A study examining the history of crime networks in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, predicted that the pacification of the city will continue and that homicide levels are unlikely to ever reach the peaks seen in the mid-1990s.
The report, released by Bogota-based think-tank Fundacion Ideas Para la Paz (FIP) in January, concluded that the state has “essentially” established control over the city’s most violent areas, in both the center and periphery. It is unlikely that homicide rates will increase significantly in the future unless some powerful outsider group, on par with the Medellin Cartel, attempts to take control of the Bogota underworld, the report stated.
The bulk of the report outlines the history of organized crime in Bogota, dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, when dozens of neighborhoods were controlled by guerrilla militias, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and M-19. Several of the organized crime networks in the city were controlled by the Medellin Cartel, which allied itself with a bloc of powerful emerald traders.
The city’s most violent year on record was 1993, with nearly 81 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Since then, homicides have continued to decrease overall, asides from certain key years which did see a rise in violence. One such period was between 2004 to 2005, when two rival paramilitary blocs of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) were fighting one another. The murder rate in Bogota currently stands at 16 per 100,000.
The report goes on to break down crime dynamics neighborhood by neighborhood, noting that the center of the city has traditionally been controlled by paramilitary and drug trafficking groups, and that the most prevalent crimes are car theft and robbery. Peripheral neighborhoods, once controlled by guerrilla militias, suffer more from violence connected to the microtrafficking trade and rivalries between local street gangs.
Bogota’s most violent years coincided with periods in which firearms were used to commit the majority of homicides, the report notes. During the first eleven months of 2012, homicides dropped 22 percent, giving Bogota one of its most peaceful years in three decades, an improvement that some attributed to the temporary ban on firearms passed by the mayor’s office.
While Bogota’s homicide rates are unlikely to increase to the same levels as the 1990s, the city’s security gains have not yet been consolidated. Rivalries over the local distribution of drugs still has significant potential to cause violence, as seen in January, when five alleged members of a street gang were gunned down, the first time in six years that five people were killed in a single act, according to the FIP.
Another question is whether law enforcement efforts to break up the traditional microtrafficking networks could lead to more violence. Last year the police made efforts towards clearing out Bogota’s traditional microtrafficking hub, an area known as El Bronx, which is rife with crack dens and drug distribution points. As Bogota’s law enforcement continue to target the nerve centers of the drug trade, this could cause greater uncertainty in the criminal underworld if drug distribution centers relocate to different parts of the city, rather than being concentrated in a single place.
Despite these uncertainties, security overall is improving in Colombia’s traffic-clogged capital. Police say that robberies are decreasing, down by as much as 30 percent. That doesn’t mean that Bogota still doesn’t have serious problems with petty crime. Police statistics note that on average, a motorcycle is reported stolen every five hours; while Bogota’s judicial police report that during the first half of 2012, 1,165 cell phones were reported stolen.