Bogota, Colombia – “It was terrifying.”
That’s how a resident of Tierralta, in Colombia’s northern division of Cordoba, described a days-long siege imposed earlier this month by one of many nation’s largest paramilitary teams, the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), often known as the Gulf Clan.
From the morning of Could 5 till midnight on Could 9, the armed group enforced a self-declared “armed strike” throughout the nation’s northwest in response to the extradition to the US of its detained former chief Dairo Antonio Usuga, often known as Otoniel.
The Gulf Clan took management of 11 of Colombia’s 32 departments over the four-day span. It imposed strict lockdowns, shuttered native companies, closed off roads, disrupted transportation hyperlinks, and warned residents to remain inside or threat being shot or having their automobiles burned.
A number of cities ran out of primary provides corresponding to meals and gasoline, whereas native hospitals confronted employees shortages. Elsewhere, households have been stranded at transport terminals, unable to get residence because of blocked roads, native media reported.
“You reside with the priority that it may occur once more tomorrow,” stated one other resident of Tierralta, Raul, who additionally requested to make use of a pseudonym due to safety issues. “As a result of the Gulf Clan are displaying that they’ve the facility to create worry,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
Lots of of rights violations
The Gulf Clan’s armed strike passed off three weeks earlier than Colombians will vote for his or her subsequent president, elevating issues about the potential for repeated violence because the inhabitants heads to the polls on Could 29.
“The federal government response to this occasion leaves individuals extra dissatisfied with their skill to precise their political concepts or to take part in democracy. This occasion may be very, very detrimental to the standard of democracy in Colombia and to the native perceptions of safety,” stated Sergio Guzman, director of the Colombia Danger Evaluation consultancy group.
Through the course of the “strike”, the Gulf Clan dedicated not less than 309 acts of violence, in line with the Particular Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP) tribunal, which additionally registered the pressured closure of 26 roads, the destruction of not less than 118 automobiles and the disruption of 54 transport terminals.
A complete of 178 totally different municipalities within the nation have been underneath Gulf Clan management, with 138 of them underneath strict lockdown guidelines.
“They needed to display their navy energy to point out that in lots of areas of the nation they’re the de facto authority and never the state,” stated a JEP consultant, who spoke to Al Jazeera on situation of anonymity in an effort to communicate freely.
The JEP was shaped within the wake of a 2016 peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group and the federal government, with a mandate to research, prosecute and punish these accountable for probably the most severe human rights violations.
Twenty-four civilians have been killed in the course of the “strike”, the JEP additionally stated, and an extra 15 tried murders have been recorded. The Ministry of Defence reported six deaths, whereas NGO Indepaz recorded 18 over the course of the strike.
The JEP official instructed Al Jazeera that three social leaders – a time period utilized in Colombia to explain activists, group representatives and rights defenders – have been amongst these killed.
The Colombian authorities hailed Otoniel’s seize in October of final 12 months and subsequent extradition to the US this month as successful – and a definitive blow to the Gulf Glan’s operations.
Nevertheless, final week’s armed strike proved the group, which native NGO Pares has stated counts as many as 3,260 members, is in no way on shaky floor, analysts stated.
Because the 2016 peace settlement underneath which the FARC demobilised, armed teams such because the Gulf Clan have taken benefit of the facility vacuum in a lot of Colombia’s rural areas. The Gulf Clan operates clandestinely in roughly 109 municipalities throughout the nation, in line with rights group Indepaz, however most predominantly within the north. It controls quite a few drug trafficking routes and cocaine processing labs, and makes use of violence to extort and intimidate populations.
“This occasion underscores how a lot the federal government underestimated the character of the [Gulf Clan’s] menace. That is very difficult for the federal government to by some means spin this in the direction of something however a strong failure of their safety technique,” Guzman instructed Al Jazeera.
Regardless of the strike being introduced early on Could 4, no navy response from the federal government was seen till Could 7, when troops have been deployed to the affected Bolivar, Sucre, Cordoba and Antioquia areas to accompany automobiles and safe the roads. In accordance with Ministry of Defence figures, greater than 19,000 troops have been deployed throughout the realm.
“They search to generate intimidation by remoted occasions and cowardly assaults, which they search to maximise on-line and within the media,” President Ivan Duque instructed reporters final Saturday. “They’re desperately attempting to point out a energy that they don’t have.”
However Guzman stated the Gulf Clan will “probably be emboldened by the shortage of confrontation with the navy”.
“The federal government doesn’t wish to contribute to the ‘we’re again to battle’ narrative, so escalating the scenario couldn’t simply have very important collateral harm issues, however may additionally subtract considerably from the federal government’s narrative that they’re maintaining order within the nation,” he stated.
“The Gulf Clan simply ripped a gap by the narrative by making it tough for the federal government to claim its authority over one-third of its territory.”
Colombia’s Defence Ministry didn’t instantly reply to Al Jazeera’s request for remark.
In the meantime, the JEP consultant described the federal government’s response as “not very environment friendly” whereas residents subjected to the 4 days underneath Gulf Clan management have been equally crucial, saying they felt deserted.
“The state demonstrated that it’s a weak establishment that doesn’t have the capability to confront an armed group that has confirmed to have management of nationwide territory and an excellent energy on the nationwide degree,” stated Jose David Ortega, a resident and human rights defender within the metropolis of Monteria, which was besieged by the group.
Raul, the Tierralta resident, added, “What hurts probably the most is that the state by no means got here out to defend the rights of its residents.”