Criminal groups and drug traffickers have expanded their hold over the northwestern Antioquia department according to a new scholarly report.
According to Jorge Giraldo, the dean of Sciences and Humanities at Medellin‘s EAFIT University and author of the new report, criminal groups have begun infiltrating Antioquian municipalities like Campamento and Angostura (north) and Giraldo (west), where there have previously been few traces of armed groups.
“We are on alert,” Santiago de Londoño, government secretary of the Antioquia department, told newspaper El Espectador, while claiming nothing was “certain” about the alleged infiltration.
Nevertheless, local media reported that authorities claim the newfound presence of criminals in the aforementioned neighborhoods is evidence of a broader “criminal strategy.” According to a police investigator, criminals are setting up in “strategic communities” to “observe” daily life and the routines of security forces.
Giraldo said the criminals concentrated their presence to routes leading up to the Atlantic coast and to the northwestern Uraba region, where drugs leave the country in speedboats, semi-submergible vessels and airplanes.
Increased drug gang activity in Antioquia
According to the report, municipalities like Campamento, Angostura and Giraldo would be crucial to criminals due to their location along central transporting highways to the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and access to the gold mining industry.
According to the NGO Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz, left-wing guerrillas, neo-paramilitaries and drug traffickers are increasingly cooperating in order to secure an income from the gold and drug trade. The NGO claimed they allied with each other in order to control the process from cultivation to production. For this reason, there were few armed encounters between former paramilitaries and left-wing rebels, despite reports of heavy fighting between the FARC and Los Urabeños.
Instead, claimed the NGO, in 2012 there was an escalated war over micro-trafficking in large cities like Medellin, a claim not shared by Giraldo and his new report.
“Medellin is not the prime coca market, but it is interesting like any large city in the world…because it is the financial and commercial center of a region were the legal and illegal businesses have an important worth,” said the academic.
“The central problem is that there is a criminal network which exists everywhere where there is illegality. The origin is of course drug trafficking, paramilitarism and today this version of the criminal gangs. The problem is no longer one of thieves or marijuana dealers…it is an organized structure.”
According to Fundacion Ideas Para La Paz, the armed groups have increasingly turned to gold mining to complement the existing income from coca production.
In 2005, approximately 15,000 acres of coca were grown in Antioquia, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In 2011, the amount decreased to just over 7,600, a decrease partly attributed to criminal groups and left-wing rebels shifting focus towards gold mining as a main source of income.