‘BACRIM’ Gang War Shakes Colombian Port City

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Colombian police arrested six alleged members of a local criminal group known as “La Empresa” in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura, where the gang is fighting the Urabeños for control of the city.

Police arrested the men after engaging in a brief firefight with the alleged gang members, reported Caracol Radio. According to authorities, La Empresa is currently fighting the Urabeños for control of local drug sales, known as “narcomenudeo” or microtrafficking. Since conflict broke out between the two groups in early October, around 40 people have been killed and dozens more injured.

Earlier this week, Ombudsman Jorge Otalora called the violence in Buenaventura a “humanitarian crisis.” According to Otalora, out of the 130 murders registered during the first 10 months of 2012, 33 took place in October alone, including three cases in which the victim’s dismembered body was left on a public street. He also warned that fighting between criminal groups has led to the forced displacement of over 2,000 people during the last half of October.

In a November 9 interview with RCN radio about the situation in Buenaventura, Hector Epalza, a priest who had to abandon his parish due to threats from drug gangs, said that representatives from the UN human rights body (UNHCR) will visit the Pacific region next week.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia’s largest port was once the most violent city in the nation, due to conflict between local street gangs and larger drug trafficking organizations. While Buenaventura’s homicide rate has dropped from its all-time high in 2007, the countless unsolved disappearances, forced displacement, and constant gang intimidation means that many residents, especially in poor neighborhoods, still live in fear.

This latest gang war, between La Empresa and the Urabeños, flared up when one of La Empresa’s leaders, alias “Ramiro,” was killed on October 6, setting off a violent struggle for control of the city’s drug sales, arms and drug trafficking routes, and extortion rackets. Buenaventura was once the stronghold of the Rastrojos group descended from the Norte del Valle Cartel, which has lost all three of its principal leaders in recent months. The weakening of the Rastrojos has enabled the Urabeños to begin expanding more aggressively into Buenaventura and other cities in Valle del Cauca province.

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