Report Breaks Down 15 Years of Bloodshed in Colombia’s Murder Capital

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A new analysis of 15 years of homicide statistics in Colombia’s most violent city, Cali, highlights the direct correlation between underworld evolutions and violence in the country.

The special investigation by El Pais examines the factors behind the 26,687 murders carried out in Cali between 2001 and 2015, a period during which the city’s murder rate fluctuated between 57 and 91 per 100,000 people.

According to El Pais, there were several peaks of violence over this period, which can be linked to events and evolutions in the world of organized crime.

The highest number of murders was recorded in 2004, when 2,168 people were killed. At the time, the city was suffering a war between drug traffickers based in the region, with the Norte del Valle Cartel (Cartel Norte del Valle – NDVC) splitting into rival factions, most notably the Rastrojos led by Wílber Varela, alias “Jabon,” and the Machos led by Diego Montoya, alias “Don Diego.”

These traffickers waged war through their own “oficinas de cobro” or collection offices, each with their own network of hitmen, of which the authorities identified 35 in operation at the time, according to El Pais. These networks received arms, orders and a salary from their narco bosses and recruited youths from street gangs to carry out crimes.

Violence began to fall in 2005, after leaders from the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) brokered a ceasefire between the warring parties, El Pais states.

However, the bloodshed increased dramatically again from 1,468 murders in 2008 to 1,798 in 2009. At this time, Jabon had been murdered by his key lieutenants the Calle Serna, or “Comba,” brothers and Diego Pérez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” while Don Diego had been arrested. In this state of underworld flux, there was a spate of killings linked to internal disputes, score settling and stolen cocaine shipments.

Murders continued on a general upward trend until reaching a high of 1,959 in 2013. This period saw a new era of narco wars as a group from outside the region, the Urabeños, attempted to gain a foothold by allying themselves with drug traffickers that had been part of Don Diego’s network, leading to a resurgence of the Machos.

In 2012, the situation was further complicated by the surrender and capture of the Rastrojos leadership. This led to a fragmentation of the Rastrojos, with the different oficinas de cobro becoming largely independent.

These networks did not have the same clout in the world of transnational drug trafficking and instead turned their focus to microtrafficking, leading to violent competition to control the city’s markets, according to El Pais. They also employed a different working model, outsourcing activities to gangs rather than keeping them on salary. With the gangs left to fend for themselves for much of their income through activities such as extortion, this too has generated violent territorial conflicts.

InSight Crime Analysis

The analysis of Cali’s homicide statistics reveals not only the direct and obvious correlation between underworld disputes and violence, but also its more indirect relationship with changes in the underworld dynamic.

While it is self-evident that wars between major drug traffickers such as Jabon and Don Diego should lead to more violence, of more relevance to the current Colombian underworld is what has happened since the end of the era of powerful drug cartels.

SEE ALSO: Norte del Valle Cartel Profile

The figures illustrate how what are celebrated as successes for the security forces, such as the dismantling of the Rastrojos leadership, can also lead to a leap in violence. As powerful structures are broken up, they often fragment into smaller, autonomous organizations with diversified revenue streams. These criminal interests are fought over on a more local level, leading to smaller-scale but more numerous conflicts.

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