TODAY COLOMBIA – A crime wave has hit Colombia’s port city of Cartagena just days before government officials and FARC rebels are scheduled to arrive there to sign a peace agreement, foreshadowing the type of security challenges the country will face once the deal is finalized.
A series of public acts of violence has disturbed the normally calm tourist sectors of Cartagena, leading Mayor Manolo Duque to prohibit passengers from riding on the back of motorcycles in these areas, reported reported La Silla Vacía.
An attempt to assassinate the drug trafficker known as “Pichi” on September 14 ended in a shootout between criminals and police in the upscale neighborhood of Bocagrande. Pichi is a member of the Urabeños, Colombia’s most powerful criminal organization, who is currently under house arrest in a luxurious residence replete with an ocean view, according to La Silla Vacía.
More recently, the former baseball player Napoleón Franco Jr. was shot and killed on September 18 in the neighborhood of Pie de la Popa when he refused to hand over his cellphone to a gang of thieves. A few hours later, another group of muggers robbed a Rolex watch from a well-known businessman in Bocagrande, and later that night five armed men attempted to break into the home of the manager of a health insurance company.
The previous day, a botched robbery resulted in a shootout outside a shopping mall in Pie de la Popa.
The surge of street crime in Cartagena’s tourist areas contrasts with the feelings of hope and peace associated with the city as it prepares to host the September 26 signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). The peace deal, which was announced in late August, officially puts an end to over 50 years of armed conflict with the country’s largest rebel group. The Colombian people will vote to either approve or reject the agreement in a referendum slated for October 2.
However, as InSight Crime has previously noted, Colombia’s security challenges will not simply disappear once the FARC demobilize.
The Urabeños pose an enduring security threat in areas marked as valuable criminal real estate such as Cartagena, where the port system is used to smuggle large-scale drug shipments to Central America. According to La Silla Vacía, the Urabeños and other neo-paramilitary groups known as “bandas criminales,” or BACRIM, have installed three or four leaders in poor areas of the city who hire youths to carry out or facilitate the groups’ criminal activities, including murder, drug trafficking and extortion.
This criminal dynamic is not unique to Cartagena; urban micro-trafficking and its attendant violence is on the rise in many parts of Colombia.