Colombia's Inspector General has said the country's softened position on eradicating coca crops has benefited the neo-paramilitary organizations known as the BACRIM, raising the question of whether these groups will be the big winners in the event of a peace deal with leftist guerrillas.
Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado said the criminalized paramilitary networks known as BACRIM (from the abbreviation of "criminal bands"), alongside rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC), have profited the most from the government's decision in May 2015 to ban the aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops, reported El Espectador.
"There is this great fallacy and it is affirming that [the government] is combating the criminal bands," Ordóñez said. "The criminal bands and the FARC have been the primary beneficiaries of the government's policy of dismantling the war against illicit crops."
Ordóñez stated the new anti-drug policies have provided "more money for those who cultivate and process [coca crops] like the FARC and the criminal bands. This impacts citizen security and strengthens [the FARC and the BACRIM] economically and territorially."
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Ordóñez has long been a fierce critic of the government's coca policies and is also a major opponent of its peace process with the FARC. But his comments are somewhat surprising given the sustained pressure Colombia's security forces have placed on the BACRIM -- especially the Urabeños, widely recognized as the country's most powerful criminal organization.
Since the beginning of 2015, Colombia has launched two security offensives -- Operation Agamemnon in February 2015 and the Search Bloc in March 2016 -- designed to dismantle the Urabeños and other organized crime structures and capture their leaders. Although the Urabeños' top boss, Dario Antonio Úsuga, alias "Otoniel," remains free, several important commanders have been captured, including two in the past week: Edgar Antonio Gutiérrez, alias "Tomás," and Fernely Guevara Pérez, alias "Manuel."
SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profiles
Moreover, the recent surge in Colombia's coca cultivation is likely to have economically and territorially strengthened guerrilla groups more than the BACRIM, as it is the rebels groups that oversee the majority of the country's coca crops.
Nevertheless, a peace deal between the government and the FARC would provide the BACRIM with a golden opportunity to deepen their involvement in the drug trade and move down the trafficking chain towards production.
As InSight Crime has previously documented, it's likely that some elements of the FARC would seek to continue running illicit activities rather than demobilize. These FARC holdouts may well join BACRIM, transferring their contacts and criminal know-how in the process. There are also already indications the Urabeños are moving into FARC-held territory as the prospect of a guerrilla demobilization gets closer, in what is potentially a foreshadowing of how Colombia's criminal landscape might mutate in the aftermath of a peace agreement.