- Carlos Serrano (@carliserrano)
- BBC News World
The extradition of Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel”, the most wanted man in Colombia, unleashed immediate retaliation by the Clan del Golfo, the illegal armed organization he led.
On Thursday, May 5, the Clan del Golfo, also known as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, Los Urabeños or Clan Úsuga, circulated a pamphlet in which “decrees 4 dyou went armed strike”.
The pamphlet indicated that it was prohibited “open business of any kind” and “move in any type of transport”.
The statement ended with the threat of confronting “unfavorable consequences” those who fail to comply with these measures.
According to the Clan del Golfo, this armed strike should end at midnight this Monday, May 9.
It was announced after Otoniel left for the United States last Wednesday, to face justice in that country.
Othniel is noted as a powerful drug traffickerhead of the feared Clan del Golfo, who is accused of being the author of massacres, displacements, kidnappings and acts of pedophilia.
This is not the first time that Colombia has faced an armed strike by an illegal armed group, but it does have some characteristics, which, according to analysts, make it different to others from the past.
These are some keys to understand the situation.
1. What is an armed stoppage?
In Colombia, “armed strikes” refer to actions by illegal armed groups such as guerrillas, paramilitaries or drug traffickersin which they attack civilian life and the armed forces, by blocking roads, restricting mobility, threats that force the closure of commercial establishments and the suspension of classes in colleges and universities.
In this armed strike, the Clan del Golfo has threatened with attacks those who travel along the roads of various departments of the country, even if they are in caravans escorted by the army.
In recent years, the ELN guerrillas have announced several armed strikes, the most recent being last February.
However, none of those stops had affected so many regions of the country at the same time, according to the EFE agency.
As explained by the portal InSight Crime “The armed strike has been a common strategy of the armed actors in Colombia such as power display in response to the assassination or capture of their bosses, when facing army operations or on the eve of national elections”.
2. Why did this armed strike originate?
The Clan del Golfo announced the armed strike in retaliation for the extradition to the US of its top leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga.
According to a report by the Colombian National Police and the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, the criminal organization led by Otoniel has a presence in 211 of the 1,103 municipalities in the country.
It is estimated that over a thousand men They acted under his leadership, most of them former members of the extinct guerrilla of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) and the self-defense groups.
Otoniel himself was part of the EPL and, when this guerrilla group demobilized in 1991, he decided to change sides: he became a member of the self-defense groups that occupied the Urabá region, in northwestern Colombia.
3. What has been the impact of the armed strike?
On Monday, May 9, the Investigation and Accusation Unit (UIA) of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) reported that 178 municipalities in 11 of the 23 departments of the country have been affected by violent actions.
These actions left several dead, although the figures vary. According to the JEP 24 civilians have died and two members of the public force, as well as 26 blocked roads, 138 confined communities and 22 attacks on the public force.
However, the Ministry of Defense reported 6 dead, three civilians, a policeman and two soldiers.
180 vehicles have also been reported attacked, most of them cremated.
One of the most affected areas is the city of Montería, in the department of Córdoba, where they have had to close shopsschools and universities.
On Saturday, the Ombudsman reported that 162 patients in Córdoba had not been able to receive their dialysis treatment.
“The lives of these people are in danger if they do not receive these supplies soon,” warned the Ombudsman Carlos Camargo Assis.
The Montería Transportation Terminal reported that on Saturday the flow of buses had decreased by more than 90%.
In that city, a soccer match of the national tournament was also canceled, since Deportivo Medellín, the visiting team, did not show up for the meeting because they could not “guarantee the security of the delegation”.
In the department of Antioquia, the Public Companies of Medellín, departmental capital and second most important city in the country, reported the gas supply shortage in several municipalities, affecting more than 77,000 people.
Other departments that appear among the most affected by the violent actions are Sucre, Bolívar, Giajira, Atlántico and Chocó.
The Executive President of the Colombian Federation of Road Freight Transporters (Colfecar), Nidia Hernández, reported that the armed strike has left them with losses of more than $13,000 million pesos (US$3.2 million).
According to the Ministry of Defense, this Monday 93 municipalities remain with trade opening of less than 50%.
4. What makes this armed strike different
When Otoniel was captured in October 2021, President Iván Duque stated that this coup marked “the end of the Gulf Clan”.
With this strike, however, the illegal group has shown that it still has the capacity to harm.
this pair is the biggest of the Clan del Golfo in the last six years, according to the portal La Silla Vacía.
“The armed strike shows that the Clan del Golfo has the criminal power of paralyze entire departments”indicates an analysis of La Silla Vacía.
Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a political and security risk consultancy operating in Colombia, sees two other particular factors in this armed strike.
“We had already seen that when a capo was captured, a ‘pistol plan’ was launched, in which police officers were killed, stations were attacked, but this strike was against the civilian population in a broader way”Guzmán tells BBC Mundo.
“We had seen that with the ELN but not necessarily with the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces.”
“It is worrying that an illegal armed group has the capacity and the intention to carry out a armed action of this magnitudefor that you need a fairly sophisticated political and military infrastructure.”
And Guzmán also draws attention to the fact that the strike has affected less peripheral areas.
“They’re dangerously close to urban centersit is not less that in a third party city like Monteria the businesses have closed, it is a capital well connected to the national infrastructure”.
5. How the government has reacted (and why it has been criticized)
On Monday, the Ministry of Defense published a balance of the actions of the public force to face the consequences of the armed strike.
The Ministry mentions “180 members of the Clan del Golfo between captured, neutralized and brought to justice”.
He also reported 19,729 members of the military forces deployedas well as overflights, raids, patrols, police escorts, and food mobilization.
On Sunday, President Iván Duque offered a reward of $5,000 million pesos (US$1.2 million) for whoever provides information that allows the capture of other members of the Clan del Golfo.
“Let them be clear: they submit or they will end up as alias ‘Otoniel,'” the president warned.
“We will continue to break, permanently, the entire chain of the Clan del Golfo.”
Some sectors, however, have expressed their critics against the reaction of the government.
“It is very easy to be brave from the Casa de Nariño with 300 police and bodyguards who protect you, but it is time to come to the regions where we are suffering, enduring hunger and there is no way to get the wounded and sick people out,” said the mayor of Frontino, Antioquia, Jorge Hugo Elejalde, in statements collected by EFE on Saturday.
In an interview with the station W Radio on Monday, the governor of Antioquia, Aníbal Gaviria, said that “the territorial control of the Colombian State for 4 or 5 decades is a control with gaps, with deficienciesand this situation has been forcefully brought to the fore by the strike”.
For its part, the analysis of La Silla Vacía maintains that despite Otoniel’s extradition, “the State that he (the Duke) presides over continues to be unable to guarantee basic security measuressuch as free movement, in vast areas of the country”.
Analyst Sergio Guzmán maintains that the government’s reaction it was not timely.
“I perceive that the authorities did not react with the full weight of the law and the expected promptness”says the analyst.
“The government of President Duque went to Costa Rica in the midst of the strike for the inauguration of the President of Costa Rica and did not appear in Monteria”.
“Not to mention the military forces, which, having been on strike since Thursday, hardly make a deployment on Sunday. That is worrying because they seem not to be giving it the weight that an armed strike that has paralyzed, threatened or besieged to a large proportion of the country’s population.
According to Guzmán, this armed strike is a sign that the security situation in the country is “eroding” and that the government is losing its monopoly on the use of force.
“That the government does not take it as a serious threat to the existence of the nation, it seems to me that it is underestimate the threat that this represents”, concludes the analyst.
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