Crime in Colombia
Colombia, in common with many Latin American nations, evolved as a highly segregated society, split between the traditionally rich families of Spanish descent and the vast majority of poor Colombians, many of whom are of mixed race. This second group provided a natural constituency for left-wing insurgents – who nowadays fall into two groups, the larger FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and the ELN (National Liberation Army).
At the other end of the political spectrum are right-wing paramilitaries, with roots in vigilante groups set up decades ago by landowners for protection against rebels. The main group was the AUC - the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia.
Elements of all the armed groups have been involved in drug-trafficking. In a country where the presence of the state has always been weak, the result has been a grinding war on multiple fronts, with the civilian population caught in the crossfire and often deliberately targeted for "collaborating". Human rights advocates blame paramilitaries for massacres, "disappearances", and cases of torture and forced displacement. Rebel groups are behind assassinations, kidnapping and extortion.
In 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos launched a "Borders for Prosperity" plan to fight poverty and combat violence from illegal armed groups along Colombia's borders through social and economic development, having spent as much as $32 million on infrastructure, education, agricultural development and governance by 2014. According to the International Crisis Group, the plan "appears to be having a positive impact, especially in marginalized communities with little or no state presence".
Illegal drug trade in Colombia
Colombia has had four major drug trafficking cartels which eventually created a new social class and influenced several aspects of Colombian culture. Coca, marijuana and other drugs had been part of the lifestyle of some Colombians, but the worldwide demand of psychoactive drugs during the 1960s and 1970s eventually increased the production and processing of these in Colombia. Cocaine is produced at $1500/kilo in jungle labs and could be sold on the streets of America for as much as $50,000/kilo. The initial boom in production of drugs in Colombia for export began with marijuana in the 1960s, followed by cocaine in the mid- to late-1970s. The USA intervened in Colombia throughout this period in an attempt to cut off the supply of these drugs to the US.
Since the establishment of the War on Drugs, the United States and European countries have provided financial, logistical, tactical and military aid to the government of Colombia in order to implement plans to combat the illegal drug trade. The most notable of these programs has been the Plan Colombia which also intended to combat organizations, such as the FARC guerrillas, who have controlled many coca-growing regions in Colombia over the past decades.
Despite Colombia having the dubious distinction of being the world leading producer of coca for many years those plans, slowly but surely, diminished the drug produced, to the extent that in 2010 the country reduced cocaine production by 60%, relative to the peak in 2000. In that same year, Peru surpassed Colombia as the main producer of coca leaves in the world. The level of drug related violence was halved in the last 10 years, when the country moved from being the most violent country in the world to have a homicide rate that is inferior to the one registered in countries like Honduras, Jamaica, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa.
In 2006 Colombia had the tenth highest rate of kidnappings per capita in Latin America. Most kidnappings are for ransom and foreigners are potential targets, though the number of foreigners kidnapped in Colombia in recent years remains extremely low. Assaults and robberies have occurred after thieves have exposed travellers to incapacitating chemicals, either by aerosol spray or by paper handouts. Chemically treated paper can cause unconsciousness, especially if the chemicals contact your face (via your hand). There is a risk of violence, kidnapping and being caught in road blocks set up by illegal armed groups when travelling by road outside major capitals, including to rural tourist destinations such as Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).
Bogotá has gone to great lengths to change its crime rate and its image with increasing success after being considered in the mid-90s to be one of the most violent cities in the world. In 1993 there were 4,352 intentional homicides at a rate of 81 per 100,000 people; in 2007, Bogotá suffered 1,401 murders at a rate of 19 per 100,000 inhabitants. This success was the result of a participatory and integrated security policy, "Comunidad Segura", that was first adopted in 1995 and continues to be enforced.
According to a 2011 article in The New York Times 'street muggings and thefts on public transportation have surged since 2007', leading certain commentators to declare a crisis of security in the city.
Crime is a serious problem in Cali. As of 2006, there were 1,540 intentional homicides in the city and 1,726 overall when including the metropolitan area. The rates for the city and metropolitan area were 62 and 63 per 100,000 respectively. By 2011 this has increased to 71 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, which has led certain commentators to declare a 'crisis of security' in Cali.
Between 1 January and 1 June 2011 there were 923 intentional homicides in the inner city of Cali, which is considered a 5% increase compared to 2010. The surge in violence in Cali in 2011 has partly been attributed to what has been described as an ongoing 'mafia war' between the 'neo-paramilitary' groups Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños. Los Rastrojos are considered the 'heirs' of the Cali Cartel and Los Urabeños have their roots in Colombia's atlantic coast. Los Rastrojos are accused of committing at least 80 murders in Cali in 2011.
