Colombia: The Urabeños (also known as Clan Úsuga or Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia), including areas of operation, especially in Buenaventura, criminal activities, and state response; whether the Urabeños seek out individuals, particularly Afro-Colombians, who flee Buenaventura (2014-January 2015) [COL105044.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Sources report that the Director of the National Police announced on 25 April 2014 that, to avoid the stigmatization of the inhabitants of the Urabá region, and as requested by the President of Colombia, the Urabeños criminal group would be referred to as Clan Úsuga (Agencia EFE 25 Apr. 2014) or Clan Úsuga David (El Espectador 25 Apr. 2014). Sources further indicate that the Urabeños call themselves the Gaitanist Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) (InSight Crime May 2014, 2; Colombia Reports 17 Sept. 2012).

Sources indicate that the Urabeños group was created in the Urabá region (ibid.; Jane's Intelligence Review 10 Jan. 2013, 1). The Urabá region is located between the departments of Chocó, Antioquia, and Córdoba (Caracol Radio 28 Mar. 2012; Verdad Abierta 25 Mar. 2011). Sources explain that the Urabeños emerged from the demobilization process of the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), which ended in 2006 (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 5; InSight Crime May 2014, 2). Sources report that the AUC was an umbrella paramilitary organization created in 1997 that united several "self-defense" militias to combat guerrillas (Verdad Abierta 20 Aug. 2008; Mapping Militant Organizations 2012). The AUC also engaged in drug trafficking (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 5; InSight Crime n.d.a) and became "arguably the largest drug trafficking organization in the world" (ibid.; Colombia Reports 14 Jan. 2015). A report produced by the Ideas for Peace Foundation (Fundación Ideas para la Paz, FIP), a think tank based in Bogotá that undertakes research on the armed conflict in Colombia, indicates that after the demobilization of the AUC, criminal groups [also known in Colombia as Bandas Criminales or BACRIM (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 1)] emerged to fill the "void" of territorial power (FIP Sept. 2014, 5, 35). The US Department of the Treasury states on its website that the Urabeños group is "the largest and most influential 'BACRIM' ... currently operating in Colombia" (23 July 2014).

Sources report that the criminal group that would become the Urabeños was founded by Vicente Castaño (Semana 7 June 2012; InSight May 2014, 16), a member of the family that founded the paramilitary movement in Colombia; he later refused to participate in the 2006 demobilization of the AUC (ibid.). After Vicente Castaño's assassination in 2007, Daniel Rendón, also known as "Don Mario," became the leader of the Urabeños until April 2009, when he was captured by the police (ibid. 17-18; Verdad Abierta 19 Nov. 2014). Sources indicate that brothers Juan de Dios Úsuga and Dario Antonio Úsuga, also known as "Giovanni" and "Otoniel" respectively, took over the command of the Urabeños (Colombia Reports 17 Sept. 2012; El Espectador 18 Jan. 2014). Sources report that Juan de Dios Úsuga was killed during a police operation in January 2012 in the Urabá region (ibid.; Colombia Reports 17 Sept. 2012). His brother Dario Antonio took over the organization (ibid.; Jane's Intelligence Review 10 Jan. 2013, 10). The Urabeños group is considered the main criminal organization in Colombia with national reach (InSight Crime 2 May 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35; Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 1, 2, 21). Jane's Intelligence Review indicates that criminal gangs are considered a bigger national security threat than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) or the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) (ibid., 4). A paper published by the War College (Escuela Superior de Guerra) [of the Colombian Armed Forces] asserts that [translation] "the BACRIM ... represent a major national security threat" (Colombia Sept. 2012, para. 2.3).

