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LOS URABENOS “PISTOL PLAN” TARGETS LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INCREASES THE GROUP’S INFLUENCE

Updated: Aug 16

Stacey Casas, Jan García, Daniel Ruiz, Juliet Sites, Aina Merino Bello, Marina Damji, Julia Tsarnas, SOUTHCOM

Salomon Montaguth, Editor; Demetrios Giannakaris, Senior Editor

August 14, 2022



Geographical Area | Colombia

Countries Affected | Colombia


As part of Colombian president Gustavo Petro’s campaign, his administration is working towards achieving “Total Peace” in Colombia by negotiating with armed groups such as Clan del Golfo (Los Urabenos).[2] As the new administration transitions into power, the country is seeing more violent attacks against police officers in the northern region of Colombia controlled by Los Urabenos. Increased attacks targeting law enforcement are part of Los Urabenos’ “Pistol Plan” campaign which targets police officers and security forces.[3] The “Pistol Plan” will very likely continue until the group begins negotiations with President Petro’s administration. Targeted arrests of leaders and members of Los Urabenos by law enforcement will likely increase violence in areas controlled by this group, notably in northern Colombia. Retaliatory attacks by Los Urabenos against the government and law enforcement will likely worsen social stability in Colombia with attacks explicitly aimed at the civilian population. If the incoming administration cannot effectively negotiate with Los Urabenos, violence and increased attacks will almost certainly continue to increase political and social issues in Colombia.

Areas of High-Security Concern: The killings of police officers by Los Urabenos will likely destabilize northern Colombia, amplifying the gang’s influence in the territory. The Colombian government will likely continue struggling to provide accessible public services to its citizens, as Los Urabenos will likely continue to slow transportation and business activity within their regions of influence. Los Urabenos will likely continue targeting law enforcement and military members as a part of their “Pistol Plan” to give them leverage during the upcoming negotiations with the government. Leaders of Los Urabenos will likely disagree on how to approach negotiations as the extradition of Dario Antonio Usuga known as “Otoniel,” created a power vacuum in the gang with no clear successor.[4] Internal tensions in Los Urabenos' leadership will likely increase during and after negotiations until Los Urabenos establishes a new leader. If there is a war of succession, violence will very likely increase in the Gulf of Uraba, with a high potential for civilian casualties.

Current Claims: Colombia

Groups Involved in Conflict: Los Urabenos drug group; Colombian government; National Police of Colombia; Colombian businesses; Colombian citizens; Los Rastrojos

Current Conflicts: Coordinated attacks against police officers have left 25 police officers dead in areas controlled by Los Urabenos. The murders are part of the group’s “Pistol Plan,” a campaign targeting police officers and offering monetary rewards between 1,000 and 4,000 USD for each police officer killed. These armed conflicts have caused temporary shutdowns of local businesses in areas under Los Urabenos' control.[5]

Major Capital Industries: Colombian government; Colombian infrastructures

Potential Industry Concerns: The Colombian government will likely continue to be a target of the Los Urabenos attacks. The killings will likely diminish the government’s capability to provide security, territorial control, and police and civilian infrastructure protection. Attacks will likely expand to other sectors that work with the Colombian government, such as the military or prosecutor's office, likely causing more deaths and deteriorating security. If the security crisis does not improve in the short term, the new government will likely assign more resources, such as increased funding to the police to counter attacks by Los Urabenos, very likely reducing needed resources for investment and social projects in these areas.


Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: Los Urabenos’s wave of violence against law enforcement is concentrated in the northern region of Colombia, where the criminal group has a commanding presence.[6] These regions include at least 17 of Colombia’s regions along the Caribbean coast. Their base is centered around the Gulf of Uraba in the regions of Antioquia and Choco. Los Urabenos has also established alliances with international groups such as Los Rastrojos, which control much of the traffic of drugs, weapons, and migration along the Colombian-Venezuelan border.[7] The police killings also affect Colombia’s relations with its international partners like the US. In response to the killings, bilateral relations with the US are enduring strain, with US senators proposing a bill to reinstate sanctions against Colombian guerrilla groups.[8]


Colombian regions with Los Urabenos’ presence[9]


Colombian regions where police murders have taken place[10]

  • Political: Los Urabenos’ recent wave of violence against police officers is the deadliest one since Los Urabenos ceasefire in 2017, and has raised doubts about the outgoing administration’s declarations about the group’s dissolution.[11] In mid-July, a letter signed by Los Urabenos declared the group’s intention to negotiate peace. However, days later, the group denied the letter’s authenticity, leaving President Petro unconvinced of a peaceful solution.[12] Eventually, the Gulf Clan announced its willingness to embrace what the new government has called "total peace" and announced a unilateral ceasefire to begin talks with the new administration.[13] Nevertheless, some analysts have indicated that the Petro administration will have challenges in negotiating with the Clan del Golfo due to the fact that it is a non-political drug trafficking organization.

