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Colombia’s largest gang has put a $4,000 bounty on police officers
A week before the inauguration, hits on 15 officers cast doubt on Petro’s peace promises
Bogotá, Colombia- The most powerful armed group in Colombia, the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces (AGC), also known as the Gulf Clan, is paying up to $4000 for assassinations of cops that won’t sign onto their payroll, in a brutal new hit scheme they’re calling “Plan Pistola”.
A report released Wednesday by the Armed Conflict Research Center of Colombia (CERAC) revealed that 2022 is already the deadliest year for public forces since 2017, raising the macabre spectre of Escobar’s famous “silver or lead” (bribes or bullets) ultimatum.
“Plan Pistola” is responsible for 36 police killings so far this year and follows a year of increasingly violent AGC actions. These include a week-long “armed strike” across nearly a third of the country that forced businesses to close and brought transport to a halt, reaching normally secure areas just outside the city of Medellín. At least six civilians and two police officers were killed and dozens of trucks and buses burnt. The government Thursday revealed that AGC is planning a second armed strike on August 1-6.
The aggression casts doubt on the outgoing government’s claims that it is winning its fight against them, and raises questions about president-elect Gustavo Petro’s scope for implementing peace during his mandate.
Killings of police accelerated in July, prompting outcry from government officials. Spokespersons from the National Police asked citizens to “mobilize” in a show of support after fifteen officers were killed in two weeks.
Outgoing right-wing president Iván Duque called for “solidarity with the Colombian police” in public statements on Wednesday. “We must come together as a society,” he said, “not out of political posturing, but rather because they protect all of us.”
Perhaps due to the police's own checkered rights record, these calls inspired little sympathy among the Colombian public.
The incoming government of leftist Gustavo Petro, which takes power next Sunday, has condemned the violence and the criminal actions of AGC. He offered his “condolences to the family of Luisa Fernanda Zuleta,” a police officer killed by AGC on July 17. Petro further promised to “pay special care to the families of the members of public forces who have fallen in the line of duty.”
AGC was founded by ex-members of AUC, the notorious coalition of right-wing paramilitary forces and death squads that fought on the side of the government during the civil war. They have expanded dramatically since Duque assumed office in 2017. They now boast a presence in over a third of the country: 241 municipalities in 19 departments according to human rights watchdog INDEPAZ.
“Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated”
Duque said last November that the Gulf Clan was “finished” after one of its leaders, Dairo “Otoniel” Antonio Úsuga, was captured by the military and extradited to the United States.
But it seems someone forgot to tell AGC. Despite the loss of their leader and a series of aggressive military actions against their rank and file members, the group has continued to accrue power and territory, financing their activities through extortion, illegal mining, cocaine smuggling and human trafficking.
They have also heavily infiltrated the security forces. Nine police officers were arrested in Cartagena Thursday and charged with being on the AGC payroll. Earlier this year, a police colonel in Baranquilla was arrested for being in their direct employ.
Police General Jorge Luis Vargas has announced a $10,000 reward for anyone who comes forth with information leading to the arrest of AGC members.
New Government Calls for “Total Peace” and negotiations
Gustavo Petro, who won elections on promises to implement the 2016 peace accord in full, has offered to negotiate with armed groups. When it was negotiated, then-president Juan Manuel Santos promised to invest in formerly controlled rebel regions— creating alternatives to the illegal and informal black market economies that sustained the communities there.
The Duque administration has stonewalled and dismantled many aspects of the 2016 deal, preferring military strategies to social solutions, resulting in exponential growth among the criminal armed groups who moved into the vacuum when FARC disarmed.
Petro wants to fulfill government promises of investment and land restitution to the millions displaced by over half a century of conflict. He has reached out to rebel armed groups that weren’t part of the accord as well as AGC for new peace negotiations.
