Colombia has the sad label of being the second country in the world —after the Republic of the Congo— with the largest number of criminal organizations and markets, according to the latest biennial report of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (known as Global Initiative-GITOC). that evaluates these aspects in the 193 member countries of the United Nations.
Within the top 10 there are also two other Latin American countries: Mexico, in fourth place, and Honduras, in the tenth. GITOC rates on a scale of 1 to 10 according to three criteria: the scope, scale and impact of criminal markets; the structure and influence of criminal actors; and the scope and effectiveness of countries’ resilience measures, defined in the study as the ability to respond to and dismantle organized crime activities as a whole. The Republic of the Congo is in the lead, with 7.75, and Colombia with 7.66. Mexico’s rating is 7.56 and Honduras’s is 6.98.
The report notes that while organized crime targets the most vulnerable communities — 80% of the world’s population lives in countries with high levels of crime — “its impact ultimately increases the vulnerability of societies in general.”
Colombia is the country that trades the most cocaine in the world —with a score of 9.5 out of 10— above Mexico —with a score of 9—, whose cartels are also denominators of violence. In criminal markets, Mexico ranks first, with 8 points, and Colombia second, with 7.2. The exploitation of people is the most pervasive criminal economy in the world; however, illegal mining, arms trafficking, crimes against flora and non-renewable resources, and the trade in other drugs such as heroin and synthetic drugs are also other criminal markets analyzed by the GITOC study.
Countries in constant conflict, such as Colombia —even after the signing of the peace agreement between the Government and the FARC guerrillas in 2016—, have a greater propensity for organized crime. Statistics on massacres and social leaders go out of date with abysmal speed. In recent years the violence has not stopped. This 2022 there have been 73 massacres, According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ).
The GITOC study warns that corruption is one of the main causes of organized crime. Illegal economies have not stagnated even during the pandemic. Despite the fact that in 2020 the world was confined and the legal economy was paralyzed by the restrictions that countries imposed to stop the spread of the virus, the study suggests that “criminals were looking for ways to get around obstacles and take advantage of the situation.” The increase in poverty that the pandemic brought as a consequence also favored organized crime in Colombia.
In recent years, the Colombian government has killed several commanders of criminal organizations such as alias Inglaterra, from the Clan del Golfo, and others have been extradited, such as the drug trafficker ‘Otoniel’. However, the strategy of the Government of Iván Duque to combat crime did not work, warns Senator Ariel Ávila. “That strategy of killing, capturing or extraditing only serves to give votes and applause, but it does not cut organized crime. What Colombia is experiencing today is an implosion,” explains Ávila, who has dedicated himself to investigating violence and illegal mafias. Another reason why Colombia ranks second in the world in crime, Ávila emphasizes, is the rise of illegal economies with the rise of the dollar. “We have a criminal explosion scenario along with a boom economic”. And a third factor that has influenced the expansion of so many criminal groups is also the absence of a policy to combat organized crime. “The Duque government had an ideological reading of the issue, it continued to see the country as when the old FARC were there,” he adds.
The expansion of criminality and illegal economies in Colombia is also due to the fact that for many years the country focused on successfully completing the peace agreement with the FARC and on the fight against drugs, according to Jorge Mantilla, director of conflict of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP), a think tank on peace and security. “This caused a growing phenomenon of diversification of illegal economies to be left aside, where not only coca but other economies such as illegal mining, but mainly extortion, were expanding and consolidating, without there being an effective response by part of the state. It is a country that has few capacities to fight organized crime”, he explains.
Impunity is a great driver of criminal gangs. If justice does not investigate or clarify the murders of social leaders or peace signers, there are more incentives for illegal groups to continue murdering, since there is no punishment or any action to contain them. Corruption within government entities is another problem, although while fighting criminal groups they also surreptitiously ally with them so as not to fight them. “Colombia is in second place in that index due to the capacity that organized crime has had to co-opt the State and capture public administration scenarios. Organized crime has operated from the State to favor private interests, and this is obviously tied to very high rates of impunity where there are very few dissuasive effects or incentives not to commit crimes,” acknowledges Mantilla. Although the country lowered its rate of homicides, displacement and other crimes as a result of the peace agreement with the FARC, signed in 2016, it has been increasing again. “We are at levels of violence very similar to those of 2011. In 2021 it was the year with the most forced displacement in the last decade,” recalls the researcher.
The recent murder of two journalists in the Caribbean department of Magdalena, located in the northeast of the country, the increasing killing of social leaders and the dismembered bodies that have appeared in garbage bags in Bogotá have created anxiety in the population. In the Colombian capital there has been an upsurge in violence, according to Laura Vanesa Prieto, a researcher at the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Pares). “What is happening in Bogotá is clearly the execution of exemplary homicides, a criminal repertoire to generate social and territorial control,” says Prieto, who draws attention to a particular fact: some of the towns most affected by organized crime and illegal economies. They are located in the center of Bogotá, where the State is supposed to have greater control, since most of the government offices are located there. “This indicates that the territorial control of these organizations is very great and, second, that the reactivation of illegal economies has generated such a dispute over rents that the people who belong to these groups are murdering each other to fully co-opt these rents. “, Explain. The Police have pointed to the Tren de Aragua —a Venezuelan criminal organization— as responsible for the recent dismemberment of bodies in Bogotá.
It is not certain how many criminal gangs there are in Colombia; the names and numbers vary depending on who keeps the accounts. Senator Ávila believes that there are at least 50 criminal organizations in Colombia, including the FARC dissidents (which make up various groups and fronts), the Clan del Golfo, Los Pelusos, Los Rastrojos and the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla group. ), among other.
An IFJ report on the last years of the Duque Government’s management indicates that the policy of “beheading criminal organizations” was insufficient. In fact, he warns that the policy was focused more on dealing blows to criminal groups than on protecting citizens. “A security policy that generates an increase in violence cannot be considered successful to the extent that it not only reflects the inability to protect, but also the absence of dissuasive factors on the part of the State against the armed groups and a confusion of priorities”, can be read in the report. “Colombia appears in such a high place in that index because of the capacity that these groups have contrasted with the little capacity that the State has to confront them,” concludes Mantilla, from the IFJ.
Illegal economies leave multimillion-dollar incomes in Colombia and have a great capacity to adapt and blend in with legal economies. Laura Vanesa Prieto, a researcher at Fundación Pares, exemplifies this with places whose facade is legal but behind their doors there are criminal businesses, which makes it much more difficult to identify these markets. “It is a great challenge for this new government to guarantee that the State effectively has a presence in all places to protect the population, because these exemplary repertoires of violence or homicides generate a breakdown of the social fabric: they produce fear, and that fear causes people do not report”, analyzes Prieto.
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