Colombia’s ombudsman’s office has warned how guerrilla militias and narco-paramilitary groups have made the department of Valle del Cauca and its capital Cali the epicentre of Colombian organized crime and a model of the new criminal outsourcing paradigm.
The ombudsman’s newly released risk assessment report for Cali and Valle notes the Urabeños and the Rastrojos — the largest of the neo-paramilitary organizations known as the BACRIM (from the Spanish abbreviation of “criminal bands”) — are now present in at least 19 out of the department’s 42 municipalities. In addition, urban militias run by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are operating in sectors bordering Cali, while the rebels’ 30th Front and Arturo Ruiz Mobile Column manage criminal and military networks throughout the region.
The result has been a wave of criminality and violence, with Valle not only the most violent department in Colombia for four years running, but also recording the highest kidnapping rate in the country and the second highest rate for extortions.
Cali has been hardest hit, with 250,000 inhabitants — over 10 percent of the city’s population — ranked as facing high levels of risk in the report. Last year, the city recorded 1,964 murders, giving it a murder rate of 85.6 per 100,000 people.
The ombudsman also highlighted the cities of Buenaventura, Palmira and Tulua as other violence hotspots which, together with Cali, account for 74 percent of the region’s murders.
Throughout the department, and especially in Cali, the Urabeños, Rastrojos and the FARC all rely on a form of criminal “outsourcing,” according to the report. Each group sub-contracts common criminal groups to fight, run extortion networks, issue threats and even carry out terrorist actions.
InSight Crime Analysis
Access to Pacific coast drug trafficking routes and Cali money laundering networks means Valle del Cauca has long been one of Colombia’s criminal heartlands, spanning back to the Cali Cartel and its successor the Norte Del Valle Cartel.
The current violence sweeping the region is predominantly driven by competition for these drug trafficking networks, with the Urabeños assembling a coalition of local drug lords to seize the territory from the fragmented remains of the Rastrojos.
As highlighted by the ombudsman, these groups, along with the FARC guerrillas, increasingly use the criminal “outsourcing” model, predominantly through sub-contracting street gangs, specialist criminal networks and the mid-sized mafia structures known as “oficinas de cobro” (collection offices). This model is not limited to Valle but is also becoming increasingly common for criminal and rebel groups throughout the country.