Colombia Army Captures, Kills More Criminals than Rebels

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Colombia’s army has reported the capture, surrender or death of 4,637 criminals and insurgents in the first six months of 2013, with the breakdown in figures offering a snapshot of Colombia’s changing criminal landscape.

According to Ministry of Defense figures, 2,480 of the total number belonged to “gangs,” 630 to criminal bands (“bandas criminales” or BACRIM), 1,221 to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, 82 to the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels, and 202 were drug traffickers.

The Armed Forces arrested 3,896 people, while 528 surrendered voluntarily, and 213 — the overwhelming majority guerrillas — were killed in combat.

The army also reported the seizure of over 1,500 firearms, over 2,000 grenades and over 800 vehicles — including motorcycles, boats and cars. In addition, the army reported destroying 35,409 hectares of coca crops — 4,459 manually and 30,950 by aerial spraying — and 727 illegal cocaine laboratories, as well as seizing 4.8 tons of cocaine and 21.4 tons of marijuana.

InSight Crime Analysis

Individuals the Defense Ministry labels as “members of criminal organizations” account for over half of the total of those “taken out of combat,” pointing to the increasing prominance of criminal groups in the Colombian conflict. For their part, Colombia’s police reported dismantling over 700 gangs in 2012, but the revelation that the army too has spent considerable efforts in tackling “criminal organizations” is surprising, and raises questions over where to draw the line between crime and Colombia’s war.

Still, such classifications can also be misleading. The influence of larger criminal organizations, especially the BACRIM, spreads far, and many of those labelled as common criminals may well be operating with or on the behalf of more powerful groups that once had political motives and remain large scale armies in their own right. In some areas, such as Medellin and Cali, gangs carry out most of the violence, but do so on behalf of their BACRIM paymasters who, like the guerrillas, often wear camouflage and operate as an insurgency would.

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