Bogotá (AFP), July 28 – A dozen police officers have been killed and dozens more injured in recent weeks by Colombia’s most powerful drug gang, the Gulf Clan.
The group has been terrorizing the country since May, when its boss Dario Antonio Usuga, known as “Otoniel”, was extradited to the United States to face trafficking charges.
But those attacks have intensified even more recently as Colombia nears the August 7 handover of power from conservative President Ivan Duque to former leftist guerrilla Gustavo Petro, who has pledged to negotiate with criminal gangs in an effort to to end a decades-long conflict in exchange. for lighter penalties.
“They (carry out attacks) for the sole purpose of positioning themselves for political negotiations. This cannot be accepted,” Defense Minister Diego Molano warned.
So far this year, 25 police officers have been killed by the Gulf Clan, nearly half of them in the past month, officials say. Sixty other officers were injured in dozens of attacks using firearms and explosives.
And three police officers were killed this week in separate attacks by suspected gang members, officials say.
“They attack the patrols from behind…this is unacceptable,” Molano said.
Officials say the Gulf Clan, which is made up of former members of the right-wing paramilitaries, launched an “armed strike” following Otoniel’s extradition.
According to the police, the Clan offers between 1,000 and 5,000 dollars for each murder of a member of the security forces.
It’s a tactic reminiscent of that used by the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar in the 1990s as part of his “pistol plan” for open war against the state.
At least five members of the clan were killed and a dozen captured during the police counter-offensive.
– Potential surrender –
Since the historic victory of a left-wing candidate in the June presidential run-off, security forces have been targeted in 75 attacks by members of the Clan and other groups, according to the Resource Center for conflict analysis (CERAC).
The clan “intensifies the violence to present itself, in a possible negotiation, as a group that can propose a de-escalation”, CERAC director Jorge Restrepo told AFP.
Otoniel had indicated in 2018 that he was ready to surrender and then Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for signing a peace accord with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began to organize the process.
But this never materialized and the clan continued to traffic in cocaine.
When authorities captured the drug lord in October after months of hunting through the jungle, Duque declared the end of the Gulf Clan, but the cartel has since been more active than ever.
According to independent estimates, the Clan can count on 3,000 fighters and collaborators.
Last week, a letter began circulating in which the clan and other armed groups involved in cocaine trafficking said they were ready to call for a ceasefire on August 7 before possible disarmament.
Authorities have not confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but Foreign Minister-elect Alvaro Leyva said he was aware of the document.
However, a collective surrender seems far-fetched “unless there is a strong enough incentive for these groups to surrender…something that would allow them to avoid extradition or retain their wealth,” Restrepo said.
Petro also opened the possibility of suspending the extradition of drug traffickers who “peacefully dismantle” their operations.
He admitted, however, that it depended “on a negotiation with the United States”, which did not comment on this possibility.
Despite nearly five decades of fighting drug trafficking alongside US authorities, Colombia remains the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the United States its biggest consumer.