(InSight Crime) While Colombia boasts its lowest homicide rate in nearly half a century, pockets of spiking violence in several rural areas tell a different story — that of armed groups struggling for control of lucrative criminal markets as Colombia’s armed conflict enters a new phase.
La Silla Vacía has published a report on the 10 Colombian municipalities with the greatest percentage rise in homicide rates. These rural locations registered a low murder count between January 1 and August 23, 2016 (between zero and one), but saw the tally rise 500 percent and upwards over the same period in 2017.
In seven of the 10 cases, the increasing murders are reportedly related to the exit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) rebels, who recently demobilized as part of a peace process with the Colombian government. The guerrillas controlled swaths of land in which they controlled lucrative criminal economies, much of which is now in a power vacuum.
All of the municipalities listed are rural with populations no larger than 31,000, and are spread across nine departments.
In 2016, Colombia registered the lowest homicide rate of the past 42 years. But this broader picture overlooks localized outbreaks of violence that speak to shifting armed conflict and organized crime dynamics in the country.
Although violence associated to Colombia’s conflict is nowhere near as high as it was a decade ago, the FARC’s demobilization has sparked a power struggle over the strategic territories left behind by the rebels. There, groups battle over turf or try to consolidate their control, while also eliminating social leaders who might stand in their way or draw attention to their activities.
La Silla Vacía’s reporting exemplifies this. In several municipalities listed — many of them key drug trafficking real estate in former FARC territory — the murders are apparently linked to the presence or expansion of dissident FARC members, other rebel groups or criminal organizations.
These trends also illustrate the absence of the state in much of the countryside. Still, Colombia is taking positive steps to bring security force presence to at-risk rural areas as a condition of its ongoing peace process.