Video: Colombia’s Wounded Urabeños Seek a Way Out

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Colombia’s wounded Urabeños group has announced a unilateral ceasefire in their latest bid to negotiate with the government. InSight Crime Co-Directors Steven Dudley and Jeremy McDermott discussed the potential ramifications of an Urabeños surrender for Colombia’s drug trade.

The Urabeños, Colombia’s current top drug trafficking organization, announced via a December 13 statement that they would cease hostilities for the Christmas period.

The eight-point document calls for other armed groups to also observe a temporary halt to hostilities. The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), against which the Urabeños have violently clashed this year, is singled out in the call for a nation-wide ceasefire.

President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed “as positive the announcement of the Clan del Golf [aka the Urabeños] to cease military activities, but warned that security forces will not ease pressure against this criminal structure,” according to a presidential press release.

This government pressure has grown over the past three years and also since the 2015 launch of Operation Agamemnon that targets the Urabeños in their traditional stronghold, the Urabá sub region of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. Joint police-military operations, aerial bombings of Urabeños camps and the 2016 creation of a special police unit against organized crime dubbed the “Search Bloc” have had visible impacts on the group.

Combined with multi-ton cocaine seizures to weaken the group, security forces have also brought down their second and third-in-command in just a few months. First, with the death of Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, alias “Gavilán,” at the hands of security forces at the closing of August this year. Then in November, when authorities shot down Gavilán’s successor as the group’s number two, Luis Orlando Padierma, alias “Inglaterra.” Over the past four years, the group have lost half their headcount, according to El Tiempo.

These blows have pushed Urabeños chief Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” into a corner. In September, a few days after the death of Gavilán, Otoniel offered to negotiate terms of surrender with the authorities. The latest statement reasserts once again the Urabeños’ wish to negotiate peace with the government, in an attempt to convert the group into a political actor.

Santos’ comments, however, show the official stance to be unequivocal: there will be no peace talks such as those carried out with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the ELN. The Urabeños’ only two options are to surrender to justice, or face annihilation.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the FARC Peace agreement

Beyond the parameters of an Urabeños surrender, uncertainty lies in its consequences for Colombia’s drug trade and its criminal landscape, now composed of interacting criminal networks.

“The removal of the Urabeños from this new dynamic will certainly be significant, but it will not change the overall exportation of cocaine in the country,” noted InSight Crime Director Jeremy McDermott.

“It will just remove one of the most visible faces of the trade now and maybe geographically … the centre of the network may switch [from Urabá] to another part of the country. And our money is on the Eastern Plains near the Venezuelan and Brazilian borders.”

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