While Colombia’s Police and National Army have said they had stepped up efforts to fight the country’s largest illegal armed group, the paramilitary AGC, Defense Ministry statistics indicate the exact opposite.
After the National Police was slapped on the wrist for not even protecting its own officers from violence from paramilitary group AGC, Police director General Jorge Hernando Nieto took to the media to announce improved results in combating the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a.k.a. “Los Urabeños.”
“The fight is fighting against these bad guys. The order we have is very clear, which is to hit these bandits hard and break the backbone” of the drug trafficking paramilitary group, Army Commander General Alberto Mejia additionally told Blu Radio.
The police chief told press he believed police operations are starting to yield rewards with 54 arrests supposedly turning the tide against the paramilitary group.
“There is an integration of efforts and capacities, the community is collaborating and that is why we have achieved those results. The investigative capacity of our judicial police officers has also allowed us to find the whereabouts of those responsible.”
National Police director General Jorge Hernando Nieto
According to the army commander, his institution has captured 525 in the last five months, killed seven AGC members, and facilitated the demobilization of 31 paramilitaries.
The numbers presented by the police and army commanders contradict those of the Defense Ministry.
According to the Ministry’s statistics, security forces’ actions against these drug trafficking “criminal bands”were at their lowest since 2008, the year the AGC announced itself.
Arrests of members of paramilitary and organized crime groups in the first three months of this year were down 19% to 709 compared to the same period last year.
Arrested members of organized crime and paramilitary groups
The number of paramilitaries and drug traffickers who died in police or military action dropped 40% to six, according to the Defense Ministry.
Killed members of organized crime and paramilitary groups
The government had agreed to step up efforts to combat dissident AUC groups like the AGC and other armed actors involved in drugs trafficking, but has been doing the exact opposite, according to its own statistics.
The apparent inaction of the state security forces has been highlighted in recent months as paramilitary and drug traffickers, instead of the State, have taken control of territory previously controlled by the now-demobilizing FARC rebels.
Colombia’s government has continually refused to acknowledge the AGC as a paramilitary group, meanwhile, the leadership has sought to take advantage of the peace process with the FARC to expand their membership and their territorial control.
While peace talks were ongoing with the FARC, the AUC-s former arch enemy and a rival of the group of the AGC, paramilitary chief “Otoniel” recruited even more troops and by the end of 2016, when the FARC signed peace with the government, the Colombian police estimated the AGC had 3,000 members, effectively becoming the country’s largest illegal armed group.
By then, however, AGC spokesmen “Raul Jaramillo” claimed the group had 8,000 men “including intelligence,” presumably among civilians and members of the military.
Over the weekend, Nieto contradicted his own previous claims, saying that AGC membership had dropped from 4,000 in 2012 to 1,500 this year.
The AGC group was formed by members of paramilitary umbrella organization AUC that partially demobilized after striking a peace deal with the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe.
However, claiming they were deceived by the government and facing the fact more than 2,200 former AUC fighters “died” after their demobilization, the former paramilitaries rearmed, and took control over the drug trafficking and extortion rackets left by the AUC.
While the government insists the dissident AUC group is not a paramilitary, but an organized crime group, this has been fiercely rejected by the AGC, which claims to be a legitimate insurgency group wanting to take part in the ongoing peace process with Marxist FARC guerrillas, their former enemies.