According to the National Coroner’s Office, of the 16,189 homicide autopsies performed in Colombia in 2010, 25% (4,117) were from the southwest region that consists of the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño
Violence between rival drug traffickers, guerrilla groups, and military forces has hit cities and rural areas alike across the region.
The southwestern department of Cauca is among the most affected due to a strong presence of the guerrilla groups FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN). In this region along the Central Cordillera, the FARC maintain strongholds the guerrillas have lost in other regions of the country.
Analyst Jeremy McDermott from InSight Crime told Colombia Reports that “Cauca is one of the few areas where FARC are still in a traditional insurgency,” meaning they still have the capability to go on the offensive against military forces. InSight Crime reported that in 2010 the department registered 42 major armed actions by the FARC.
Guerrillas from the 6th Front of the FARC attacked a military helicopter that was transferring money to a local bank in the town of Caloto, Cauca on March 1, an attack which killed four police and two civilians including a mother who left behind an eight-year-old daughter.
FARC rebels brazenly attacked a police station with machine guns, grenades and bazookas in the village of Patia, Cauca just 15 days after the helicopter attack. No one was injured in the attack.
According to the InSight Crime analyst, the FARC’s 6th and 8th fronts along with the Jacobo Arenas mobile column are among the most capable in the region.
Rural areas are the most affected reported Cauca police commander, Colonel Carlos Ernesto Rodriguez who said that 65% of homicides in the department are recorded in rural areas. These areas are often not under the control of the national government or security forces.
One problem the military faces in the conflict with the FARC is the mobilization of un-uniformed rebel militias in rural areas of Cauca, a strategy being dubbed, “Plan Pistola.”
Colonel Mario Beltran, third operating commander of the army’s 3rd Brigade said in a report from El Colombiano Monday, “Here the war develops with militias, because the people in columns and uniforms are little. For example, if there are 200 guerrillas in columns, I have 1,500 militia men that have the capacity to put on a uniform, to fight, to place bombs; after, they become civilians again, pick up a machete, and continue working.”
In many rural areas of Cauca the FARC have been embedded in towns for generations. Mayor of the municipality of Corinto in the north of Cauca, Gilberto Muñoz Colorado, told the newspaper that “these are regions that have been abandoned by the central government. I insisted that they should make a social investment because only utilizing the army will not achieve change.”
The mayor of the battered town is supported in this by the department governor Guillermo Alberto Gonzalez who recently asked Bogota to stop “this damned network of drug trafficking, guerrillas and criminal groups.”.
Los Rastrojos, who are based along the Pacific coast of Colombia but have a presence in departments across the country are a fragment of the dismantled Norte del Valle Cartel.
In Cauca, Los Rastrojos and the FARC are fighting a bloody war for control of the drug trade. InSight Crime reported in February that 20 people were killed in one week in the struggle to control valuable coca crops, trafficking routes and cocaine laboratories.
Just north of the rural battlefields of Cauca, the third largest city in the country, Cali, is experiencing heavy violence as well.
The mayor of the capital city of the Valle del Cauca department, Jorge Ivan Ospina, is asking the national government for help to combat the rise in violence due to the drug wars, reported El Tiempo Monday.
According to the report from the National coroner’s office, 44% of the homicides in the southwest region of Colombia occur in the city of Cali, which registered 1,825 homicides last year placing the city famous for salsa dancing third behind Medellin and Bogota for highest murder rate.
Control of Cali is being fought over between Los Rastrojos and fellow Norte de Valle Cartel descendant, drug gang, “Los Machos.” There are reports that Los Machos are being supported by a Rastrojos rival, Los Urabeños. The groups are allegedly fighting over micro-trafficking territory as well as large scale drug trafficking interests.
According to InSight Crime, the Valle del Cauca department has seen 80 homicides as of March 28, which is 20 more than the same time last year.
Speaking out against the violence, archbishop Dario de Jesus Monsalve of Cali declared, “The theme can’t be focused on numbers, but on this facility of homicide. We must think of a stronger system of justice.”
In light of this, the Mayor of Cali announced the arrival of 1,000 troops to be dispatched to the eastern part of the city where violence is most prevalent.
However, the effectiveness of sending additional troops to quell violence in areas like Valle and Cauca is being critiqued. Governor Gonzales of Cauca asked national security forces to come up with a long-term security plan for the department instead of launching short-term military offensives.