Colombia’s interior and justice minister announced Thursday that illegal armed groups threaten to influence October’s local elections in 300 of Colombia’s 1,099 municipalities.
Previously the government had said that neo-paramilitary groups or “emerging criminal groups,” as the government call them, threatened to disrupt fair elections in 67 municipalities, but in a press statement the minister announced that the government will carry out an “integrated strategy,” “initially in 60 pilot municipalities and later extend this to the 300 municipalities that are at electoral risk.”
Minister Vargas Lleras also said he will meet with the Electoral Observation Mission, an NGO specialized in monitoring elections in Colombia, to “discuss these efforts.”
Drug trafficking groups formed by former mid-level commanders of demobilized paramilitary organization AUC are a growing concern for both Colombian authorities and the international community. These neo-paramilitary groups are thought to be responsible for the majority of homicides in Colombia and were recently dubbed “Colombia’s number one enemy” by the defense minister.
On Monday, the United Nations expressed its concern over the growing control of the paramilitary descendants, saying that massacres due to these groups went up 40% in 2010.
The influence of paramilitaries and drug traffickers in Colombian politics is not new. Pablo Escobar, the country’s most famous drug lord ever, made it to deputy congressman in 1982 and the AUC paramilitary coalition made pacts with hundreds of local and national politicians to increase its legislative power in the 2002 and 2006 elections. In the 2010 congressional elections, a party with ties to convicted politicians and family members of drug traffickers won 10% of the votes.