Criminal groups that emerged from the AUC and drug cartels have increasing control over Colombia’s cities and countryside and threaten to influence October’s local elections, the country’s Interior and Justice minister admitted Monday.
In a press conference, Minister German Vargas Lleras said that the increase in control of these neo-paramilitary and drug gangs are causing a rise in extortion and kidnappings.
“A lot of these organizations now do not just limit their action radius to one city or department but have influence in several regions,” Vargas Lleras said.
In 60 municipalities spread over 20 of the country’s 32 departments, the groups are trying to influence the local and departmental elections that will be held in October this year, said the minister. Cities most at risk of electoral meddling by criminal groups are Medellin, Monteria, San Jose del Guaviare, Santa Marta, Villavicencio and Sincelejo.
“These are where the vulnerability is greatest and where the information we have makes one think that the intention of these illegal organizations is to influence the political process to [elect] mayors, governors, assemblies and councils,” said the minister.
In the past, illegal armed groups like the AUC and the FARC have successfully influenced local and national elections to serve their interests.
Following the demobilization of paramilitary organization AUC and the incarceration of its leaders, dozens of paramilitary mid-level commanders stayed out of jail and formed groups like “Los Urabeños,” “Los Paisas” and ERPAC or continued the “Oficina de Envigado,” which was created by Pablo Escobar and later run by AUC-head “Don Berna.” “Los Rastrojos,” a drug gang born from the ashes of the now-defunct Norte del Valle cartel holds power mostly in southwest Colombia.
The Colombian government had earlier this year said the neo-paramilitary and drug gangs are Colombia’s “new enemy,” adding to older threats like leftist rebel groups the FARC and the ELN.