This post, compiled by CIP Intern Hannah Brodlie, offers a troubling update on the security situation in the department of CÃ³rdoba in northwestern Colombia. CÃ³rdoba is a cattle-ranching region where President Ãlvaro Uribe spends much of his spare time, as he owns a large ranch on the outskirts of the capital, MonterÃa.
CÃ³rdoba was a stronghold of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, whose paramount leaders, Carlos CastaÃ±o and Salvatore Mancuso, had earlier founded the ACCU, or United Self-Defense Forces of CÃ³rdoba and UrabÃ¡. The southern part of the department, particularly the town of Santa Fe de Ralito, served as the site of demobilization negotiations between the AUC and the Colombian government between 2003 and 2006.
Because it was undisputed territory, ruled with an iron paramilitary fist, CÃ³rdoba had lower levels of violence than most Colombian departments during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Today, however, CÃ³rdoba is aflame.
Carlos CastaÃ±o is dead and Salvatore Mancuso has been extradited to the United States. Mid-level paramilitary leaders and other criminal figures are now fighting each other for control of territory and drug-trafficking routes. The civilian population is getting caught in the middle, and the security forces have so far proved ineffective.
Victor Negrete Barrera, a scholar from SinÃº University in MonterÃa, recently issued an update (PDF) on the human rights situation and increasing violence in CÃ³rdoba following the AUC demobilization. Negrete confirms that paramilitary groups are regrouping and operating throughout the department, resulting in a new phase of conflict in Colombia.
Here is a summary/translation of Negreteâ€™s more thorough overview.
Emerging Groups / â€œNewâ€ Paramilitary Groups – After demobilization, mid-level leaders of the AUC in CÃ³rdoba quickly regrouped and formed two main groups: Los Paisas-Los Rastrojos and Aguilas Negras-Autodefensas Gaitanistas. These groups have control of areas in the department or are in dispute with other groups for control.
Negrete describes the new groups as diverse operations, whose behavior, dress, and relationships with the local population are â€œnot uniform.â€ Some cover their faces, others wear camouflage, while others wear plainclothes. The majority are narcotraffickers or hitmen; some use extortion, or acquire land through â€œforced-saleâ€ or â€œvoluntary sale,â€ or threats.
Crime and murder – Since demobilization, the number of murders in CÃ³rdoba has risen every year. The number of murders per year reached a record high number in 2008, with 512 homicides. Crime is widespread, and since 2005 rates of mass murder, mass injuries, extortion, and burglary have increased. Crimes that have decreased include terrorism, kidnapping, motorbike-theft, and cattle-theft.
It is important to note a tendency to attempt to lower the effect of important statistics by differentiating between murders of “good” vs. “bad” people. According to this view, 70% of the murders in CÃ³rdoba were â€œpositiveâ€ because they resulted from vendettas, pay back, purges of armed groups â€“ basically bad guys getting rid of bad guys. Negrete denounces this â€œperverse and mistakenâ€ attitude taken by many toward the rising death tolls, saying it diminishes the seriousness of the security situation. Since 2005, members of illegal armed groups, demobilized paramilitaries, taxi drivers, town council members, ex-mayors, hacienda-owners, businesspeople, teachers, displaced people, victims, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples and more have been murdered â€“ indicating that the causes of death are multiple and a large percentage do not result from conflict between rival armed groups.
Colombiaâ€™s Early Warning System – Negrete discusses the role of the Colombian governmentâ€™s U.S.-supported Early Warning System, overseen by Colombiaâ€™s Ombudsmanâ€™s Office, in mitigating or stopping human rights violations. Risk reports have been prepared for a number of areas in the south of CÃ³rdoba, such as MontelÃbano, Puerto Libertador, San Pelayo and Valencia. With the exception of San Pelayo, none of these cases are closed and the risks remain, even though each report includes recommendations on how each municipal, departmental and national institution should respond.
Displacement – As of September 122,170 people have been displaced from CÃ³rdoba, and 125,848 displaced people have entered the department. The worst displacement currently appears to be occurring in Tierralta, the municipality that hosted the AUC demobilization negotiations.
Recruitment – According to Negrete, young people are particularly susceptible to the recruitment tactics of illegal armed groups. Youth from barrios of MonterÃa have said on various occasions that the recruiters offer between 500,000 and 600,000 pesos/month (US$250-300). However, the Prosecutor-General’s Office is investigating 50 cases of “false positives,” young people lured away with promises of employment and then executed by the Colombian Army, in 26 operations.
Landmines – Since May 1, 2003 anti-personnel mines have caused 50 accidents, wounding 54 civilians and military personnel and killing 17 civilians and military personnel, including 7 minors.
CCAI / Integrated Action â€“ This new strategy of the Colombian government is being implemented in CÃ³rdoba. It is aimed at the recuperation and control of territory, fighting narcotrafficking and organized crime, reactivating local economy and society, strengthening the judicial system, and rebuilding the â€œsocial fabricâ€ through cultural events. However, some worry that the strategy is resulting in a militarization of social institutions. Others say the program is limited by its focus on the rural, given the increasingly urban nature of conflict.
Conclusion – In CÃ³rdoba there is major concern about the armed conflict, narcotrafficking, poverty, and civil insecurity, yet it is a known fact that local law enforcement is necessary, but insufficient. These four factors are operating in CÃ³rdoba, but there is no comprehensive social strategy. All analyses indicate that the situation will continue or worsen if rapid and effective measures are not taken.