By Ariel Ávila, SEMANA, December 25, 2019

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The country has been in the middle of a political debate. The national strike and the continuing marches have effectively turned attention to urban areas, the middle class, and the young people who are marching. But while that’s going on, in various regions of the country, people are living through real battles for control of the illegal economies and the corridors being used.

The murder in Buritaca of a couple who were honeymooning in Palomino, and a human head cut off and left at the side of the Nechí River with a warning stating that the BVPA are present, have revealed the horror that people in this country have been living through for two years.

In all, there are six regions that are on fire. The first is the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta where Chucho Pachenca or Chucho Mercance was killed. He commanded the Los Pachenca gang, which was the armed branch of the “Caribbean Office”.  His death led to a reconfiguration that was rooted in the return of the ex-paramilitary Chieftain Hernán Giraldo, expected in 2020. Basically, it created the gang called Self-Defense Conquerors of La Sierra, made up of Los Pachenca and the group known as Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan).

At first they agreed on a partition of the territory and joint management of the main road to the Caribbean, but the agreement lasted only a few days. The war broke out after several weeks: there are curfews, extortions, and killers for hire in the municipalities that make up the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. The Governor-elect, Carlos Caicedo, has warned of the situation, but the military and police authorities avoid recognition of the phenomenon.

The second affected region is the Pacific coast in Nariño Province and the mountainous area.  A few days ago the ELN murdered a FARC dissident known as alias Sábalo and several members of his family. The massacre reveals the level of warfare in the whole region. There are municipalities like El Charco or La Tola, where it’s literally impossible to leave the urban area.

The third region is Lower Putumayo. There the dispute is between a group of dissidents called Carolina Herrera that came from Caquetá and a group known as Sinaloa, made up of dissidents that came from Front 48, a gang known as  “La Construc” and a group of drug traffickers. They have been at war for two months. Recruitment of children, extortions and curfews affect all of Lower Putumayo.

A fourth region that has been set on fire is in the Paramillo Massíf. It’s a war in fits and starts every few days. The actors involved in the dispute are the Clan del Golfo and BVPA or Virgilio Peralta Bloc, formerly allied and now in a big fight. Decapitations, impalings, and disappearances are the common denominator. To this are added the presence of a dissident group, the presence of the ELN and a number of drug trafficking groups. The decapitation at the Nechí River is not the first one.

The fifth region on fire is the Catatumbo and the metropolitan area of Cúcuta. This is the region, possibly, that is the most complicated right now.  Forced disappearances are quite common, but nobody says anything. The majority of the people are citizens of Venezuela and there is an intense war going on between the ELN and collectives made up of Venezuelans on one side and on the other side, the EPL, the Clan del Golfo, and local gangs of drug traffickers. The last region is the Province of Cauca, which is experiencing three wars at the same time, one in the south, the other one in the north and still another on the Pacific coast.

What’s dramatic about this panorama is that the Iván Duque government seems to be nonexistent. There are problems of command and control, there is no clear strategy at the territorial level, and, above all, instead of combatting these phenomena, what they do is deny them. Their campaign promise and the flag they wave is security and toughness. But ever since Uribism took over, the security situation has done nothing but deteriorate in this country.

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