According to Colombia's most influential weekly magazine, Semana, there are over 1,700 assassins working for various groups in the city. As of 2011 urban militias, known as Milicias Populares, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are active in the city and surrounding areas. Local civilians and foreigners have been advised by the DAS to take caution due to the risk of planted bombs and kidnappings.
The metropolitan police and the Colombian Army have taken action to stop several high profile bomb attacks against military and administrative centers in recent years, such as the multiple FARC attacks against Cali's Palace of Justice in 2008 and 2010. These FARC militias in the Cali metropolitan area are thought to number more than 1000, and have caused serious concern among the authorities as they have stepped up activity in 2011.
Medellín was once known as the most violent city in the world, a result of an urban war set off by the drug cartels at the end of the 1980s. As the home of the Medellín Cartel funded by Pablo Escobar, the city was victim of the terror caused by the war between the organization headed by Escobar, and competing organizations such as "El Cartel del Valle". However, after the death of Escobar, crime rates in the city began to decrease.
Throughout the rest of the 1990s crime rates remained relatively high, although gradually declining from the worst years. In October 2002, President Álvaro Uribe ordered the military to carry out "Operation Orion," whose objective was to disband the urban militias of the FARC and the AUC. Between 2003 and 2006 the demobilization of the remaining urban militias of the AUC was completed, with more than 3,000 armed men giving up their weapons.
Nonetheless after the disbanding of the main paramilitary groups, many members of such organizations have been known to have reorganized into criminal bands known commonly as Aguilas Negras. These groups have gained notoriety in Medellín for calling upon curfews for the underage population, and have been known to distribute fliers announcing the social cleansing of prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics. The extradition of paramilitary leader Don Berna appears to have sparked a crime wave with a sharp increase in killings.
There were 33% more murders in 2008 than 2007, with an increase from 654 to 871 violent deaths. This increased further by over 200% in 2009 to 2,899 violent deaths, or about 110 deaths per 100,000 people, 2.5 times the average homicide rate in Colombia and 20 times the average homicide rate in the United States for that same year. An average of 9 people were killed every day in 2009. There is a significant disparity in crime rates by neighborhoods, with virtually no homicides in El Poblado to areas with open gunfights in the outskirts. Generally, crime rates increase the further the neighborhood is from the center.
Buenaventura has had a notorious history plagued by the Colombian armed conflict, drug trafficking, violence, and the presence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Due to the violence of Buenaventura The New York Times wrote an article with the title being "Cocaine Wars Make Port Colombia’s Deadliest City".
Colombian authorities have seized almost US$ 28 million in cash from drug kingpins. The money found was in several shipping containers sent from Manzanillo, Colima (Mexico) and Houston (USA), that belonged to brothers Luis Enrique and Javier Antonio Calle Serna, also known as the ‘Combas’.
In the last two years, the amount of reported homicides has doubled. The murder rate is 24 times that of New York City, making it a crime rate of 175.2. To counter the violence, the Colombian government has set up a marine special forces unit in the worst area of the city.
In Barranquilla, in 2007 there were 348 homicides compared to 391 in 2006, a decrease of 11% over the previous year. In Colombia, in 2007 the homicide rate per 100,000 population from Barranquilla (22) is only exceeded by those of Cali (57), Bucaramanga (32) and Medellín (30). In the six years (2002–2007), however, the number of homicides has been declining, the lowest performing in 2007, with a peak of 483 killings in 2003. The thugs (42.24%), fights (31.61%) and robbery (14.94%) are the main types of homicide in the city. Historically, the days when most homicides occur are Saturday and Sunday, but in 2007 there was a uniform distribution (approximately 15%) on all days.
85.23% of homicides are by firearm; Barranquilla and Cali in 2007 recorded the highest percentage of homicides involving firearms in Colombia. Most homicides are concentrated in the centre and south of the city. Another type of crime in Barranquilla that also showed a growth trend over the past two years is theft, commercial entities (713 in 2007, 630 in 2006, mainly in the north and centre), residences (528 in 2007, 467 in, 2006 mainly in the north), financial institutions (20 in 2006 21 in 2007 mainly in the north) and people (2,692 in 2007, 2,146 in 2006, mainly in centre, north and south).
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