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Authorities move the bodies of the victims of one gang massacre in Valle del Cauca, Colombia.

Violence in Valle del Cauca Highlights Rise of Gang Massacres in Colombia

Violence in Valle del Cauca Highlights Rise of Gang Massacres in Colombia

A spate of massacres in the southwestern Colombian department of Valle del Cauca illustrates how small urban gangs are increasingly employing a form of violence previously associated with the country’s major armed groups.

Twenty-one massacres – defined as the simultaneous killing of three or more people – have been registered by human rights NGO, INDEPAZ, in Colombia so far in 2024. Four of the mass killings stemmed from escalating gang violence in Valle del Cauca. 

In early April, gunmen killed five people in a bar in the municipality of Toro, in the northern part of Valle del Cauca. The massacre came amid ongoing confrontations between two gangs –  Nueva Generación and Los Flacos. Both groups emerged from the remnants of the now-defunct Norte del Valle Cartel (NDVC).

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The four massacres reported in the department this year are linked to a wider war between local gangs vying for control of municipalities in Valle del Cauca, in addition to towns in the neighboring departments of Risaralda and Quindío.

The conflict has been exacerbated, in part, by the return of Colombian drug lords previously jailed in the United States. Some have arrived back to Valle del Cauca after completing their prison sentences and are now attempting to regain their assets and drug trafficking routes with the assistance of the department’s local gangs, according to El País.

InSight Crime Analysis

In addition to a surge in massacres over the last year, the return of massacres in Valle del Cauca illustrates how this form of violence has become more prevalent in urban rather than rural areas.

Massacres were routine during Colombia’s lengthy internal armed conflict (1948-2016). Right-wing paramilitaries, in particular, used mass killings to establish territorial control or punish communities controlled by adversaries. To a far lesser extent, left-wing guerrillas also massacred civilians.

But massacres are now more common in cities than in remote locations where the country’s armed conflict was more intense, according to data from the past five years studied by Verdad Abierta.

SEE ALSO: Decreased Cocaine Flows Lead to Increased Extortion in Northern Colombia

Aside from towns in Valle del Cauca, cities such as Cúcuta and Barranquilla have experienced a rapid intensification of gang conflict. The cities concentrating the highest number of massacres included major urban areas such as Cúcuta, Bogotá, Barranquilla, and Cali, according to the data. Massacres often arise from gang clashes over the control of criminal economies. 

Featured image: Authorities move the bodies of victims after a massacre in Valle del Cauca. Credit: El País.

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