Criminal Gangs Seek to Expand Control before Colombian Balloting

By Dialogo
July 28, 2011

Electoral violence may increase sharply in Colombia this year after a decade of sustained decline, as criminal gangs seek to consolidate and expend their control over local governments with a view to the upcoming elections, the Crisis Group think tank said on 25 July.

The organization, headquartered in Brussels, fears an increase in attacks on candidates in the elections scheduled for late October, when Colombians will elect approximately 1,102 mayors, 32 governors, and thousands of town councilors and local legislators.

It will be the first electoral test for the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, who is seeking to prevent the interference of illegal armed groups in the process.

“Illegal armed groups seek to consolidate and expand their holds over local governments in the October 2011 governorship, mayoral, departmental assembly and municipal council elections,” Crisis Group said.

The organization said that the emerging criminal gangs made up of former extreme-right-wing paramilitaries, which constitute Colombia’s chief security threat, do not appear to be taking a unified approach to the balloting.

“Some will be content with minimal relations to local politics to guarantee their impunity, access to information and freedom of action. But NIAGS (new illegal armed groups) are rapidly evolving into larger, more robust criminal networks, so some could develop a more ambitious political agenda,” the organization warned in a report.

Government officials and candidates in Colombia were accused for years of connivance with paramilitary groups, leftist guerrillas, and other illegal armed organizations.

Massacres, murders, kidnappings, and attacks against the country’s economic infrastructure declined after 2002 due to a U.S.-supported military offensive by former president Alvaro Uribe.