Colombian authorities arrest a BACRIM

In our July 13 Facebook Live, Executive Director Jeremy McDermott spoke to InSight Crime investigator James Bargent about what are known as "bandas criminales" or BACRIM -- Colombia's "franchise" mafias operating around the country. 

The discussion came on the heels our publishing Bargent's and Mat Charles' special report: InSide Colombia's BACRIM. The report is broken into three sections, which Bargent explained to begin the discussion: power, money and murder. In each section, Bargent and Charles explain how the BACRIM operate in a region known as Bajo Cauca, in the north of the country. 

This is a dynamic environment. McDermott noted, for example, that the BACRIM are much less dependent on drug trafficking than previous criminal enterprises. The BACRIM are also, he said, much more independent, which "has made them more resistant" to security force operations. 

Bargent said independence and the "franchise model" the BACRIM employ is both a strength and a weakness of the groups. While the major heads of BACRIM, such as the powerful Urabeños' leaders, may be safe from prosecution when semi-independent cells are captured and disbanded, these same leaders have a hard time controlling areas that are not familiar to them nor under their complete control. 

For McDermott, this is telling because it shows that even the strongest BACRIM, the Urabeños, only really has control over about 30 percent of the criminal groups that carry their name.

Bargent noted the means by which the BACRIM have been able to keep violence between them at a minimum and share proceeds with local groups, which has allowed groups like the Urabeños to export this model elsewhere. 

"It is cheaper," McDermott said, to simply pay local groups than to have to send in their own forces and try to establish order in foreign terrain. 

The two also discussed what is next for Bajo Cauca, especially with the demobilization of the hemisphere's oldest insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), who signed peace deal with the government last year. 

Bargent noted that new criminal groups emerging in the FARC's wake include dissident guerrillas from the FARC who have not laid down their weapons; former guerrillas from the FARC working with the BACRIM; independent BACRIM; and the last Colombian guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), who McDermott noted was not interested in working with any BACRIM and seemed to be at the heart of most of the violence occuring in areas of dispute.

Watch the Facebook Live broadcast for the full conversation:  

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...