Colombia ‘Chopping Houses’ Highlight Forced Disappearance Methods

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The discovery of houses used by criminal groups in Colombia’s Pacific port city of Buenaventura to mutilate the bodies of victims and then “disappear” them shines a light on a practice commonly used by organized crime to avoid bringing heat from security forces.

Valle del Cauca police commander Coronel Mariano Botero Coy said authorities had discovered five so-called “chopping houses” used by two criminal groups fighting for control in the area, the Urabeños and La Empresa, reported Caracol.

According to Botero, the perpetrators strap their victims to a table and use power saws and other cutting devices to dismember their victims while they are still alive, reported RCN.

The body parts of people who had disappeared in Buenaventura in 2013 began to appear last June. Between that month and October, authorities found the remains of eight people who had been murdered and chopped up, and their body parts put in bags weighed down with rocks that were then thrown out to sea.

In the 15 days leading up to March 5 this year, the remains of 12 more unidentified victims were found, with recent disappearances including three fishermen and a man who sold cell phone minutes, reported El Espectador. The reports regarding these houses of horror have led a specialized group from the Technical Investigation Team of the Prosecutor General’s Office to come to the area to investigate, reported El Colombiano.

InSight Crime Analysis

The gruesome scene set by criminal organizations in Buenaventura is linked to an ongoing territorial battle between the Urabeños narco-paramilitaries and the local Rastrojos-allied gang La Empresa. As the country’s biggest port, Buenaventura is a strategic departure point for major shipments of cocaine, much of it processed in the surrounding region.

This criminal power struggle has wreaked havoc on locals, resulting in 78 forced disappearances last year, and the displacement of over 4,000 people.

Drug conflict has been ongoing in Buenaventura for years, with forced disappearances common and the homicide rate peaking in 2007, but these latest discoveries are another indicator of the worrisome return of extreme violence to the area.

SEE ALSO:  Urabeños Profile

Disappearing victims is a common tactic used by criminal groups throughout the region to get rid of their enemies while avoiding drawing attention from authorities. The methods used for disposing of the bodies are often quite disturbing, including dissolving them in acid or throwing them down wells. In the past, Colombia’s United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries were major perpetrators of forced disappearances. More recently, the discoveries of mass graves in Mexico and El Salvador have served to show how the countries’ continuing high levels of violence have been obscured by criminal groups simply hiding their victims.

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