Twenty-eight of those groups, including divisions that form part of AGC, have announced that they are willing to attend talks with the new administration. In an open letter published June 21, the signatories wrote “power is not achieved by means of arms, it must be achieved through democracy. We are willing to undertake this same path."
Rebel group ELN has also stated that they are willing to enter into peace talks with the incoming administration. However, the AGC leadership has not responded to Petro’s offer. Its structure of hundreds of semi-autonomous “blocs” could mean that direct negotiations with a centralized command structure is impossible.
Demand for their illegal services is also unlikely to subside in the immediate future. Petro has called for social solutions to drug trafficking rather than military ones as part of any new peace deal. Even if AGC disarms and rejoins civil society, its illegal activities would probably be taken over by dissidents from within their forces or other criminal groups.
Petro’s proposals will be an uphill battle. But the current administration's militarized “War on Drugs” strategies have clearly failed. “Without real peace there can be no democracy,” was Petro’s mantra on the campaign trail. The next few months will show whether a paramilitary narco mafia like AGC is willing to negotiate with the leftist president in good faith.
In the meantime, AGC wages war with both public forces and half a dozen rival criminal groups across the country. Those who live in those regions saw their hopes at real peace dashed after government promises of economic investment and land restitution for the millions displaced by violence as part of the 2016 peace deal proved to be empty words. Petro says he is different.
But whether he can silence the sanguinary cry of “silver or lead” remains to be seen.
What are Petro’s chances at success at achieving peace negotiations with Colombia’s criminal armed groups such as AGC? We’d love to hear your thoughts
It’s time for your Friday newsletter, pirates!
This week, Amy is back in Buenos Aires with a lot of stories from her voyage north - more on that soon. Meanwhile, Josh and Dani are gearing up for the inauguration of Colombia’s first openly progressive president and Paulo is wondering what he’d need to do to demonstrate more moral incapacity than president Pedro Castillo.
It’s been a busy week for South America, where the political scene appears to be shifting in several countries.
We’ll start with Chile, where president Gabriel Boric has announced that the state healthcare system will be free. This entails abolishing the country’s current co-payment system, which requires patients to pay even at state healthcare facilities. The new rules enter into force in September and are expected to benefit over 5 million people. Families are expected to save around US$300 per year. Healthcare was already free for those over the age of 60 and some patients in other categories.
In Argentina, economy minister Silvina Batakis has resigned just three weeks into the job. President Alberto Fernández is replacing her with Sergio Massa, a better-known, more moderate figure who is currently president of the chamber of deputies. The reshuffle involves merging the ministries of production and agriculture into what has been dubbed an economy “super-ministry”. The parallel peso exchange rate recovered after the news following a rout earlier this month, when Martín Guzmán, who had headed the ministry since Fernández came to power, resigned amid political in-fighting - see our piece here.
With 74 votes in favour and 22 against, Colombia’s senate has approved the Escazú Agreement, a regional treaty to enhance environmental justice. Although the accord was signed by outgoing president Iván Duque, it was never ratified during his four-year term. The deal must now be debated twice in the lower house, but is expected to pass: the ruling party’s majority block has already voiced its support.
Peru’s political scandals continue unabated. Bruno Pacheco, ex-secretary of government, has presented a document he claims shows that president Pedro Castillo illegally intervened in military promotions and dismissals. While the public prosecutor’s office has not yet made the full details public, if true, national media report that it could end Castillo’s presidency.
What we’re reading
This week, we pirates identify hard with Najat El Hachmi’s El País column about the complexities of self-employment. As the author says, we love intense emotions, although it’s exhausting…
What we’re writing:
For El País, Daniela covered a civil society report on quality of life in Bogotá in 2021, which found that more Venezuelan migrants were murdered and women are facing more sexual violence in Colombia’s capital.
Spanish word of the week:
díscolo (adj) - wayward, fractious. Not to be confused with Paulo’s alter ego, Disco Lo, who comes out on Fridays after Pirate Wire Services is published.
