Bogota, Colombia – “too terrifying.”
That’s how a resident of Tiralta, in Colombia’s northern province of Córdoba, described the days-long siege earlier this month by one of the country’s largest paramilitary groups, the Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AGC), which was also hit by called bay clan.
From the morning of May 5 to midnight on May 9, armed groups carried out what they called an “armed strike” in the north-west of the country in response to extradition to the United States Its detained former leader, Dairo Antonio Usuga, also known as Otoniel.
The Gulf family controlled 11 of Colombia’s 32 departments for four days. It imposed strict lockdowns, shut down local businesses, closed roads, disrupted transport links and warned residents to stay indoors or risk being shot or killed. vehicle burned.
Several towns have run out of basic supplies such as food and gas, while local hospitals are facing staff shortages. Elsewhere, families are stuck in transport hubs, unable to get home due to blocked roads, local media report.
“You’re worried that it will happen again tomorrow,” said Raul, another Tiralta resident, who also asked to use a pseudonym for security reasons. “Because the Gulf family has shown that they are capable of creating fear,” he told Al Jazeera.
Hundreds of rights violations
Armed strike by Gulf tribes comes three weeks before Colombian action vote for their next presidentraising concerns about the potential for repeated violence as people headed to polling places on May 29.
“The government’s response to this incident has made people even more dissatisfied with their ability to express political views or participate in democracy. This incident is very, very harmful to the quality of democracy in Colombia and to local perceptions of security,” said Serrell, director of the Colombian Risk Analysis Advisory Group Gio Guzman said.
During the “strike,” the Gulf tribe reportedly committed at least 309 acts of violence. special jurisdiction for peace (JEP) court, which also recorded the forced closure of 26 roads, the destruction of at least 118 vehicles and the disruption of 54 transport hubs.
A total of 178 different cities in the country are controlled by the Gulf family, 138 of which are subject to strict lockdown regulations.
“They want to show their military might to show that in many parts of the country they are the de facto authority, not the state,” said a JEP representative, speaking with Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. chat.
JEP was established in 2016 Peace Agreement Cooperation between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) groups and the government, whose mission is to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for the most serious human rights violations.
JEP also said 24 civilians were killed during the “strike” and another 15 attempted murders were recorded. The Ministry of Defence reported 6 deaths and the NGO Indepaz recorded 18 deaths during the strike.
The JEP official told Al Jazeera that three social leaders – a term used in Colombia to describe activists, community representatives and rights defenders – were among the victims.
The Colombian government hailed Ottonier’s arrest last October and subsequent extradition to the United States this month as a success — a clear blow to Gulf Gran’s operation.
However, analysts said last week’s armed strike proved that the local NGO Pares, which Pares says has as many as 3,260 members, is far from teetering.
Since the 2016 peace agreement FARC demobilized, Armed groups such as the Gulf tribes have exploited the power vacuum in much of rural Colombia. According to rights group Indepaz, Gulf Clan operates clandestinely in about 109 cities across the country, but mostly in the north.it controls countless Drug Route and cocaine processing laboratories, and use violence to blackmail and intimidate the population.
“This incident highlights how underestimated the government is [Gulf Clan’s] threaten. It’s very complicated for the government to somehow turn it around to anything other than a serious failure of its security strategy,” Guzman told Al Jazeera.
Although the strike was announced earlier on May 4, the government’s military response was not seen until May 7, when troops were deployed to the affected Bolivar, Sucre, Córdoba and Antio Oquia area to accompany vehicles and ensure road safety. According to the Ministry of Defense, more than 19,000 troops are deployed in the region.
“They’re trying to create intimidation through isolated incidents and cowardly attacks, which they’re trying to maximize online and in the media,” President Ivan Duque told reporters on Saturday. “They’re desperately trying to show them. no power.”
But Guzman said the Gulf family “may be emboldened by the lack of confrontation with the military”.
“The government doesn’t want to fuel the ‘we’re back at war’ narrative, so not only would an escalation have a very serious problem of collateral damage, but it could also significantly undercut the government’s claim that they’re maintaining order in the country,” he said.
“The Gulf family has ripped a hole in the narrative by making it difficult for the government to assert its authority over a third of its territory.”
Colombia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, JEP representatives called the government’s response “inefficient,” while four-day residents under the control of the Gulf tribe were similarly critical, saying they felt abandoned.
“The state has shown that it is a weak institution, incapable of confronting an armed group that has proven control of the state’s territory and has a strong presence at the national level,” said Jose David Ortega, a resident and human rights group. ) Say. The defender of the city of Monteria, besieged by the group.
“The most distressing thing is that the state has never stood up to defend the rights of its citizens,” added Tiralta resident Raul.