Following a years-long non-aggression pact between leftist rebels of the FARC and neo-paramilitary group “Los Urabeños” in the north of Colombia, violence has returned to Cordoba, a state with a long history of drug trafficking-related violence.
According to the Southern Cordoba Farmers’ Association, a peasant NGO, the two groups have been fighting since the beginning of December and have increased pressure on locals to take sides in the territorial dispute.
By the end of December, the national ombudsman said the fighting had resulted in the displacement of dozens of families while others are suffering increased pressure from both groups with conflicting interests in the trafficking of drugs from nearby coca fields to the Caribbean coast.
Establishments close due to threats
Shop owners in the township of Juan Jose were forced to close their establishments on Thursday amid increased threats by the groups who both accuse locals of taking sides with the enemy, Medellin-based newspaper El Colombiano reported Monday.
The farmers’ association told the newspaper that both groups have also stepped up local extortion rackets.
Additionally, “both groups recruit minors … and cause occasional displacement in Montelibano, Puerto Libertador, Ayapel and La Apartada,” the association was quoted by El Colombiano as saying.
“Another reason for great concern is that members of the “Usuga Clan” [as the Urabeños have been renamed by authorities] are psychologically intimidating the girls in the township,” the farmers said.
“The sexual abuse that’s long been ongoing has the parents of these minors terrified, which is why they do not report these acts,” said the NGO.
Ceasefire, but not with the Urabeños
The Colombian army has long claimed that both groups had agreed to a non-aggression pact, allowing the FARC to focus more on illegal mining activity while the Urabeños increased their control over drug trafficking routes to the Caribbean coast.
However, as the leftist rebels’ peace talks with the government resulted in a unilateral ceasefire called by the FARC, their fighting with their neo-paramilitary rivals flared up.
Both groups have extensive interests in the regional illegal economy; the FARC’s local rebel units have long been taxing coca farmers and smaller drug trafficking groups in Cordoba and the nearby Antioquia state.
The Urabeños hail from the nearby Uraba region and took control over important drug trafficking routes in the area after the organization’s parent organization, the paramilitary group AUC, demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
Both the FARC and the Urabeños are alleged to have interests in illegal gold mining in the area where miners pay “taxes” or are forced to rent equipment from the groups.