2. Structure

According to a 2013 report by the International Criminal Court,

[t]here is a reasonable basis to believe the Urabeños group is sufficiently organized because, inter alia, its members are well-disciplined; there is a hierarchical structure; effective control is exercised over its members; it exercises control over territory; it has the capacity to recruit and acquire weapons; and it has a significant number of personnel. (ICC Nov. 2013, para. 129, emphasis in original)

A paper published by Soledad Granada [1], Jorge A. Restrepo [2], and Alonso Tobón García [3] in an anthology book on war and violence in Colombia describes the Urabeños' command structure as [translation] "non-linear," with several regional groups that answer to the central command, though they still keep a relative autonomy (Granada et al. 2009, 475). Granada et al. add that these regional groups have [translation] "several visible leaders" and they have common objectives (ibid.). Jeremy McDermott, a former correspondent for the BBC in Colombia and Jane's Intelligence Review in Latin America, is the co-director and co-founder of InSight Crime, a website on organized crime in the Americas; he specializes in "drug trafficking, organized crime and the Colombian civil conflict" (InSight Crime n.d.b). He states in a May 2014 InSight Crime report that the Urabeños group is not a hierarchical criminal organization and that it does not have a unified or centralized chain of command (ibid. May 2014, 2). He explains that the Urabeños group is rather a criminal network composed of [translation] "nodes"; if some of them are neutralized [by authorities], new ones emerge to take over the functions of the dismantled ones (ibid., 3). He indicates that regional groups are financially self-sufficient, and the head of the Urabeños does not have the power to give them orders (ibid., 29). He adds that [translation] "[m]any local collection agencies are also financially self-sufficient, and regional leaders may not have the capacity to impose conditions to some of the most powerful of them" (ibid.). Sources explain that "collection agencies" (oficinas de cobro) are gangs specialized in extortion, kidnapping and selective assassinations, and they provide "services" to drug trafficking organizations (ibid. 2 May 2014c; Terra 4 May 2011). Jane's Intelligence Review elaborates that local groups, for example, engage in their own criminal activities using the Urabeños brand "to instil fear," though they have "little or no contact" with Urabeños' top leaders (4 Apr. 2014, 22). James McDermott also indicates that outside the main network of the Urabeños, there are other drug traffickers who are part of a wider drug trafficking network in Colombia that utilize the services of the Urabeños (InSight Crime May 2014, 13).

McDermott indicates that the Urabeños group is composed of three generations of people who were members of guerrillas, paramilitaries or drug trafficking organizations (ibid., 2, 5). Its members do not have the same military training that former paramilitaries received, as [translation] "most new recruits ... are common criminals with less discipline and training" (ibid., 37). Sources indicate that BACRIM members do not have uniforms, in order to avoid being identified as such (ibid., 13; Granada et al. 2009, 475).

Sources indicate that the Urabeños group is divided into three different levels, as follows:

  • First level: the "board of directors," which is headed by Dario Antonio Úsuga (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 22; InSight Crime May 2014, 12). The board of directors is also composed of other high-ranking commanders and [translation] "highly experienced" drug traffickers (ibid.).
  • Second level: regional commanders, who are responsible for controlling specific territories (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 22; InSight Crime May 2014, 12) and facilitating drug trafficking (ibid.). According to Jeremy McDermott, the Urabeños are organized into eight regional blocs spread throughout Colombia (ibid., 12, 29).
  • Third level: gangs and "collection agencies" that are hired to carry out specific tasks within the organization (ibid.; Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 22).

2.1 Recruitment

Jeremy McDermott explains that [translation] "the key to the Urabeños' expansion is the implementation of agreements and alliances with other BACRIM ... and collection agencies ... some of which keep their own identity and others have been absorbed by the wider Urabeños' franchise" (InSight Crime May 2014, 29). In a January 2013 Jane's Intelligence Review article, he indicates that the Urabeños make pacts with other criminal groups, "then wait for an opportunity to absorb them, often killing [their] leaders" (10 Jan. 2013, 10). In his May 2014 InSight Crime report, he gives an example of one of these pacts: the negotiation of a "cooperation agreement" in Medellín between the Urabeños and the Envigado Collection Agency (Oficina de Envigado) in 2013, which led to that city experiencing the lowest homicide rate in three decades (InSight Crime May 2014, 30). According to McDermott, the Envigado Collection Agency is now part of the Urabeños, and local drug traffickers in Medellín use the services of both groups to carry out their activities (ibid., 31).

