Is BACRIM just a new name for paramilitaries?
By Grace Livingstone
Should academics accept the Colombian government’s term ‘BACRIM’ (bandas criminales/criminal groups), when the evidence shows that these armed groups are largely made up of former paramilitaries, that they target the same people and that they frequently collude with the state?
There is a danger in using the term BACRIM that we let the Colombian authorities – local and national – off the hook and give the impression that tackling them will be a simple matter of arresting a few crooks. In fact it will be far more complex because these armed groups control territory, are economically powerful and have strong ties to local political elites.
The most recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia (Jan 2012), pointed out that 53% of BACRIM are former paramilitaries, that they target social leaders and they have colluded with local authorities and state security forces.
I have pasted the relevant section below and highlighted some of the key points. The full report can be seen here.
Illegal armed groups that emerged after demobilization of paramilitary organizations
37. In 2011, OHCHR-Colombia noted with concern the continuous expansion of illegal armed groups that emerged after the demobilization of paramilitary organizations. These groups, which are deeply involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities, generally avoid confrontation with security forces and have a devastating impact on the population.
38. The High Commissioner expresses her great concern about the increasing violence caused by these groups, including against social leaders and public officials. The number of massacres and victims attributed to such groups continues to rise, especially in Antioquia and Córdoba. This violence occurs during confrontations between groups or within the same group, occasionally against guerrilla groups, and in several instances during direct attacks against the population. The Police reported that 53 per cent of the members of these groups who have been captured or killed to date were demobilized paramilitaries.
39. These illegal armed groups are present in most departments and have significant capacity to recruit, including children and adolescents, and use criminal structures and
sicarios to support their activities. To carry out their criminal activities, these groups control territory, restrict the freedom of movement of the population, and perform a “social control”, imposing their code of conduct and public sanctions, and “resolving” social conflicts, often brutally. In the case of ERPAC, due to the absence of “opposing” groups and the limited State presence in the area, there is little, if any, outside public awareness of the group’s impact on the population.
40. In February, the Government convened its first National Security Council to address threats posed by these groups. It prioritized inter-institutional coordination in order to advance in the investigation, prosecution and dismantling of their support structures.
41. Combating these groups should be part of an integrated strategy, and not be limited to the use of armed force by the Police and the Military, which must strictly adhere to human rights law in performing their task. The strategy to dismantle these groups should include policies to overcome poverty and marginalization, in particular for children and adolescents, as well as protection measures for local authorities and judicial officials.
42. OHCHR-Colombia continues to be concerned about indications that these groups benefit from the collusion of some local authorities and members of security forces, due primarily to corruption, intimidation and threats. In May, agents of the Technical Investigation Unit and the Attorney General’s Office arrested 37 officials in Nuquí and Bahía Solano, Chocó, including members of the Police, the judicial system and local administrations, for collaborating with these groups.
43. To support their criminal activities, groups have forcibly appropriated or retained properties previously stolen by paramilitary groups and their networks, which may be included in the Government’s land restitution policies. Thus, the increased violence by these groups represents an undeniable risk for people seeking to recover their land and for the sustainability of the overall restitution process. An illustration of this is the killing and threats against leaders and other people involved in land restitution processes in the region of Urabá.
An in-depth of analysis of ‘Colombia’s New Armed Groups written by Markus Schultze Kraft for the International Crisis Group in May 2007 can be found here.
The recently published OHCHR-Colombia report 2012 is available here. The discussion of post-demobilisation groups can be found in paragraphs 86-89.