HomeNewsGaitanistas and Tren de Aragua Unlikely to War Over Bogotá, Colombia

Gaitanistas and Tren de Aragua Unlikely to War Over Bogotá, Colombia


Pamphlets dropped in Bogotá and videos circulating on social media suggest a looming conflict between Colombian drug trafficking outfit the Gaitanistas, and Venezuelan transnational gang, Tren de Aragua. Experts, however, question the power and influence of these criminal organizations in the Colombian capital.

Colombian media outlets reported in mid-August on a two-minute video allegedly made by members of the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia - AGC), also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanistas. In the video, filmed in Bogotá, three masked men carrying firearms declare the group’s opposition to the Tren de Aragua, a Venezuelan criminal organization that allegedly has cells in Colombia, Chile, and other Latin American countries. 

"We have decided to combat all criminality that attempts to extort or commit any type of crime against the civilian population. For this reason, the Tren de Aragua, its accomplices, collaborators, and any person who is close to this group ... are a military objective,” one of the masked men declares.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela's Tren de Aragua Gang Muscling into Colombia Border Area

A week earlier, human rights groups in Bogotá reported the circulation of pamphlets in the south and north of the city, allegedly written by the Gaitanistas, which stated that the group was aware of a rise in criminality in the areas and would not permit certain crimes. Likewise, businesses and homes were graffitied with the group’s name.

Insecurity in Bogotá has risen this year. Kidnapping increased by 80% in the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, while robbery and homicides increased by 29.7% and 9.2% respectively, according to figures from Bogotás city council.

Despite growing concerns among Bogotá residents, experts said both groups lacked the foothold in the country’s capital to wage all-out war, and that a dramatic rise in insecurity would therefore be unlikely.

"I doubt very much that an eventual war between these groups would take place [in Bogotá] as in other cities in the country [where other criminal organizations have armed confrontations],” Oscar Palma, a professor at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá and a specialist in security issues, told InSight Crime. “The non-existence of sectors that are in full control of organized crime makes it very difficult to think of such a competitive dynamic.”

InSight Crime Analysis

While Bogotá is an organized crime hotspot, there is no proof that criminal groups like the Gaitanistas or Tren de Aragua have any control over the capital, undermining the possibility of a war.

According to former Bogotá security secretary Hugo Acero, the increase in crimes such as extortion, kidnapping and hired killings in the city cannot be linked to a possible presence of the Gaitanistas and the Tren de Aragua.

"This group [Tren de Aragua] is almost being placed as a mafia, and the truth is that it is a third- or fourth-level group. It has become a brand, just like the AGC," he said, referring to the system by which the government determines the threat level of armed criminal groups in the country.

SEE ALSO: Bogotá's Microtrafficking Gangs Fuel Killings and Torture in Post-Pandemic Boom

While Bogotá does have well-organized crime groups with significant capabilities, Acero said that in the majority of cases, the names of larger organizations are used to intimidate and do not represent a significant threat.

"Bogotá is no stranger to the presence of different groups, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and ex-FARC mafia. In my view, the problem is that we have not dedicated intelligence and criminal investigation to dismantling high-powered organizations," said Acero.

Groups like the Gaitanistas organize themselves through franchises, with smaller groups using their name. This system means that establishing organized cells with the capacity to sustain conflicts with other organizations, especially in cities like Bogotá, is difficult.

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