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Verdad Abierta, a website that compiles information on the armed conflict in Colombia, also states that the Urabeños increases its membership through the forced recruitment of children, who are offered salaries or gifts and are employed as collectors of coca leaves, watchmen, and informers (Verdad Abierta 16 Aug. 2014). Human Rights Watch corroborates the above by indicating that, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson (Defensoría del Pueblo), the government institution that advocates for the protection of human rights in the country (Colombia n.d.b), children are forcibly recruited by BACRIM to be used as "lookouts" and gunmen (Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 22).

Colombia Reports, a news website on Colombian issues, indicates that, according to Colombian media reports, the Urabeños had between 1,300 and 2,000 combatants in 2012 (17 Sept. 2012). The FIP report indicates that, according to the Office of the Attorney General (Fiscalía General de la Nación), the Urabeños had [translation] "about" 2,300 members by the end of 2013 (FIP Sept. 2014, 35). According to Jane's Intelligence Review, the Urabeños have "around" 3,000 members and "the ability to call on many more subcontractors" (4 Apr. 2014, 5).

2.2 Groups Absorbed by the Urabeños

Sources indicate that the Vichada Heroes (Héroes de Vichada) group [also known as Vichada Liberators or Libertadores de Vichada], a faction of the paramilitary group Popular Revolutionary Anti-communist Army (Ejército Revolucionario Popular Anticomunista, ERPAC) that operates in the Eastern plains, is working with the Urabeños (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 21; InSight Crime 2 May 2014b). In addition to Héroes de Vichada, Jeremy McDermott, in his Jane's Intelligence Review article, identifies the following organizations as having been absorbed or taken over by the Urabeños between 2006 and 2012:

  • Conquerors of San Jorge (Vencedores de San Jorge) and Castaño's Heroes (Héroes de Castaño) in Antioquia and Córdoba;
  • Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) in Antioquia, Córdoba, Bolívar, Cesar, and Norte de Santander;
  • the Traffickers (Los Traquetos) in Córdoba;
  • Los Nevados in Atlántico and La Guajira;
  • Los Paisas in Antioquia;
  • the High Guajira (Alta Guajira) in La Guajira;
  • the Caribbean Collection Agency (Oficina del Caribe) in Atlántico and La Guajira;
  • La Cordillera in Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío; and
  • the ERPAC in Meta, Guaviare, and Vichada (Jane's Intelligence Review 10 Jan. 2013, 3-4).

In his May 2014 InSight Crime report, Jeremy McDermott additionally identifies Los Machos in Valle del Cauca, Renacer in Chocó and the Envigado Collection Agency in the department of Antioquia, including Medellín, as part of the Urabeños (InSight Crime May 2014, 29-30).

According to McDermott's Jane's Intelligence Review article, although the Urabeños have not been able to establish pacts with the FARC at the national or regional levels, they have established "non-aggression pacts" with some FARC fronts in Chocó and Urabá, whereby the FARC would sell cocaine paste to the Urabeños (10 Jan. 2013, 8). In his May 2014 InSight Crime report, he states that the Urabeños have also established agreements with the ELN and a dissident faction of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación, EPL) to have access to cocaine paste (InSight Crime May 2014, 22).

