Emerging criminal gangs, with an estimated 4,200 members across the country, could account for 40% of assasinations in Colombia, according to the Minister of Interior and Justice, newspaper El Espectador reported Friday.
The Minister of Interior and Justice German Vargas Lleras reported that neo-paramilitary drug gangs such as “Los Rastrojos,” “Los Paisas,” “Los Urabeños,” and “Aguilas Negras” have a presence in 151 municipalities in 17 departments.
“The effects of this violence are not as easy to calculate … according to the Police Observatory, from January of 2007 until March 18 of this year they [emerging criminal groups] have committed 290 homicides,” said the official who admitted that this figure only represents a portion of the violence in these regions.
The official warned that these gangs, traditionally focused on drug trafficking, are branching out into other criminal activities such as extortion and the recruitment of minors, tactics more commonly used by guerrilla groups and the now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC.
Government officials make it clear that they will not negotiate with these drug gangs like they did with guerrilla groups and the AUC in the past.
“We know that these organizations recycled personnel and characteristics from paramilitary organizations but we are warning that the way they operate is their own … there is not an ideology in their action and they are primarily dedicated to drug trafficking,” said Vargas Lleras.
In January of this year, Police Chief Oscar Naranjo said that the emerging criminal gangs that have formed as a result of the AUC’s demobilization are the biggest threat to Colombian security.