10% of Colombia Council Members Threatened by Criminal Groups

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Nearly ten percent of Colombia’s municipal councilors have reported receiving threats in the past seven months, a trend with alarming implications for the health of the country’s democracy.

The director of Colombia’s National Federation of Councils (Fenacon) told Vanguardia that in the past seven months close to a thousand city council members have been threatened.

This may put the year-end total of threatened councilors on track to meet last year’s total. By Fenacon’s count, in 2011 some 3,500 of Colombia’s 12,243 council members were threatened. However, 2011 was an election year for Colombia’s councilors, mayors, and governors, meaning local politicians were more likely to receive threats.

El Tiempo reports that most of the threats come from guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or criminal organizations that the government calls “bandas criminales” (BACRIMs). Fenacon’s director said the most threatened municipalities were in the departments of Cauca, Caqueta, Putumayo, Huila, Tolima, Cesar, and Bolivar, which are also among the departments most affected by FARC and BACRIM activity.

InSight Crime Analysis

With some ten percent of its council members reportedly intimidated by criminal groups, Colombia appears to be facing a quiet assault on its democracy. It is particularly concerning that local politicians are so vulnerable, as they may be the primary points of government contact for many members of rural communities, and unlike politicians at the department or national level, they have fewer resources they can use to respond to threats.

Municipal and town councilors frequently face more serious threats because they are often pressured to work with criminal groups, who seek to influence local politics and elections in their favor, and control local budgets. Both the FARC and the BACRIM have a track record of carrying out political violence or issuing threats against candidates in their areas of influence.

One preoccupying trend is evidence of the BACRIMs’ increased interest in pressuring local politics, even though the government has emphasized that these criminal groups are primarily involved in drug trafficking and lack the political ideology of their paramilitary predecessors. During Colombia’s 2011 elections of mayors, governors and councilors, the BACRIMs reportedly intimidated candidates in 119 out of 1,119 municipalities, according to the country’s omsbudsman.

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