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Areas of Operation

Sources report that the Urabeños have a "significant" presence along the Caribbean coast (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 21) or have "taken control" of the Caribbean coast (Colombia Reports 17 Sept. 2012). Jane's Intelligence Review adds that they have a "significant" presence in Medellín (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 21). Sources report that the Urabeños are also present on the Pacific coast (ibid.; InSight Crime 2 May 2014b). A September 2014 FIP report indicates that, according to the Office of the Attorney General, the Urabeños were present in 140 municipalities in 12 departments at the end of 2013 (Sept. 2014, 35). Sources identify the presence of the Urabeños in the following departments:

Antioquia Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Arauca Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Archipiélago de San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Bogotá, D.C. Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Bolívar Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Caldas Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Cauca Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Cesar Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Chocó Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Córdoba Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Cundinamarca Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
La Guajira Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Magdalena Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Nariño Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Norte de Santander Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Putumayo Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Risaralda Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b
Santander Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35
Sucre Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 36
Valle del Cauca Colombia 4 Nov. 2014b; FIP Sept. 2014, 35

The US Department of the Treasury asserts that the Urabeños have extended their "significant, violent influence throughout the Americas" (23 July 2014). Sources report the presence of the Urabeños in Venezuela (InSight Crime 2 May 2014b; FES Mar. 2013, 6). A March 2013 paper produced by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), "a non-profit German political foundation committed to the advancement of public policy issues" (FES n.d.), states that the Urabeños have links with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel (FES Mar. 2013, 6). Jeremy McDermott has traced "Urabeños emissaries, if not a permanent presence," in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Peru and Spain (InSight Crime 2 May 2014b). The US Department of the Treasury similarly states that the Urabeños have "extended [their] drug trafficking and money laundering operations to Spain" (23 July 2014).

3.1 Buenaventura

According to a 2010 report produced with data from a 2005 census by the National Administrative Statistics Department (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, DANE), the government agency responsible for producing statistics on Colombia (Colombia n.d.c), 88.5 percent of the population in Buenaventura identify themselves as Afro-Colombians (Colombia 14 Sept. 2010, 2).

A report by the National Police on homicide statistics, sent to the Research Directorate by a representative of FIP, indicates that the Buenaventura homicide rate [per 100,000 inhabitants] was 48.6 in 2013 and 38 in 2014 (Colombia n.d.a). The homicide rate for Colombia for the same years was 32.2 and 27.7, respectively (ibid.). Human Rights Watch states that "official homicide rates" in Buenaventura "are not reliable given the high number of 'disappearances'" in that city (Mar. 2014, 5).

Sources indicate that the Buenaventura port is Colombia's biggest maritime port (UN 25 Jan. 2011, para. 27; Jane's Intelligence Review 10 Jan. 2013, 11), and "whichever criminal group controls access to the port facility is in a powerful position" (ibid.). A FIP report similarly states that the port of Buenaventura is the [translation] "highest strategic point in the Pacific for criminal activities" (21 May 2014, 15). According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an independent NGO that provides assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, "[d]ue to its strategic position, its commercial activity and the different river access routes, Buenaventura constitutes a mobility corridor for contraband of goods and the trafficking and micro-trafficking of arms and drugs" (Sept. 2014, 6). Sources indicate that the Urabeños arrived in Buenaventura in 2012 (FIP 21 May 2014, 10-11; Jane's Intelligence Review 10 Jan. 2013, 11). Jane's Intelligence Review states that in the last three months of 2012, the homicide rate doubled as they disputed the city with the gang La Empresa (ibid.). According to the NRC, Buenaventura is "under constant dispute by illegal armed groups," namely the Urabeños and La Empresa (Sept. 2014, 6). A report by Human Rights Watch, based on a visit to Buenaventura in November 2013, notes that it "found a city where entire neighborhoods were dominated by powerful paramilitary successor groups–known as the Urabeños and the Empresa" (Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 2). The report states that these criminal organizations "restrict residents' movements, recruit their children, extort their businesses, and routinely engage in horrific acts of violence against anyone who defies their will" (ibid.).