Speaking of which, happy weekend!
¡Es viernes de newsletter piratas! Bueno, esta semana ya volvió Amy con muchas historias de su viaje por el norte de Argentina (Pronto leerán más sobre este viaje). Mientras, Josh y Dani se preparan para la posesión del primer presidente abiertamente progresista en Colombia y Paulo sigue trabajando muy duro, como siempre.
Volviendo a las noticias latinoamericanas, esta semana estuvo muy movida en los escenarios políticos regionales que, al parecer, se van reacomodando con la llegada este año de varios presidentes, especialmente, en suramérica.
Comencemos en Chile, donde el presidente Gabriel Boric anunció que el Sistema de Salud chileno será gratuito. Esta medida suprime el llamado “copago” que actualmente rige en el país y que obliga a pagar por los servicios médicos prestados incluso en centros estatales, en el momento los únicos exentos de estos pagos son personas mayores de 60 años y algunas otras poblaciones. La gratuidad entrará en vigor en septiembre y se espera que beneficie a más de 5 millones de personas y según dijo el mandatario, le ahorre más de 300 USD anuales a cada familia.
Mientras tanto en Argentina, ministra de economía, Silvina Batakis, renunció su cargo tras tan solo tres semanas. Presidente Alberto Fernández la reemplazará con el poderoso actual presidente de la Cámara de Diputados, el Peronista moderada Sergio Massa. Los cambios también implican fundir los ministerios de producción y agricultura en lo que se denomina el “mega-ministerio” de la economía. El peso recuperó fuerza en los mercados paralelos tras una fuerte corrida a principios de mes, cuando Martín Guzmán, quien había encabezado la cartera desde que asumió Fernández, renunció en medio de fuertes internas políticas, como escribimos hace tres semanas.
En Colombia el Senado de la República aprobó en sus primeros debates el Acuerdo de Escazú, un tratado regional para sumar esfuerzos y trabajar de forma articulada por la justicia ambiental. Aunque el acuerdo había sido firmado por el presidente saliente, Iván Duque, durante sus cuatro años de gobierno no había sido ratificado en el Congreso. Con una mayoría aplastante de 74 votos a favor y 22 en contra, la ponencia pasó esta instancia que es un importante primer paso. Ahora, para ser ratificado completamente, le restan dos debates en la Cámara de Representantes, donde el escenario parece ser favorable pues hay una bancada de gobierno mayoritaria que se ha declarado a favor de esta medida.
Perú, por lo pronto sigue en medio de escándalos, el más reciente tiene que ver con el documento que presentó Bruno Pachecho, exsecretario de Gobierno y que presuntamente dejarían en evidencia la intervención ilegal del presidente Pedro Castillo en ascensos y bajas irregulares en las fuerzas armadas del país. Pese a que la información a detalle aún no sale por completo a la luz pública pues está en manos de la fiscalía, varios medios peruanos han filtrado datos que de ser ciertos, podrían desterrar de la presidencia a Castillo.
¿Qué estamos leyendo?
Esta semana los piratas nos sentimos muy interpelados por esta columna de opinión para El País de Najat El Hachmi sobre la complejidad de ser autónomo. Es decir, trabajar sin un contrato estable con algún medio, como lo hacemos la mayoría en el equipo PWS, que como menciona la autora: nos encantan las emociones fuertes - aunque nos agoten -.
¿Qué estamos escribiendo?
Esta semana Daniela escribió para El País una nota sobre la calidad de vida en Bogotá para el 2021. De acuerdo a un informe que emite anualmente una alianza de varias organizaciones de la sociedad civil y la industria empresarial, la capital del país en el último año se ha vuelto particularmente hostil para los migrantes venezolanos y las mujeres. Según el reporte los homicidios contra los migrantes aumentaron al igual que los delitos sexuales contra las mujeres en la ciudad. Pueden leer más del informe aquí.
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