The Colombian military has a 5-point plan that will see government forces implement a range of new measures against specifically “Los Urabeños,” the country’s second largest illegal armed group after the far-left FARC group.
The popularly-known Urabeños call themselves the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and were formed by dissident members of the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group that demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
The group shut down parts of northern Colombia and its second largest city, Medellin, earlier this month while calling to be included in peace talks currently held with the FARC and ELN, the former arch enemies of the AUC.
The government, however, has tried to disassociate the Urabeños from their paramilitary predecessor and insist they are a non-political criminal band. To further disassociate the group from the AUC, the president imposed a new name on the group, “Clan Usuga,” after the current leader, Dario Usuga, a.k.a. “Otoniel.”
“We’re on the trail of the leaders of Usuga and its top boss, Otoniel. We’re raising the reward for him to 3 billion pesos ($1.5 million), double what it was,” Santos announced Monday, almost two weeks after the Urabeños brought northern Colombia to a standstill.
The inability of the security forces to adequately deal with the shutdown has prompted much criticism of the Santos administration.
The 5-point plan is a direct response to the increasingly alarming security situation and part of an ongoing response to FARC demands to effectively “dismantle paramilitarism” portrayed by the AUC and the Urabeños.
Santtos’ plan will involve a strengthening the search block; Operational Coordination whereby a unified command post to coordinate the prosecution, the judicial police, judges and the armed forces will be created; a weekly report by President Santos on the actions taken will be given; an increase actions against the Clan Usuga; and 1700 actions will be implemented this year to dismantle these organizations.
In addition, Santos also announced a new bill relating to illegal mining often provides for the financial stability of these groups.
“We will present to Congress a new bill against criminal mining, because what we have seen is that we lack legal teeth to be more effective,” he said.
The growing influence of militant right-wing groups has also jeopardized the progress of the peace negotiations with the left-wing rebel group the FARC in relation to demobilization.
FARC leaders have demanded that the Santos government curb the influence of groups like the Urabeños as they fear a political extermination at the hands of the right-wing groups.
Rebel leader Ivan Marquez issued a statement highlighting the threats on the civilian population and the peace process in general.
“The surge in paramilitary actions against the civilian population and political and social leaders casts a shadow over the substantial progress in the talks with the insurgencies and (over) the hopes for peace of all Colombians,” said the statement.
Santos claimed that these new initiatives are aimed to address these concerns by the FARC and also concerns by international organisations regarding the protection of human rights activists
“I have arranged to review security measures and protection of human rights leaders and social organizations , ” Santos said after claiming that they have already anticipated meeting between Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, the senior human rights adviser Guillermo Rivera, a representative of Human Rights High Commissioner of the United Nations and leaders of social organizations to follow each of the allegations that have been made.
The recent strike by the Urabeños claimed to have political motivation as they allegedly seek inclusion in Colombia’s peace process which is ongoing with both of the country’s left-wing rebel groups, the FARC and the ELN.
Santos however refuses to acknowledge the Urabeños as a legitimate political group, labeling them as criminal bands (BACRIM) or merely as a group of drug-traffickers.
Monday’s announcement indicates that Santos prefers a military solution rather than a political for the group that owes its origins to the partially demobilized right wing paramilitary group the AUC.
However, the military has been engaged in the biggest manhunt since Pablo Escobar since the beginning of last year already, so far without much effect.