More Than 3,000 Men Deployed Against Criminal Gangs in Colombia
By Dialogo February 09, 2011
Over the weekend, more than three thousand members of the Army, the Marines, and the police began an offensive aimed at arresting the leaders of criminal gangs in the service of drug traffickers in northern Colombia, a police spokesperson revealed on 6 February.
“What we estimate is that acting directly against the criminal gangs, independently of the security detachments in the area, there are at least three thousand personnel,” nearly one thousand of whom are from the police, the director of that institution, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, told Bogotá radio station Radio Caracol.
The operation, named “Troy,” is planned for the next ninety days and is an action that should make it possible “to arrest the criminal gangs’ leaders and bosses, but also members of the rank-and-file and common criminals in the gangs’ orbit,” Naranjo indicated.
The general affirmed that “the priority is neutralizing these criminals, who are posing a grave threat to the communities and defying the authorities, and who, in addition, generate not only violence, but also processes of corruption in the regions.”
According to Naranjo, the operation will cover an extensive area in the departments of Antioquia, Córdoba, and Sucre (in northwestern and northern Colombia), where there is a strategic corridor that drug traffickers have traditionally sought to control in order to move drugs to the Pacific.
The three thousand personnel from the police, the Army, and the Marines are being joined by units from the Investigative Technical Corps (CTI) of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the intelligence service, and the Judicial Police.
The operation was ordered by President Juan Manuel Santos, who on 6 February, upon establishing a National Security Council, said that the issue of criminal gangs (Bacrim) required “comprehensive and effective action by the entire state” and lamented the lack of effective law enforcement against their members.
“Out of the total number of members of those gangs who are arrested, only 12% are convicted, and of that 12%, only a small percentage are convicted of belonging to those criminal gangs,” he specified.
After indicating that those criminals are often convicted of crimes not punished by mandatory prison terms, Santos said that his administration has observed “failure at every stage of the state’s action.”
“And for this reason, what we’ve proposed in this council is to strengthen the weak links in that chain,” the president announced.
The Colombian Catholic Church also made a statement about these gangs on the same day, at the beginning of the Colombian bishops’ annual conference.
The secretary of the conference, Msgr. Juan Vicente Córdoba, said that in the case of the Bacrim, “there wouldn’t be a possibility other than that they submit to justice,” a reference to messages that gang leaders have conveyed to high-ranking Catholic clergy with regard to possible negotiations with the government for their demobilization.
Msgr. Julio Cesar Vidal, the bishop of Montería, the capital of the department of Córdoba (in northern Colombia), the most impacted by these criminal groups, said in this regard that “they (Bacrim members) don’t want a situation similar to the one in Mexico; they just want the Church to help them open a space for them to turn themselves in to the government.”
The Catholic prelate explained that “they’re not asking for dialogue commissions, as was done with the United Self-Defense Units of Colombia (AUC, extreme right-wing armed groups), nor for special laws; they’re asking for a space, and that space needs to be given to them, because they’re not one, two, or three people, they’re more than five thousand people.”
According to the government, these gangs, the majority of which are made up of members of demobilized extreme right-wing paramilitary groups and which are in the service of drug traffickers, are present in at least sixteen of the country’s thirty-two departments.