Colombia: gains against Buenaventura butchers?

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on April 4 told onlookers in the Pacific port of Buenaventura that 136 members of dangerous criminal gangs had been captured by security forces over the last month and a half, contributing to a recent drop in violence. Santos also told the crowd that the city had not seen a homicide for the last 19 days. Additionally, he said that 32 of the last 48 days had passed without a murder in Buenaventura. Santos also boasted of $100 million worth of investment in social programs for the city. This government has "decided to change the situation in Buenaventura and we are doing it with actions, not words," he said. But he added that the response to recent horrific violence in the city is not necessarily to "look for those responsible" but to find "solutions" to social problems.

The captured gang remembers are allegedly either part of Los Urabeños or La Empresa, the two criminal organizations that funnel drugs into the city and up the Pacific coast towards Central America, and have terrorized the city over the last few years. Of the captured gang members, 73 were said to be from the ranks of Los Urabeños and 63 from La Empresa.

Los Urabeños and La Empresa are two criminal gangs that formed from the remnants of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network following its "demobilization" in 2006. La Empresa is an offshoot of another of these gangs, Los Rastrojos. Competition between these two gangs for trafficking corridors into and out of this key Colombian port have caused a spike in city violence since 2011. Last year and the first months of 2014 were particularly brutal, including dozens of cases of torture and dismemberment.

The horrific violence seen in Buenaventura has caused intense international pressure from the United Nations and human rights organizations on the Colombian government to halt the murders, forced displacement and extortion plaguing the city. Last month Santos ceded to international pressure and ordered Defense Minister Carlos Pinzón to use national security forces to stem the violence. (Colombia Reports, April 5)