A senior Colombian police official called on citizens Friday not to be intimidated by illegal armed groups after neo-paramilitary group “Lor Urabeños” shut down large parts of northern Colombia.
In an interview with Caracol Radio, the director of the Citizen Security unit of the National Police, General Rodolfo Palomino, said that “the only way to defeat fear is to unite forces and confront those who are looking to intimidate.”
Drug trafficking organization Los Urabenos imposed the “armed strike” — ordering business owners and transport operators to shut down or face violent reprisals — in response to the killing of their leader, “Giovanni”, who was shot by state forces in a January 1 raid.
Palomino told the radio station Friday that authorities have now begun “a process of full normalization, in coordination with the Army, which is taking place in all municipalities where there was a certain disturbance.”
Palomino claimed that in the northwestern region of Uraba the situation was “gradually” getting back to normal. Bus companies traveling between Medellin and Uraba told Colombia Reports that services had been resumed Friday morning — public transport between the two regions was now back to normal.
According to Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, “These type of organizations try to show a power they do not have,” adding that groups like the Urabeños “are quite disorganized and their capacity and strength is limited and should not intimidate citizens.”
Pinzon claimed authorities have arrested 28 members of the neo-paramilitary group of which “several are mid-range commanders.”
Despite efforts by authorities to downplay the impact of the armed strike, locals from the affected regions told Colombia Reports that police on Wednesday and Thursday were nowhere to be found. One resident of Santa Marta tweeted that police had advised a local supermarket owner to close shop and that the city was “full of fear.”
The shutdown of public transport and commercial activity began in Uraba on Wednesday. Members of the neo-paramiliatary group used pamphlets to spread the strike south and west, completely shutting down businesses and transport in the west of Medellin, the coastal tourism hotspot Santa Marta and the northern cities of Sincelejo and Monteria.
In a response, Colombian authorities sent 500 police to the Bajo Cauca region in the northeast of the Antioquia department, in an attempt to quell the imposed strike and enforce security on the highway connecting the Caribbean coast with the rest of the country.