As the increasingly bloody war between the Mexican government and drug cartels rages in Mexico, a Columbian think tank says armed groups of drug traffickers now are the main source of violence in Columbia.
Armed groups of drug-traffickers have overtaken left-wing rebels as Colombia’s main source of violence, local think tank Indepaz says.
The groups have emerged since the demobilisation of the illegal United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries.
The think tank says they are present in 29 of Colombia’s 32 provinces.
It based its findings on its own field work as well as data from government agencies and the media.
The demobilisation of the AUC in 2006 was one of the main successes of former President Alvaro Uribe, who left office in August.
But Indepaz said a dozen or so new narco-paramilitary groups had quickly replaced the AUC in much of Colombia.
With names like the Black Eagles and Rastrojos, they combine control of cocaine production and smuggling with extreme violence, though with less of a political agenda.
Indepaz estimates they have as many as 13,000 members.
The BBC’s Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says the cocaine trade is still the principal motor of the armed conflict, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the illegal armed groups.
The issues of Mexico and Columbia recently boiled the forefront with some comments of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
For the first time a senior American official has compared the Mexico drug war to an “insurgency” akin to the situation in Colombia in the 1980s, sparking tensions with Mexican officials who reject the comparison.
“[W]e face an increasing threat from a well-organized network, drug-trafficking threat that is, in some cases, morphing into or making common cause with what we would consider an insurgency, in Mexico and in Central America,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. “It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago.”
The BBC reported today that “comparisons have been made before between Colombia of the 1980s and Mexico today with regards to drug-trafficking. But never before has a senior member of the US administration made such an explicit comparison.”
The United States has long expressed concerns about the worsening security situation south of its border as a result of the Mexico drug war, which has cost 28,000 lives since 2006 and long worried US politicians who fear it could migrate north.
Mexico’s security spokesman Alejandro Poire acknowledged that there are “some similarities” to Colombia. But Mr. Poire also said “there’s a big difference between what Colombia faced back then and what we are facing right now,” Euronews reported. He added that America’s demand for illegal drugs is the root cause of Mexico’s problems. He also pointed to US guns trafficked to Mexican drug cartels as a serious concern.
The secretary of state’s speech came as the US is trying to decide if it will increase assistance to Mexico to combat the drug trade, leading to speculation that Washington is pushing to increase its presence in Mexico. Washington’s three-year, $1.4 billion Merida Initiative to combat drug trafficking ends this year.
And President Barack Obama sought to make a distinction between Columbia and Mexico as well:
President Barack Obama said Mexico’s battle against drug cartels isn’t comparable to Colombia’s fight against traffickers 20 years ago.
“Mexico is a large and progressive democracy with a growing economy,” Obama said in an interview with La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles. “As a result, you can’t compare what is happening in Mexico with what happened in Colombia 20 years ago.”
Obama’s remarks contrasted with those made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said yesterday that escalating Mexican violence resembles the war of terror waged against the Colombian government two decades ago.
Clinton said that in some cases Mexican drug cartels are “morphing into, making common cause, with what we would consider an insurgency.” Clinton, who visited in Mexico in March 2009, also praised Mexican President Felipe Calderon for his efforts in combating the narcotics kingpins.
In the past two weeks in northern Mexico, two mayors have been assassinated, a car bomb exploded outside a television station, and 72 migrants were found massacred. In June, a gubernatorial candidate was killed.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.