3.1.1 "Chop-up Houses"

Sources report the existence of "chop-up houses" (casas de pique) where the Urabeños and La Empresa torture, slaughter, and dismember their victims (ibid.; El País 8 Oct. 2013; Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 2; RFI 9 Sept. 2014), often while they are alive (ibid.; Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 2). Sources indicate that people know where the "chop-up houses" are located but do not file complaints out of fear of reprisals (ibid., 23; El Espectador 5 Mar. 2014). Sources report that local authorities tried to deny the existence of these "houses" (El País 8 Oct. 2013; El Espectador 11 Oct. 2014). El Espectador, a Bogotá-based national newspaper, reports that local authorities demanded that the newspaper [translation] "rectify" the information it had published on the "chop-up houses" (ibid.). However, sources report that the Office of the Attorney General eventually acknowledged the existence of these places (ibid.; RFI 9 Sept. 2014).

3.1.2 Sexual Violence

The NRC states that sexual violence by BACRIM in Buenaventura is "an open secret," though nobody talks about it (NRC Sept. 2014, 7). The NRC notes that violence against women is "a form of control, used by illegal armed groups to demonstrate their superiority, and above all is used as a strategy for the appropriation of territory" (ibid.). Amnesty International (AI) gives the example of paramilitary groups, who sexually abuse female human rights defenders as a way to "punish and silence them" (AI Feb. 2013, 6). AI adds that the majority of these victims do not file complaints, and those who do [translation] "notice a lack of progress in the criminal investigation of their cases" (ibid.). Verdad Abierta also reports that underage girls are sexually abused by the Urabeños and that no one [transaltion] "has dared" to file complaints out of fear of reprisals (16 Aug. 2014).

3.1.3 Displacement

Human Rights Watch states that authorities "have not provided adequate assistance" to victims of forced displacement in the city (Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 5). According to the same source, displacement rates "increased from an average of 9,500 people per year between 2004 and 2008, to nearly 12,000 per year between 2009 and 2013" (ibid.). The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicates that between October and November 2012, "more than 5,000" were displaced in Buenaventura (UN 6 Nov. 2013). It also reports that "at least" 2,516 people from 629 families from communes 3 and 4 in Buenaventura were displaced in November 2013 to the local headquarters of Caritas Colombia due to threats by BACRIM and "repeated" armed confrontations between these criminal groups (ibid.). The NRC notes that, from January to November 2013, 1,303 families are reported to have been displaced in the rural and urban areas of Buenaventura (Sept. 2014, 6). Additional information on displacement could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.1.4 "Invisible Borders"

Sources report the presence of "invisible borders" in Buenaventura (Caracol Radio 5 Mar. 2014; Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 18). Human Rights Watch indicates that BACRIM groups

closely monitor people who enter certain streets or neighbourhoods where they are active. If a person enters a neighbourhood who is not known by the group controlling it - or is known to come from an area dominated by a rival group - he risks being suspected of links to the enemy, and either killed or disappeared. (ibid.)

La Silla Vacía, a news website on politics in Colombia, reports that in [translation] "a lot of" neighbourhoods in Buenaventura, "there are invisible borders," and people who inadvertently cross them risk being killed (12 Mar. 2014). Caracol Radio, a news station based in Bogotá, reports that, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson of Colombia, children and adolescents cannot register in school La Gabriela, located in the centre of Buenaventura, and parents cannot pick their children up, out of fear of being killed if they cross an [translation] "invisible border" (5 Mar. 2014).

3.1.5 Police Presence

An article in Semana, a Colombian magazine published weekly, reports that Buenaventura is one of the cities most guarded by the security forces in Colombia (11 Apr. 2014). Human Rights Watch indicates that, according to the Commander of the police in Buenaventura, there were about 900 police officers and 500 navy personnel in Buenaventura in November 2013, and the National Police sent an additional 650 police officers in mid-February 2014 (Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 24). However, Human Rights Watch also reports that, according to Buenaventura residents "from parts of the city where the Empresa or Urabeños were strong," the presence of police in their neighbourhoods was "scarce" (ibid., 4). The NRC also notes that the presence of the state has a "low level of effectiveness," and the inhabitants "suffer the highest vulnerability rates in the country" (Sept. 2014, 6). In November 2013, Human Rights Watch interviewed "several" residents who had witnessed members of the police meeting with members of criminal groups, including the Urabeños (Human Rights Watch Mar. 2014, 4). In March 2014, the organization indicated that, according to the police, more than 250 BACRIM members had been arrested in Buenaventura since January 2012 (ibid.). The report further notes that more than 2,000 investigations into cases of disappearances and forced displacement had been opened, though none had led to convictions (ibid., 4-5). The National News Agency (Agencia Nacional de Noticias, Colprensa), a national news feed agency to newspapers including El Colombiano, El País, and El Universal (Colprensa n.d.), quotes the head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol (Dirección de Investigación Criminal e Interpol, DIJIN) of the National Police as saying that 481 members of BACRIM were captured in Buenaventura between January and August 2014 (30 Aug. 2014).