  • Military: Police killings have increased in the past weeks, impacting the institution's capability to provide rural and urban security. The highly autonomous nature of the “Pistol Plan”, in which any citizen can join the task, presents law enforcement with difficulties in neutralizing those receiving economic incentives in exchange for murdering police officers.[14] Assassinations are being carried out through various modalities, causing law enforcement to allocate more resources for their protection. This is diminishing their ability to respond to other security challenges in the country. Attacks against law enforcement have occurred in response to President Petro's government reform announcement. The proposal includes dismantling the riot squad, removing the police force from the Defense Ministry, and disarming criminal groups like Los Urabenos.[15]

  • Economic: Colombia is one of the countries with the highest inequality in Latin America, with a Gini coefficient amounting to 50.4%, where the top 10% of the country's earners receive almost 40% of the country's income.[16] The poorest regions in Colombia are mainly located in the country’s northern region, where criminal gangs such as Los Urabenos operate. Almost 39% of the Choco region’s citizens live in extreme poverty.[17] Los Urabenos are utilizing this inequality by offering poor citizens between 1,000 and 4,000 USD for each police officer killed.[18] Los Urabenos’ criminal activities also affect the day-to-day activities in the poorest Colombian regions, such as Antioquia, where rail transport has been canceled in at least 33 municipalities. This has left local citizens without public transportation and an economic loss of more than 2.5 billion USD.[19]

  • Social: Los Urabenos' criminal activities are forcing schools to suspend classes, leading to increasing educational insecurity.[20] The Colombian Ombudsman Office, which oversees the legal protection of Colombian civil and human rights, has voiced concerns that citizens residing in the control regions are at a significantly greater risk of violence in the form of extortion, homicide, and illegal trafficking activities.[21] Citizens living in the northern region are raising social concerns regarding safety issues contributing to the gang’s violent activities. Although there is an increase in police and military deployment, criminal groups such as Los Urabenos are still operating in the region. Their presence is increasing the public’s sense of insecurity and decreasing support for the Colombian government.[22]

Predictive Analysis:

  • Who: Los Urabenos will likely continue targeting police officers and members of the Colombian military. Continued violence between Los Urabenos and Colombian authorities will likely threaten public safety and security as civilians will likely be caught in the crossfire. Los Urabenos will very likely continue threatening civilians and local businesses in areas where the group maintains control to exert their influence.

  • What: Los Urabenos will very likely continue attacks through their “Pistol Plan” by using car bombs, improvised explosives, and larger-scale attacks to target military and police installations. The group will likely continue imposing strict curfews on communities, burning vehicles, and blocking highways, likely leaving municipalities inaccessible by road. Continued attacks will likely include government buildings, civilian infrastructure, and other public places in their fight against the Colombian authority.

  • Why: The government’s inability to effectively stop the armed strikes will likely motivate the group to continue their attacks in local communities where it has a strong presence. Los Urabenos will likely continue attacking Colombian authorities as retaliation for the capture of Otoniel and other group leaders. Attacks will likely continue demonstrating the group’s stronghold and influence in the country, likely being used to better position themselves during negotiations with the new administration.

  • When: Threats from Los Urabenos are an ongoing security issue in Colombia that will likely worsen as the new administration transitions into power. Los Urabenos will likely continue retaliating as more leaders, and gang members are captured by authorities, almost certainly worsening violence and political insecurity in Colombia. Increased violence will likely decrease the new administration’s popularity among supporters, likely increasing social unrest.

  • How: As Los Urabenos continue targeted attacks toward police officers, there is a roughly even chance that President Petro's government will decide to eliminate any possibility of dialogue. Drug operations will likely expand across borders from alliances with groups such as Rastrojos, providing Los Urabenos with new territorial expansion. As territorial expansion increases, Los Urabenos' regional influence will likely make counter-efforts by government and law enforcement ineffective at combating their illegal activity and violence.

The SOUTHCOM Team recommends continuing the deployment of the Colombian army into the northern region of Colombia to protect police officers and reduce Los Urabenos’ violent actions. It is recommended that the army helps counter Los Urabenos’ “Pistol Plan” by escorting police officers. This can be done by carrying assault rifles and bulletproof vests, similar to countermeasures conducted for the 2017 “Pistol Plan.”[23] Police officers should also be provided plain clothes and protective gear such as body armor to prevent major injuries and death when targeted by Los Urabenos. It is recommended that law enforcement change their patrols and routines regularly, complete risk assessments on police stations, and prepare for potential attacks on stations by reviewing emergency drills and increasing the security of the buildings by installing metal detectors in the entrances.


