The armed strike and the ghost of Pablo Escobar

Members of the Army carried out a patrol in the La Sierra neighborhood in Medellín, during the armed strike by the Clan del Golfo, on May 6, 2022.
Members of the Army carried out a patrol in the La Sierra neighborhood in Medellín, during the armed strike by the Clan del Golfo, on May 6, 2022.Luis Eduardo Noriega A. (EFE)

We believed that Colombia had left behind the times in which the armed powers illegally controlled important extensions of Colombian territory, but there is no such thing. Four years of Iván Duque’s government were enough for us to return to the armed strikes and the times when a single cartel imposed its terror and its private justice, as in the times of Pablo Escobar. The fearsome Medellin capo paralyzed the country every time one of his associates was captured or extradited.

That sense of orphanhood was felt by many Colombians again last week when the Clan del Golfo, a powerful criminal organization dedicated to drug trafficking, decreed an armed strike in about 11 of the country’s 32 departments, in retaliation for the decision of the Duque government. to extradite Otoniel, his top boss, to the United States.

For four days and nights, almost half of the Colombian territory was under the intimidating power of this drug trafficking group. Towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants saw how the gangsters closed their roads, their schools, their stores and were ordered not to leave their homes under the threat that if they did they would be executed. More than one hundred trucks were set on fire and eight Colombians were executed.

All this happened under the noses of the security forces and in a region where the first division and the seventh division of an Army that is considered one of the largest and most prepared in Latin America converge. There are many testimonies of people who assure that during the days that the armed strike lasted, the Army was not seen patrolling and that due to that inexplicable absence, the population was left at the mercy of the assassins of the Gulf clan.

President Duque reacted, but belatedly. In the first two days of the armed strike he preferred to go to the inauguration of the new president of Costa Rica and only returned to Colombia hours before the strike ended to announce the creation of a search bloc. This passive attitude contrasts with the speed with which Duque and the security forces responded to the social outbreak a year ago, when thousands of young people came out to block the roads in protest at the lack of employment and opportunities. The blockades produced an angry reaction from the media, businessmen and several ministers who came out to say that these obstructions on the highways were the cause of billions in economic losses. Cali was militarized and the police went to great lengths to lift the blockades to restore the right to mobility.

None of that happened last week with the armed strike decreed by the Clan del Golfo. Despite the fact that it was illegal and that it imposed horror and death, there was no indignation because the right to mobility had been affected, nor angry objections due to the effects derived from the closure of all economic activities in 11 departments of the country for four days. Only a statement came out from the national business association condemning the armed strike. Stop counting.

The armed strikes were a demonstration of the power that many of the illegal organizations exhibited during the years of the war against drug trafficking and the guerrillas. However, after the signing of the peace agreement they practically disappeared. They resurfaced again in February 2020, under the Government of Duque when the ELN, the last Marxist guerrilla left in Colombia, decided to impose an armed strike in some regions, without much success, since it was immediately repelled by the public force.

However, in this armed strike last week, the Public Force was the great absentee and those who suffered the horror imposed by the Clan del Golfo felt that same fear and that orphanhood that many of us felt in the times of Pablo Escobar.

The Gulf Clan is the product of a country that recycles war. His boss, Otoniel, began as a guerrilla member of the EPL, a guerrilla group that demobilized in 1991. Later, he became part of the Urabá self-defense groups, in full fervor of paramilitarism. Today the Clan del Golfo is a powerful organization dedicated to drug trafficking that operates in alliance with the Mexican cartels and that, like Escobar’s mafia, has strong tentacles within the State with the political and military world.

Escobar had ministers, journalists, judges, and police officers killed in retaliation for each approved extradition. To neutralize the police, the pistol plan was invented, in which he put a price on the heads of the uniformed men. He paid $700 for every policeman killed. This is how nearly 600 police officers were murdered in Colombia between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.

Since 2019, the Clan del Golfo has revived the pistol plan, that is, it has revived the murder of police officers at close range and the payment of rewards to their assassins for each dead uniformed officer. In this armed strike imposed by them, the pistol plan was not only used to assassinate police officers. Unarmed civilians were also killed. A driver who could not get to his house on time because his car broke down on one of the highways in the north of the country, was executed. A boy who went out to buy bread in a Caribbean town was filled with bullets until he died.

The fact that we are returning to times that we thought had passed shows that President Duque was unable to face the new security challenges that arose after the disarmament of the FARC. His policy remains the same as before the signing of peace. They continue dragging the old doctrine of the internal enemy as if the communist guerrillas were our greatest challenge.

In Colombia there are no longer guerrillas who want to take power. On the other hand, in these four years of the Duque government, powerful mafia clans that have strong ties with the establishment and that intend to export their cocaine without anyone bothering them have been retreaded. The next president, whoever he may be, is going to have to adjust military doctrines to reality so that instead of continuing to look for communists, a strategy is deployed aimed at confronting these new bosses who want to return us to the times of Pablo Escobar.

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