Microtrafficking Getting Worse in Outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia

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Three years ago, a massive police operation swept through the Bronx, a small neighborhood at the center of much of the drug trafficking, prostitution and gambling taking place in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá. But with little coordinated follow-up after the operation, microtrafficking networks have since splintered and expanded elsewhere across the city.

In a 72-hour long operation that started on the morning of May 28, 2016, over 2,500 heavily armed police officers entered the Bronx. Authorities arrested over 650 people, seized around 100,000 doses of various drugs and a number of firearms, and captured 13 members of a dominant local gang known as Los Sayayines.

In the Bronx, gangs at the time were making an average of 130 million pesos (around $38,000) per day from drug sales, according to Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa. The two leading gangs in the area, known locally as “ganchos” (hooks), reportedly made $1.5 million a month.

Two days later during a press conference, Peñalosa said that authorities had taken control of the Bronx and dismantled the criminal organizations operating there.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

Three years later, however, the consequences of this operation can be seen across Bogotá. While the Bronx may have ceased to be a bastion of organized crime, microtrafficking continues to worsen across many parts of the capital.

In September of this year, a report from Bogotá’s municipal government identified over 14 new “ollas,” a term given to streets where drug dealing is rampant. Authorities admitted there were likely more areas that had not yet been identified.

Following the dismantling of the Bronx, the areas most affected have been Bosa, Ciudad Bolívar, Usme and San Cristóbal, neighborhoods that are mainly located on the city’s periphery. Groups located on the outskirts of the city supply the rest of Bogotá with marijuana, cocaine, basuco (cocaine paste) and synthetic drugs.

A 2017 report by Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation (Fundación Ideas para la Paz – FIP) found that at least 400 groups shared in microtrafficking around the capital, earning around $15 million a year.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Bronx became a lightning rod for authorities to strike at. But since then, microtrafficking groups in Bogotá have learned their lesson.

Bogotá’s microtrafficking market had begun fragmenting before the Bronx operation, according to the FIP report. Following the intervention, however, the “ganchos” from the Bronx were displaced and relocated to other parts of the city, such as Ciudad Bolívar, Suba and Kennedy.

As new hotspots for drug sales have sprung up around the city, this has brought about a related rise in violence.

While the overall murder rate in the Colombian capital has been steadily dropping, authorities have blamed the settling of scores between microtrafficking gangs for a number of murders and dismemberments that have occurred this year.

SEE ALSO: Who Are the Real Targets of Bogotá’s Crackdown on Crime?

The southern part of Bogotá is particularly rife with microtrafficking, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, as it serves as a strategic corridor for drugs and weapons entering the capital.

Drugs primarily enter this part of the city via Autopista Sur and Avenida Villavicencio, which connect the capital to the southern part of Colombia, including the departments of Cauca, Meta and Guaviare.

The southern districts of Ciudad Bolívar, Suba, Kennedy and Bosa, among others, have been fertile ground for extortion, the recruitment of minors and other criminal economies.

For Colombia’s Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, the sophistication and scale of criminal activity in southern Bogotá is such that the term microtrafficking is now no longer accurate.

One example of such sophistication, according to the Ombudsman’s Office and the FIP, is the decentralization of drug trafficking. Between entering the city and being sold to the consumer, drugs are passed down to smaller groups which themselves have networks across several streets, reducing the risks of any senior gang members being captured.

In contrast to how these groups operate in rural areas, the Ombudsman’s Office says that these groups don’t have a defined hierarchy, don’t wear uniforms or insignias, nor do they partake in open confrontations as occurs in other parts of the country. This allows group members to blend into everyday city life, but also requires them to work differently.

As such, drugs pass through several sets of hands from the time they enter the city up until they are sold to consumers, permitting a high turnover of people involved in this criminal economy while reducing the associated risks for those heading the criminal enterprise.

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