The new mayor of Medellín, Colombia is allegedly receiving death threats from some of the city’s most powerful criminals, an indication that his aggressive security strategy may be provoking a lethal response from the underworld.
On February 1, a citizen reported to Colombia’s Inspector General’s Office that criminal elements are plotting to kill Federico Gutiérrez, who took over as mayor of Medellín in January, Semana reported.
The report includes the names of criminal bosses “Pedro Pistola” and “Don Ómar,” as well as drug trafficking organizations “La Terraza” and “Caicedo,” which operate in the city center, a confidential source told El Tiempo. The citizen reportedly claimed that the plot is a response to security operations being carried out in the central district of La Candelaria and in the northern district of Castilla.
In January, the leaders of several criminal gangs met in a hotel in the city center to organize an attack on the police and the mayor’s office, according to authorities.
Luis Fernando Quijano, director of the Corporation for Peace and Social Development (Corporación para la Paz y el Desarrollo Social – CORPADES), told InSight Crime that Pedro Pistola has been a drug trafficker in Medellín for over a decade with operations in the city center, and is protected by members of the investigative police, known as the SIJIN.
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According to CORPADES, Don Ómar is a former police sergeant that controls 30 percent of drug dealing in the center and runs other illegal businesses.
The Caicedo and La Terraza gangs both reportedly control extortion operations in central Medellín, as do the Convivir — a term used for former vigilante groups whose numerous criminal enterprises are also being affected by the mayor’s security policies. One February operation saw the Metropolitan Police capture numerous members of the Convivir, including its alleged leader, alias “Hincapié.”
Since taking office at the start of 2016, Gutiérrez has pledged to “recover” parts of the city that have fallen under the dominion of criminal groups, including the central Berrío, Botero, and Bolívar parks. So far, this operation has led to 162 arrests, drug seizures, and the dismantling of two extortion networks in La Candelaria. Gutiérrez has also announced the deployment of 200 police officers officers to the districts of Castilla and Robledo.
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Although the threats against Gutiérrez have not been verified, there are reasons to believe that the Medellín underworld is concerned with the mayor’s actions. According to Quijano, Gutierréz has addressed some crucial security issues that had been relatively papered over by previous administrations. This includes the recognition of the so-called “pacto de fusil” — an agreement between criminal groups in the city to keep violence to a minimum and avoid attracting the attention of security forces — as well as the rise of extortion in Medellín.
Now that authorities are bearing down on these gangs despite the alleged pact, some experts believe the criminal networks will respond in kind. Quijano suggested that as the new administration targets the finances of “untouchable” players in Medellín’s underworld, including Pedro Pistola and Don Ómar, these criminal bosses are bound to react.
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On the other hand, there are reasons to be skeptical about the validity of the alleged threats. Gutiérrez has only been in office for two months, and has barely scratched the surface of organized crime in Medellín. Quijano said the mayor’s security operations in the central parks are merely “symbolic” for now, although more serious actions may be in store.
Threatening the mayor with acts of violence could also place unwanted attention and security pressure on these criminal groups.
“This is not the normal procedure for the ‘BACRIM’ [the Spanish acronym for the term “bandas criminales” — criminal bands] or ‘Convivir,’ not because it’s difficult [for them] to get weapons but because it’s a political decision,” Luis Guillermo Prado, former president of the Consultation Center for Urban Conflict, told El Tiempo.
High profile attacks only oblige the authorities to take more confrontational — and often violent — action against the groups responsible. According to El Tiempo, no criminal organization has attempted to kill a high-ranking official in Medellín since the days of drug lord Pablo Escobar, who ordered the assassination of hundreds of police officers in the 1980s and 1990s. Even then, his war against the state led to an all-out offensive against him that united not only international security forces but also rival drug traffickers and criminal organizations, eventually ending in his death.
In fact, Quijano suggested the biggest obstacles to the mayor’s security plans may come from within the government.
“I believe that the strongest threat to the mayor is that they’re going to block his actions,” Quijano told InSight Crime. He argues that while killing the mayor is an option that the city’s crime bosses may be considering, a more realistic possibility is that government elements with links to organized crime will attempt to stop local officials from interfering with their criminal activities.
To be sure, certain criminal organizations in Medellín are believed to be supported by a powerful group of social and economic elites with both legal and illegal business interests. These white-collar criminals can play a crucial — albeit invisible — role in the criminal dynamics of the city, as was seen in 2013 when a cadre of elites known as “The Commission” reportedly helped broker a truce between warring criminal groups the Oficina de Envigado and the Urabeños.