The SOUTHCOM Team also recommends that the Colombian government implement a long-term investment plan and social programs in cartel-controlled regions to decrease poverty. This could deter impoverished people from agreeing to target law enforcement for money and reduce gang membership in the area. Fewer attacks on law enforcement and reduced gang activity are likely to weaken the cartel’s hold on the region and prevent future “Pistol Plans.” The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) will continue monitoring this issue for future developments. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will monitor Colombia for an increase in Los Urabenos violence against Colombian police officers and other violent developments in the region.


 

[1] “Alias Otoniel Capturado” by MinDefensa Colombia licensed under CC BY 3.0

[2] Colombia’s New Administration Raises Hopes for ‘Total Peace’, United States Institute of Peace, July 2022, https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/07/colombias-new-administration-raises-hopes-total-peace

[3] With killings, Urabeños Send Colombian Police Message in Blood, InSight Crime, July 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/killing-police-officers-colombia-another-urabenos-strategy/

[4] Does Armed Strike Mark Urabeños' Last Stand Together?, InSight Crime, May 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/does-armed-strike-mark-urabenos-last-stand-together/

[5] With killings, Urabeños Send Colombian Police Message in Blood, InSight Crime, July 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/killing-police-officers-colombia-another-urabenos-strategy/

[6] Ibid

[7] The Urabeños' Venezuela Gamble May Be Failing, Insight Crime, September 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/urabenos-venezuela-turing-point-approaches/

[8] Rubio, Cruz Introduce Bill to Reimpose Terrorism Sanctions on the FARC, Marco Rubio for Senate, July 2022, https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=76EABF5D-DF11-4DBB-BDB1-AD0A8EC4F08F

[9] Ocupar las zonas de las Farc, objetivo de las 'bacrim' detrás del 'plan pistola', by Jan García, via Flourish

[10] With Killings, Urabeños Send Colombia Police Message in Blood, by Jan García, via Flourish

[11] With killings, Urabeños Send Colombian Police Message in Blood, InSight Crime, July 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/killing-police-officers-colombia-another-urabenos-strategy/

[12] With killings, Urabeños Send Colombian Police Message in Blood, InSight Crime, July 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/killing-police-officers-colombia-another-urabenos-strategy/

[13] Con cese el fuego, ‘Clan del Golfo’ se acogería a “paz total”, El Nuevo Siglo, August 2022, https://www.elnuevosiglo.com.co/articulos/08-07-2022-el-clan-de-golfo-anuncio-un-cese-al-fuego (translated by Daniel Ruiz)

[14] Ibid

[15] Petro's call for change in Colombia rattles armed forces, Reuters, June 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/petros-call-change-colombia-rattles-armed-forces-2022-06-14/

[16] Poverty and inequality, Colombia Reports, April 2021, https://colombiareports.com/colombia-poverty-inequality-statistics/

[17] Ibid

[18] With killings, Urabeños Send Colombian Police Message in Blood, InSight Crime, July 2022, https://insightcrime.org/news/killing-police-officers-colombia-another-urabenos-strategy/

[19] En al menos 33 municipios antioqueños están sin transporte por amenazas del Clan del Golfo, RCN Radio, May 2022, https://www.rcnradio.com/colombia/antioquia/en-al-menos-33-municipios-antioquenos-estan-sin-transporte-por-amenazas-del-clan (translated by Jan García)

[20] Colegios privados y Unisucre suspenden clases presenciales tras arremetida del Clan, Caracol Radio, June 2022, https://caracol.com.co/emisora/2022/05/06/sincelejo/1651851894_018587.html (translated by Google)

[21] Defensoría emite alerta por amenazas del Clan del Golfo en municipios de Córdoba, Caracol Radio, July 2022, https://caracol.com.co/emisora/2022/07/08/monteria/1657289652_024972.html (translated by Google)

[22] En el Suroeste antioqueño mermaron los asesinatos pero no las bandas, el Colombiano, January 2022, https://www.elcolombiano.com/antioquia/seguridad/el-suroeste-esta-en-jaque-con-18-bandas-delinquiendo-MN16394796 (translated by Jan García)

[23] Traveling through Uraba during plan pistol, PBI Colombia, May 2017, https://pbicolombia.org/2017/05/31/travelling-through-uraba-during-plan-pistol/

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