Colombia’s President Seeks to Erase ‘Urabeños’ Monicker

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Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has announced authorities will begin referring to the criminal group popularly known as the “Urabeños” as “Clan Usuga,” in a move that may be resisted by politicians and the criminal group itself.

President Santos announced the change during a visit on April 24, to the city of Turbo, in the northwest coastal region of Uraba — a key drug trafficking zone and stronghold of the Urabeños — saying the name “stigmatizes a region that has given a lot to the country,” reported Colprensa.

SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profiles

Santos said he would prohibit the police from using the term “Urabeños,” and he used the opportunity to spurn former president, now congressman and political rival, Alvaro Uribe. 

“You are not Urabeños, you are not Uribistas [the name given to Uribe supporters], you are Urabenses,” he told the crowd, according to El Espectador.

The Urabeños are run by a family with the last name Usuga, whose leadership has been hit hard by authorities in recent years. 

El Mundo suggested the move by Santos was intended to garner political support in the region in the run up to presidential elections in May, while Uribe lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office regarding Santos’ efforts. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The name is at least as important to the criminal group as it is to the politicians. While the Urabeños refer to themselves as the “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia” (Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) in official communications, their popular name is far more effective in clearing areas of resistance and shaking the foundations of power. 

The name Urabeños spreads fear among local populations and government personnel wherever the group holds sway or is said to have an interest. Such has been the case in Medellin, where the group’s association with a bloody battle for control of key drug trafficking corridors on the city’s peripheries contributed to a heightened sense of anxiety until a 2013 criminal pact brought hostilities to an end and saw murder rates drop

While the name change might be a case of election-driven altruism on the part of Santos, it could also be seen as an attempt to undercut the brand of what has become the country’s dominant criminal group.  

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