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A graffiti tag on a blue house marks AGC territory in Acandí, Colombia. Una etiqueta de graffiti en una casa azul marca el territorio de los AGC en Acandí, Colombia.

Q&A: How the AGC Threatens Colombia’s Plans for Total Peace

Q&A: How the AGC Threatens Colombia’s Strategies for Overall Peace

Just one of Colombia’s biggest prison teams is increasing its achieve, threatening to disrupt the govt&#8217s peace processes with other armed teams, a new report observed.

The report released by the International Disaster Team in March describes how the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC) has turn into the largest armed group not at present concerned in formal negotiations beneath the banner of President Gustavo Petro’s Complete Peace (Paz Total) initiative. The report expressed concern that the AGC could interfere with and even sabotage other groups’ peace dialogues as they extend and struggle for strategically useful territory.

With about 9,000 associates, the AGC is the premier group involved in drug trafficking in the place, earning supplemental income via arms trafficking, unlawful mining, migrant smuggling, and extortion in lots of municipalities all over Colombia&#8217s Caribbean coastline.

SEE ALSO: Murder of Gaitanista Chief Exhibits Interior Divisions In advance of Colombia Peace Talks

Petro has managed to get started talks with some of the state&#8217s other most important felony teams, together with the Nationwide Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and the Central Typical Workers (Estado Mayor Central – EMC) of the ex-FARC mafia. Not too long ago, Petro announced negotiations with the Next Marquetalia (Segunda Marquetalia), one more team of FARC dissidents.

Soon immediately after the report was posted, Petro opened the door for a “legal negotiation” with the AGC, which the team publicly approved underneath the problem that negotiations are a political system, very similar to other groups involved in Paz Total, as opposed to a “sometimiento a la justicia” (submission to justice), which would perhaps include harsher prison penalties. 

Perception Criminal offense spoke with the report&#8217s writer, Elizabeth Dickinson, about the probable for peace talks with the AGC as nicely as some of the report’s key results: 

Perception Crime (IC): Do you think the AGC is truly interested in participating in these dialogues?

Elizabeth Dickinson (ED): Of course. The AGC has a drawback when compared to other groups, as they continue to be exterior ceasefire agreements. For case in point, in Sur de Bolívar, where by the EMC, ELN, and AGC are fighting 1 one more, the armed service is only focusing on the AGC. This strategic constraint on the battlefield is most likely their greatest quick-expression incentive to arrive to the desk.

Two for a longer time-time period goals are also driving the team&#8217s willingness to enter talks. Very first, there&#8217s a sturdy motivation for legitimacy, which will come with obtaining a seat at the negotiating desk with the governing administration. This team basically does not realize why it is the only big armed team in Colombia outside the peace approach. And considering the degree of handle and sophistication they&#8217ve received in modern several years, the leadership has a chip on its shoulder for not becoming involved in these talks.

The second objective is judicial leniency. Prosperous peace talks could entail perhaps minimized sentences in trade for giving truthful testimony. Congress will have to have to establish the unique conditions of this arrangement, but this proposition retains distinct fascination for members of the corporation who are fascinated in discovering a way out of this situation of perpetual violence.

The decrease-amount fighters in the team — youthful guys aged 18 to 24, who usually joined in search of occupation possibilities — feel that the truth they&#8217ve encountered is not what they anticipated. It is not always a really content life to stay in the ranks of this team, uncovered to violence, in hard environments, and away from property.

That said, some degree of noncompliance or legal pursuits will continue amongst the &#8220mandos medios,&#8221 the mid-degree commanders, who may well not have the same incentives to take part in the peace system. 

IC: The AGC has perfected the apply of &#8220monetizing territorial command&#8221 by profiting off all economic action, licit and illicit, in locations the place they are the dominant actor.  The place is the team seeking to extend its manage and why? 

ED: If you search at a map, you can understand exactly why they&#8217re growing exactly where they&#8217re increasing. I would issue to 3 spots. 

Map showing the AGC's presence throughout Colombia. 
Un mapa que muestra donde los AGC tienen presencia en Colombia.
Editor&#8217s note: Prison territories are frequently shifting. This map from November 2023 is primarily based on Insight Criminal offense fieldwork and varies a little from Dickinson&#8217s responses.

The first 1 is the Pacific coastline. This team is bold to regulate both equally coastlines due to the fact if one drug trafficking route is down, the other route is open up, and there are lots of distinct worldwide marketplaces obtainable from different routes. They also imagine this will radically improve their political leverage. From their stronghold in Urabá, Antioquia, they have expanded south by means of Chocó. They are now in Bajo Calima, throughout the bay from Buenaventura, and they will very likely continue on into Valle de Cauca, exactly where their expansion is determined by manage of fluvial routes and accessibility to extortion revenues from a extremely valuable industrial economic climate outside the house of Cali, in Tulua and Buga. 

The next aim is mining areas in Bolívar, Antioquia, and Cesar. These are pretty definitely connected to gold mining, a very attractive item for all armed groups in Colombia, particularly with the market place for coca a minor bit out of whack. They are systematically pushing the ELN out of its strongholds in mining locations in these locations.

The last location of expansion, centered on their strategic positioning, would seem to be Catatumbo, Norte de Santander, home to the highest concentrations of coca crops, coal mining, palm oil creation, and the huge figures of crossings on the Colombia-Venezuela border. If they were being to reach that, they would dominate the corridor from the Venezuelan border, throughout the complete Atlantic coastline, all the way down to the Pacific coastline, an great strategic prize.

