Colombia’s interior and justice minister wants Congress to increase penalties for members of criminal gangs referred to by the government as emerging criminal groups or BACRIM.
A day after the United Nations expressed concern with Colombia’s violent emerging criminal groups, the Minister of the Interior, German Vargas, urged Congress to increase penalties and procedural times to keep these neo-paramilitary or BACRIM members from leaving jail.
In a report on the Minister of Interior’s website, German Vargas warns neo-paramilitary members to lay down their weapons now and not after the proposed laws go into effect. The members can submit to justice, but this is not a negotiation process Vargas affirms.
A bishop in the northern department of Cordoba says he was contacted by members of criminal organizations that wish to surrender. Cordoba saw 600 deaths in 2010 and more than 30 so far this year, including the deaths of two biology students from Bogota. The concerned Bishop expresses, “The violence in Cordoba must stop, and many are convinced of that.”
In reaction to the bishop’s claims Vargas had this to say on the website Tuesday, “What I heard yesterday is that those responsible for committing the crime against these young people are willing to surrender and submit to justice, but not in the context of peace negotiations at all Government policy has been to confront with determination and resolve those organizations. If you want to surrender, you should do so unilaterally and submit to justice, as required by the country,”
Leon Valencia, director of Nuevo Arco Iris, a NGO that analyzes conflict in Colombia shared his concerns with newspaper El Tiempo.
Valencia says the security forces have to confront these emerging criminal groups with force and break up the relationships they have with corrupt, local authorities.
Another concern in the “recycling” of former paramilitaries through the justice system. According to Valencia, 20 percent of drug gang members are former paramilitaries. There is a history in Colombia of ex-paramilitaries laying down arms and asking for help from the government only to turn around and join an emerging criminal group such as “Los Rastrojos,” “Los Paisas,” “Los Urabeños,” or the most recent, “Commando del Sur.” This cycle must stop declares to Valencia.
According to the National Police website they arrested 72 members of criminal organizations last week.