Cali, the third largest city in Colombia, has traditionally been one of the country’s most violent cities because of its strategic location for drug trafficking, and fighting between cartels and local gangs.
The complex and resilient criminal structures in the city have made it impossible for Cali authorities to significantly lower the city’s homicide rates. In fact, homicides have gone up since 2008.
Mayor Rodrigo Guerrero, who took office on January 1, 2012, the city has been able to lower its homicide rate in 2014 despite heightened tensions between drug trafficking gangs in the city.
Locals’ (in)security perception
Cali homicide rate
Homicide rate per district (2013)
Cali’s criminal structures
Since the 1980s, Cali has been home to some of the country’s most feared drug trafficking organizations like the Cali Cartel, the Norte del Valle Cartel and, since the beginning of this century, “Los Rastrojos.”
The dominance of the cartels in and around the city moderated the influence on crime of the now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC and leftist guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN in the 1990s. However, as the Rastrojos began working together closely with the FARC over the past five years, the rebel group has been able to close in on Cali and strengthen its influence in the municipalities surrounding the capital of the Valle del Cauca department.
Apart from the nationally operating cartels, Cali has five gangs operating inside the city, and smaller neighborhood gangs or “offices” that in some cases consist of no more than six members and control no more than a block.
The local gangs generally control extortion racketeering and drug dealing in their neighborhoods, and commit robberies. Others have specialized in assassinations and are employed to do the dirty work for larger gangs.
Cali’s main criminal organizations
Los Contra Alianza
The neighborhood-bound gangs are mostly concentrated in Aguablanca, an impoverished district spread out over several “comunas” in the southwest of the city. Of the 134 active gangs counted by the local Ombudsman’s Office in early 2012, 44% operated in this area.
Source: Ombudsman’s Office
Displacement in Cali
Violence caused by infighting between cartels and gangs has drastically increased urban displacement in Cali since the beginning of the century. According to Codhes, an NGO that monitors displacement in Colombia, expulsions forced by illegal armed groups have gone up 425% since 2000.
Street Robberies in Cali
While the cartel and gang-related violence traditionally receives most attention in the media, street crime has traditionally been one of the forms of delinquency that hits innocent civilians most. Figures released by the Cali Police department show that 20 people are robbed per day and that this number is growing steadily.