(Today Colombia) Colombia’s murder rate reached a 40-year low in 2015 despite evidence to suggest organized crime in the country is thriving, raising the question of what could lie behind this apparent contradiction.
The latest statistics released by Colombian forensic institute Medicina Legal (pdf) show there were 11,585 murders in Colombia in 2015, giving the country a homicide rate of 24.03 per 100,000 people. That’s a 9 percent drop from 2014 when the murder rate was 26.46 and 12,626 people were killed.
Speaking at a press conference, President Juan Manuel Santos announced this was Colombia’s lowest murder rate in 40 years.
The results make 2015 the sixth consecutive year of falling violence in Colombia, with year on year reductions from 2009, when 17,717 people were killed at a rate of 39.39 per 100,000 people.
The steady drop in homicides in Colombia is welcome news at a time when the country is drawing ever closer to a peace deal expected to end half a century of war between the state and guerrilla insurgents. However, there is little to indicate the fall in violence correlates with a drop in organized crime activities. In fact, the opposite may be true.
As violence has been falling, cocaine production has bounced back dramatically after years of decline, and Colombian trafficking networks now distribute to an ever greater range of countries. Organized crime has also diversified its national interests substantially into lucrative activities such as extortion and illegal mining, giving the groups a much broader base of income.
There are several likely reasons for this apparent contradiction. It could be indicative of Colombia’s organized crime networks taking a more low-key approach, keeping violence levels down so they do not to draw attention or security forces to their areas of operations.
These efforts can be seen in places such as the city of Medellin, where warring organized crime networks struck a pact to end the fighting, divide up the criminal spoils of the city and collaborate on international drug trafficking. The result has been the lowest murder rate in decades, but tempered by rising numbers of disappearances and macabre discoveries of locations used to dismember and dispose of bodies — another way to keep official murder figures down. People simply disappear.
Another likely contributing factor is the current underworld dynamic. Much of Colombia’s violence over the last decade has been driven by the criminalized remnants of demobilized counter-insurgents — groups the government labeled BACRIM (from “bandas criminals” or criminal bands). However, now there is only one BACRIM — the Urabeños — with a genuine national reach, and where their hegemony is challenged by BACRIM rivals it tends to be in smaller, more localized conflicts than those seen in the recent past.