IC: In the report, you quote 1 AGC commander stating he envisioned the organization &#8220protecting its framework and illicit enterprise pursuits, but just producing them considerably less violent.&#8221 How is that reconcilable with what the federal government wants in the extended time period?

ED: In the small phrase, all armed groups in Colombia want to continue their armed control and their organizations although lessening violence. Less than the prior peace commissioner, the government’s precedence was reducing violence and working with the territorial command element at a later on stage. 

But if we&#8217re demobilizing a group with as much territorial management as the AGC and as numerous roots in the overall economy, the state must be organized to deal with the vacuums remaining behind. And right now, that&#8217s merely not achievable. In negotiations with the a variety of felony groups, the scheduling ought to start now — from a navy standpoint, from an institutional perspective, and a expert services viewpoint. 

IC: The AGC is 1 of a number of teams that break up off from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) when the coalition demobilized in 2006. What has manufactured the AGC stronger and extra resilient than other groups that emerged from that course of action, this sort of as the Rastrojos?

ED: To recognize their expansion product, it is vital to understand the organization&#8217s composition. It includes three branches: military services, economic, and political. This framework goes down to the avenue stage. In every single town in AGC locations, the local community can level to the man who is the political head, the financial head, and so on. Their expansion involves constructing a social foundation, where by they have a job in community organizations like the Neighborhood Action Boards (Juntas de Acción Comunal – JAC), and they regulate each part of the economic system, with the menace of violence lingering in the history in situation anyone doesn&#8217t comply. 

A further significant issue was their romantic relationship with the landowners. A part of the political and economic lessons prefer to live with this group alternatively than risk publicity to unidentified actors, like the ELN, the EMC, or prison corporations. People landowner networks have been elementary for this team&#8217s survival simply because, in moments of economic scarcity, the landowners would phase in and entrance AGC members’ salaries for a month or two while they obtained back again on their ft. 

The other factor that is rather diverse from teams like the Rastrojos or some city gangs is that the AGC is not urban. This is a fundamentally rural organization. They have strategically selected not to make cities their priority. This is not an organization inside of Barranquilla. They&#8217re sitting down on the perimeter, letting the gangs in the town combat it out whilst they wait around for a winner to make your mind up who to function with. Current predominantly in the countryside has aided them stay away from scrutiny and stability operations.

IC: After the capture of Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” in 2021, the team&#8217s new chief, Jobanis de Jesús Ávila Villadiego, alias “Chiquito Malo,” has tightened his grip on the firm, in accordance to the report. How has the group’s construction changed with this change of management?

ED: 1 way this team expanded was via a franchising product, which is continue to aspect of the firm&#8217s DNA. At a community level, commanders have autonomy in excess of extortion and lower-profits criminal economies, bringing in dollars for their specific bloc or front. But the significant online games like drug trafficking and mining are run by the Estado Mayor (central command).

When Otoniel was captured, there have been some issues about irrespective of whether this group would even keep collectively. So Chiquito Malo took an intense stance toward consolidation, sending quite a few envoys throughout the location to negotiate with the various fronts and carry them all on board. He&#8217s also changed community and mid-amount commanders throughout the region in circumstances in which the envoys have been not more than enough to get them on board with the structure.

IC: The market for coca leaves continues to be inconsistent throughout Colombia, with prices different substantially by area. Even so, the report found rates in AGC territory remained stable. How has the AGC attained this regardless of falling rates in places controlled by other teams? 

ED: There are a few hypotheses. The buyer relationship is the most potent rationalization of what&#8217s going on in the current market. The AGC has a steady purchaser romantic relationship with intercontinental cartels, principally the Sinaloa Cartel on the Atlantic coast, but also with European structured crime. In a condition of oversupply, like we now have in Colombia, wherever there is too considerably coca, it&#8217s a purchaser&#8217s current market, and the buyers get to decide on who they do the job with. And the AGC has fundamentally won that purchaser&#8217s current market. 

The AGC has a several benefits that make it the obvious candidate. Initially, its territories are consolidated. They are the only ones participating in drug trafficking in locations they regulate. So, when traffickers enter an AGC area to acquire coca or organize a shipment, they&#8217re not anxious, for illustration, about which group controls the exit routes that precise day. By contrast, in Nariño, a single trafficker might have to pay four different extortion service fees for the reason that there are so quite a few teams existing. 

SEE ALSO: Insight Crime’s 2023 Cocaine Seizure Spherical-Up

The second gain they have is transportation. The infrastructure on the Atlantic coastline is vastly exceptional to that in southern Colombia. The Atlantic coast has the Troncal del Caribe freeway, major ports in Barranquilla and Cartagena, and produced fluvial routes. 

3rd, the AGC has been capable to penetrate safety forces at a community amount — and it&#8217s quite a great deal at the neighborhood level, not systematic. We are talking about an corporation that can obtain off distinct law enforcement and armed service officials, earning them quite reliable suppliers. 

Fourth, for the reason that they&#8217re so productive in the cocaine small business, they have tons of capital. If a cargo receives lost, the AGC will guarantee payment to the customer. This also aids clarify why coca costs have been steady mainly because even if the marketplace selling price has dropped, the AGC has the income to say, we&#8217ll just pay our coca growers marginally a lot more for the reason that it will continue to keep us preferred in these places.  

Showcased graphic: A graffiti tag marks AGC territory in Acandí, Colombia. Credit rating: Henry Shuldiner

*This job interview has been edited for clarity and fluidity.  

The submit Q&A: How the AGC Threatens Colombia’s Designs for Whole Peace appeared very first on Insight Criminal offense.