As the FARC abandon their former ground, new armed groups threaten Tumaco

Colombian guerrillas allegedly held an illegal political meeting in the country's southwest, while authorities dismantled a local corruption ring, highlighting issues that will continue to plague the region in the post-conflict stage.

César Mauricio Ocampo, acting mayor of Tumaco, a municipality in Colombia's department of Nariño, said the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) allegedly held a political meeting on March 22 to support Julio César Rivera, a candidate in the forthcoming municipal elections, reported El Espectador.

Members of the FARC said Rivera had personally sought the insurgents' electoral support, and in return had promised to fulfill some of their requests. 

In a letter to Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace, Ocampo wrote that the meeting violated the terms of a peace agreement signed between the rebels and President Juan Manuel Santos's government in November 2016. The FARC have recently settled in 26 concentration zones where they will surrender weapons, and the accord forbids the insurgents from taking part in political activities while still armed.

Meanwhile, authorities in Nariño made several arrests on March 23 as part of an operation targeting a suspected corruption ring that allegedly tied a FARC-linked drug trafficking organization with the Technical Investigation Unit (Cuerpo Tecnico de Investigación - CTI) of Colombia's Attorney General's Office, El Espectador reported.

The 15 CTI staff members captured during the operation are accused of working for a drug organization led by José Feliciano Góngora Solis, alias "Chano Góngora," a trafficker known for his alleged links with the FARC's "Daniel Aldana" Mobile Column, which operates in Nariño.

Authorities believed the CTI personnel helped members of the drug trafficking group during court proceedings against them, returned and sold cocaine that had been seized from the group, and provided the traffickers with vital intelligence.

InSight Crime Analysis

The political meeting allegedly held by the FARC and the corruption ring dismantled by authorities highlight some of the challenges the region is facing as FARC insurgents abandon their former turf.

According to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) coca study (pdf), Tumaco is the municipality with the largest number of coca hectares in the country -- 16,960 hectares were registered in 2015, a 18 percent increase from 2014. US government estimates obtained by InSight Crime support the conclusion that Nariño, the department where Tumaco is located, is the top coca-producing area in Colombia.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

The municipality of Tumaco has long been a crucial stronghold of the FARC, which controlled the area through its Daniel Aldana Column.* As the rebels started to demobilize, authorities have indicated that other armed groups, most notably the Urabeños and National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), began battling for the FARC's former territory.

It is possible that the FARC held the political meeting in an effort to retain their social and political influence in the area.

On the other hand, the dismantling of the corruption ring highlights the need for strong institutions in the fight against the organized crime. If authorities hope to eradicate the armed groups that will seek to take over the FARC's criminal empire, law enforcement agencies must cut all illicit ties with criminal organizations. 

* This article has been updated to reflect the findings of recent InSight Crime field research. Previously this article stated that the FARC's 8th and 29th Fronts, as well as the Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre Mobile Column, were present in Tumaco before demobilization. Our fieldwork indicates that only the Daniel Aldana Column was present there.

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