However, there have been several indications in Colombia's criminal underworld that the guerrillas expect negotiations to be successful.
In March, there were reports that mid-level FARC commanders were selling off their interests in Colombia's eastern drug trade to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. These latest comments by Restrepo suggest that the Urabeños are also looking to capitalize on the FARC's possible divestment from the drug trade.
The struggle for control over the drug trafficking operations once managed by the FARC is one of the most serious problems presented by the guerrillas' possible demobilization. If the rebels agree to lay down arms, what will then happen to the criminal businesses -- drug trafficking, extortion, gold mining -- that they once managed? Tackling these issues will likely be the most significant security challenge facing the Colombian government, should the peace talks result in the dismantling of the FARC.
There is also the risk that regardless of whether the peace process is successful, the FARC will continue to fragment and become more deeply involved in criminal activities. A six-part special investigation on the potential criminalization of the FARC, which InSight Crime will publish May 21, will examine some of these questions.