The central Colombian department of Antioquia has been the scene of four massacres over the first two months of 2021, as the Urabeños trafficking group aims to expand both its routes to the Pacific coast and local drug markets.
The latest slayings occurred in February when five men were shot dead at a coffee farm located in the Tapartó settlement in the Andes municipality, in southeastern Antioquia department, El Tiempo reported.
Following the incident, the Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, the director of the National Police, Major General Jorge Luis Vargas, and the governor of Antioquia, Aníbal Gaviria, held a Security Council session in which they called for the arrests of several suspected members of the Urabeños group, which they said were responsible for the killings.
The Andes massacre was the second to take place on a coffee farm in southeastern Antioquia this year. Last year, seven massacres were recorded in this subregion, according to a study by Colombia's Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz – Indepaz).
InSight Crime Analysis
The Urabeños are battling for control of southeastern Antioquia for two reasons: the region is key to moving drugs to the Pacific coast, and its coffee plantations present a unique market for local drug sales.
Year after year, approximately 80,000 people work seasonally on Antioquia's coffee farms. The workers, many of them migrants, also present a large consumer market.
The massacres in Southeast Antioquia appear related to a confrontation between gangs associated with the Urabeños, which is also known as the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), and the Medellin-based Oficina de Envigado. Both are looking to control local drug markets.
According to a warning published by the Ombudsman's Office in August 2020, the municipalities of Ciudad Bolívar, Salgar, Betania, Hispania, Andes and Jardín are all at high risk for conflict over control of microtrafficking.
The Urabeños' spread across southeastern Antioquia has also brought the group in conflict with the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional- ELN). The battle is primarily over the department of Chocó and the key drug routes there to Colombia’s Pacific Coast, according to Fernando Quijano, director of Colombia's Corporation for Peace and Social Development (Corporación para la Paz y el Desarrollo Social – Corpades).
Carlos Zapata, the coordinator of the Human Rights and Peace Observatory within Colombia's Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación), told InSight Crime that the Urabeños are looking to maintain control of the routes to the Pacific, while also showing an interest in selling drugs locally. Meanwhile, the investigator added, other groups in the region are looking to do the same.
"They are looking to expand their local client base, but they are also disputing the routes to the Pacific that they have controlled for more than 20 years," Zapata said.
Whatever their motive, the Urabeños' strategy to expand their control into southeastern Antioquia has not delivered them the desired results.
Venturing to control new routes towards Chocó seems to have weakened the group's territorial consolidation efforts, preventing it from building the necessary alliances. Meanwhile, the group continues its war with the ELN to the northwest of the department.