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Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, a latent threat in Colombia

The so-called AGC, also dubbed by the government as the “Clan del Golfo” (Gulf Clan) is rooted in paramilitarism and could be tracked to former members of the Ejército Popular de Liberación-EPL (Popular Liberation Army), that after a partial demobilization process during the administration of Álvaro Uribe, reinvented themselves to continue with their criminal activities. They were first called Criminal Bands and now Organized Armed Groups (GAO, for its Spanish acronym).
 

Due to its distinctive character in self-denomination and objectives, the Colombian Armed Forces have researched to understand the new configuration of security in Colombia. Since 2016, the Ministry of Defense characterized these criminal structures according to their level of violence, therefore: GAO, groups the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and a residual EPL among others; and the Grupos Delincuenciales Organizados-GDO (Organized Criminal Groups) which on occasions operate as GAO subcontractors. However, these classifications leave behind the paramilitary origin of these structures which has had an impact on public opinion on how to consider and fight them.
 

Read more:  How was it and what happened with the paramilitary demobilization in Colombia?
 

Regional incidence


These self-defense groups are a mixed illegal armed actors having a sustained military apparatus using political strategies (armed strikes) and having different types of relationships with other criminal groups to control illegal economies (narcotrafficking, micro-trafficking, illegal mining, extortion and paid-for-hire killings) and with a certain level of influence in local powers. Additionally, the AGC is a surviving group from multiple military hits on public forces, which evidences certain force in its structure.


With the “surrendering of weapons” from the former FARC-EP guerilla, the AGC has undergone a consolidation process and control of “orphan” areas in dispute with other armed structures. This is the case in the Province of Chocó with the ELN, with different confrontations between criminal groups and with a serious impact over civil communities and assassinations of social leaders and former FARC fighters in several regions of the Colombian Pacific coastal region and other neighboring regions.


According to the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (Pares, for its Spanish acronym), strengthening of the AGC has been a main determining factor for the increased massacres, civil population displacement, selective killings, and combats of the last months of this year, which has significantly hindered the implementation of the Final Peace Agreement signed in 2016, above all in regards to the reincorporation process of former FARC-EP members to civil, political and economic society by being targets of systematic killings. Additionally, it is also possible to determine the presence of this group in the cities, also contributing to the deterioration of public order.


Read more: A new wave of violence or crisis in implementing the Peace Agreement.
 

A threat to national security or criminal groups?


Durante the peace process between the government and FARC-EP there was a serious descaling of the armed conflict in Colombia. After signing the peace agreement, violence increased and there were new criminal expressions by illegal armed groups that took over territories formerly occupied by FARC and where there are cocaine crops and lack of governmental presence as determinant variables for the expansion of the conflict, therefore changing the violence geography, focused now to the boundary sectors of the country.
 

Among the structures inherited by paramilitarism, the AGC, also known as the Gulf Clan, is the strongest GAO of the country with close to 2,500 members, without adding local support networks. These groups have a direct connection with narcotrafficking and supported by foreign drug cartels.


Now, this violence escalation is not only due to paramilitary groups, but also to the effects increased by the presence and action of the ELN, EPL remnants, and FARC dissidents, strengthened during the current administration.
 

What is worrisome is that violent acts continue to occur, carried out by armed actors that debilitate all the efforts for the implementation of the Agreement and the building of a durable and stable peace.


Read more: “Massacres are linked to narcotrafficking.”
 

The country was warned over the changes in the dynamics of the violence when they signed the peace agreement with FARC-EP. We knew that to end the conflict other preventive actions were necessary, as negotiations with the ELN, inclusively exploratory conversations with the Gulf Clan which needed to be fortified with the implementation of the agreements in regards to solving the illegal drug issue and crop eradication, guaranteeing more government presence in these territories.
 

Currently, there are focalized violent acts in the country due to the rooting of diverse groups that intensify the conflict by maintaining narcotrafficking and illegal economies. For Colombia, the challenge continues to be to strengthen the institutions, reduce the impact of narcotrafficking on violence, and fortifying the Peace Agreement, which was built over the structural issues of the country.

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