Colombian Armed Forces and National Police dramatically reduce violence

By Dialogo
February 24, 2014

The rate of crime linked to gangs and international drug trafficking groups decreased sharply in Colombia in 2013, thanks to the efforts of security forces.
The number of homicides decreased by 8 percent, from 16,033 nationwide to 14,782, according to government statistics. Kidnappings fell by 4 percent. There were no abductions in 981 of the 1,100 municipalities in the country, and security forces rescued 110 kidnapping victims.
Authorities are crediting the improvement in public safety to the efforts of the Colombian National Police and the Armed Forces, who captured more than 3,000 suspected members of international drug trafficking groups, street gangs, guerilla organizations, uch as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
President Juan Manuel Santos reported the improvements in public safety in early January 2014 through his Twitter account.

A significant improvement

The drop in the number of killings is a significant improvement from the high levels of violence which Colombia experienced in recent years.
Between 2004 and 2010, Colombia, which has a population of 47 million people, recorded the highest homicide rate in South America, according to the United Nations. In 2007, 180,000 people were killed in Colombia. Many of the killings were linked to international drug traffickers and gangs. Firearms were used in 81 percent of the killings.
Of the 180,000 people killed in Colombia in 2007, 78 percent were men between ages 15 and 29, according to the National Funeral Committee.
The decline in the rate of killings is a sign that security forces are making progress in reducing the violence, said Germán Sahid, a security analyst at Universidad del Rosario in Bogota. Nonetheless, security forces must remain vigilant, Sahid said.
“The homicide figures show the first continuous decline since 1970. It’s a great achievement for the country,” Sahid said. “However, it also shows that this figure still remains high.”
Between 1958 and 2007, approximately 709,000 people were killed in Colombia, according to the study “Fifty years of homicides: trends and perspectives” by researcher Jorge Orlando of the Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano.
During the past 20 years, the Armed Forces and the National Police have improved their professionalism, their ability to gather intelligence, and their capabilities in investigating violent crimes, Orlando said. Because of those improvements, it is likely that public safety will continue to improve, Orlando said.
Between 2011 and 2013, Colombia had a homicide rate of 32 killings per 100,000 residents, according to the report, “Homicides in 2013: What the figures do and do not say,” which was published by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP).
Many of the killings in Colombia are connected to drug trafficking or the illegal gold mining trade, according to the FIP report.
“Colombia has made great progress in reducing violence over the past six years and continues to do so,” Orlando said in the report.
Security forces made dramatic progress in the cities of Medellín and Itaguí, which recorded declines in homicides of 26 percent and 29 percent, respectively, in 2013.
In Medellín, police and the Armed Forces have captured hundreds of important organized crime operatives, which has improved security. Also, a cease-fire agreement between the leader of five drug-trafficking gangs and Los Urabeños, a transnational criminal organization, has helped reduce the level of violence.

Capturing organized crime operatives

Security forces have made great progress against Los Urabeños, which is the dominant drug trafficking organization which operates in the north-central region of the country. Police and the Armed Forces captured 1,658 members of Los Urabeños in 2013, according to government statistics. Security forces also captured 913 members of Los Rastrojos, an international drug trafficking group which operates primarily in the southern and southwestern regions of the country.
The Armed Forces and police also captured 1,087 FARC operatives and 147 members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), according to government statistics.
In addition to capturing 3,000 organized crime operatives, security forces also dismantled 106 gangs which engaged in extortion, and seized 347 tons of marijuana. It was the largest amount of marijuana seized by Colombian authorities since 1993.
The action of the authorities also led to the dismantling of 106 criminal gangs involved in extortion in the country.
Security forces managed to reduce terrorist involvement against the community by 24%, as well as the capture of 1,087 rebels (933 FARC, 147 ELN, and 7 strongholds).
Police and the Armed Forces captured several important FARC leaders, including Henry Contreras, who is known as “Piña.” Before security forces captured him, Piña worked as the head of security for “Lova Ivan,” who is the leader of the FARC’s 53rd Front.
Security forces also captured Ferley Rondón Marín, who is also known as “Robin.” He was the leader of the FARC’s 52nd Front. Authorities also captured a FARC operative who is known as “John 26.” He was one of the financial leaders of the FARC’s 53rd Front.

Organized crime targets minors

Transnational criminal organizations are increasing recruiting minors, sometime by abducting them and forcing them to commit crimes such as micror-drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and even homicide.
In 2013, Colombian security forces captured 29,943 children and adolescents, an increase of 523 over the number of juveniles they arrested in 2012.
The city of Cali has the highest number of arrests of children and young people for murder. Medellín recorded the highest number of arrests of minors who were charged with extortion.
“We are surprised that children commit these crimes. Many of them not only carry and use drugs, but are also capable of kidnapping,” Gen. William René Salamanca, director of Protection and Special Services of the Colombian National Police (PNC), told El Tiempo.
In 2014, the PNC is going to strengthen the prevention program “Open Your Eyes” to reduce the number of children and adolescents involved in crimes. The program teaches minors the importance of education and offers alternatives to criminal activities.

New strategies and prevention

The government should continue to build on the successes of security forces by developing strategies to fight against the recruitment of minors, Sahid said. “The important thing is to reduce the number of murders, kidnappings, extortion, and other illegal activities. This would be a great achievement,” Sahid said.
Interagency cooperation among security forces is fundamental in the fight against organized crime, Sahid said. The Army and the PNC should continue to cooperate to improve public safety, Sahid said.
Government officials at the local, state, and federal level should also cooperate to develop strategies to improve security, he added.
The authorities need to establish national, regional, and local goals to reduce violence in the most critical municipalities in the country and provide them with more police, prosecutors, judges, and technological tools, Orlando said.