Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced his administration will further increase pressure against the country’s neo-paramilitary organizations known as BACRIM, a sign of the growing importance of these groups in the country’s security panorama.
On April 11, Santos said authorities had doubled the monetary reward for information leading to the arrest of Dario Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” the maximum leader of neo-paramilitary group the Urabeños and the country’s most wanted criminal. The compensation rose from 1.5 billion pesos (a little less than $500,000) to 3 billion pesos (close to $1 million).
The announcement was part of a plan laid out by Santos to further step up efforts against Colombia’s neo-paramilitary groups known as “bandas criminales,” or BACRIM. This includes strengthening the Search Bloc, a newly created special unit targeting the BACRIM, and increasing coordination between police, military, prosecutors and judges, reported El Colombiano.
Santos also said officials will submit to Congress a new bill designed to reduce illegal mining, one of the principal sources of revenue for Colombia’s criminal groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
Santos’ announcement is likely in part a response to the recent armed strike carried out by the Urabeños at the beginning of April that temporarily paralyzed parts of northwestern Colombia. The strike was a telling show of strength on the part of the Urabeños and a symbolic defeat for a government that has invested large amounts of resources over the past year in tracking Otoniel and attempting to debilitate Colombia’s most powerful criminal group.
The announcement also reflects a broader shift in Colombia’s security priorities as the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) nears a peace agreement with the government. At the end of March government officials announced they would begin formal peace talks with the country’s second guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). As the guerrilla threat lessens in Colombia, authorities are increasingly turning their attention to the BACRIM.
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“One of the priorities of this administration will be to focus our efforts in the eradication of organized crime as soon as we can sign a peace [deal],” Santos said in January.
Some security experts, however, say the Santos administration lacks a comprehensive strategy to take on the BACRIM. The Urabeños, for instance, continue to expand their territorial reach despite the intense security pressure. There is also government resistance to including the Urabeños and other BACRIM in peace negotiations given their criminal nature, as this would bestow upon them status as actors in the country’s armed conflict.