Colombia’s largest neo-paramilitary group, “Los Urabeños” are taking over drug routes and coca fields in the north and southwest of the country, a conflict analyst said Saturday.
In an interview with Caracol Radio, conflict analyst Jorge Restrepo of the conflict monitor CeRAC said the territorial and illicit business expansion of the Urabeños is mostly prevalent in the southwestern Nariño department and in the northwestern Antioquia department.
“They are already doing it, particularly in Nariño — in the area around Tumaco, [but] also in the Bajo Cauca [region] of Antioquia,” Restrepo told the radio station.
“I don’t believe it is a shift in the sense of [the Urabeños] buying a FARC front or achieving that they join them. I believe they are doing it one by one and under arms,” the conflict analyst said.
Restrepo confirmed earlier reports that the Urabeños have taken control of a large part of Colombia’s Pacific coast, territory that previously belonged to rival group “Los Rastrojos” whose origins are from the southwest and who for years were able to control most of the drug routes left by the now-defunct Norte del Valle cartel.
In their offensive southward, the Urabeños have integrated hundreds of fighters previously belonging to the Rastrojos and smaller drug gang Los Machos. According to authorities, the neo-paramilitary organization — formed by former commanders and fighters of demobilized paramilitary organization AUC — is now bigger than the ELN, Colombia’s second largest guerrilla organization.
Last year, newspaper El Tiempo reported that the FARC were surrendering their drug trafficking business in the south of Colombia to Mexican drug traffickers. An army commander told Colombia Reports The FARC in Antioquia have mostly tried to consolidate their gold mining income while trying to avoid conflict with the Urabeños.
The rebel group is currently involved in peace talks with the government to end a nearly 50-year-old conflict between rebels and state.