Weekly InSight: InSide Colombia’s BACRIM

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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:  

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