4. Activities

Jeremy McDermott states that "[c]ocaine is no longer the sole, or perhaps even the primary element of the Urabeños' criminal portfolio," as they also engage in gold mining, extortion, human trafficking, gambling businesses, and prostitution (InSight Crime 2 May 2014a). Sources indicate that BACRIM, including the Urabeños, are also responsible for homicides, extortions, forced recruitment, drug trafficking, "illegal" mining (Colombia 4 Nov. 2014a; Prieto 2012, 181), massacres, forced displacement, and smuggling (ibid.). The US Department of the Treasury notes that the Urabeños also engage in arms trafficking and money laundering (23 July 2014).

According to Jane's Intelligence Review, the Urabeños, unlike the guerrillas, do not engage in sabotaging Colombia's infrastructure or attacking police or military stations (Jane's Intelligence Review 4 Apr. 2014, 5). However, sources report that after the killing of Juan de Dios Úsuga, one of the Urabeños leaders, the organization retaliated by declaring an "'armed strike'" in parts of the departments of Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba, Magdalena, Sucre (ibid.; FIP Jan. 2013, 26). FIP indicates that the "armed strike" also took place in Bolívar (ibid.). Jane's Intelligence Review indicates that the "armed strike" also took place in Cesar (4 Apr. 2014, 5). According to sources, the Urabeños shut down economic activity and public transport in the region (Colombia Reports 17 Sept. 2012; FIP Jan. 2013, 26), thus demonstrating their power in that area (ibid.). Verdad Abierta reported in August 2014 that in Achí, department of Bolívar, the Urabeños had been prohibiting the distribution of food, forcibly shutting down stores, imposing a curfew on its inhabitants, controlling the duration of telephone calls, and extorting the population, leaving at least 3,000 people at risk of being displaced (Verdad Abierta 16 Aug. 2014). According to an informant of Verdad Abierta, the Urabeños established themselves in the region to control drug trafficking (ibid.). Corroboration could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The Office of the Ombudsperson of Colombia indicates that clashes between guerrillas and the Urabeños in Medio Baudó and Alto Baudó [department of Chocó] during the first semester of 2014 created the [translation] "mass displacement" of 3,300 people and the "confinement" of 1,900 people from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities (Colombia 4 Nov. 2014a). The Office of the Ombudsperson further notes that 30 neighbourhoods in Cali are in a situation of [translation] "vulnerability" after the presence of the Urabeños has been detected (ibid.). According to a 2011 report of the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, the fact that Afro-Colombians inhabit "the most fertile and resource rich" lands in Colombia and the undertaking of "megaprojects" by private and public interests on their lands have caused "brutal forced displacement, mass violence and selected killings" against them (UN 25 Jan. 2011, para. 67-68). Corroboration could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5. State Response

Colombia Reports indicates that one of the heads of the Urabeños, known as "Mi sangre" ("my blood") [Henry de Jesús López (El Espectador 18 Jan. 2014)], was captured in Argentina in October 2012; he was running the group's international drug contacts (Colombia Reports 17 Sept. 2012). El Espectador reports that authorities arrested several members of the Úsuga family, including John Fernando Giraldo Úsuga, also known as "Simón," and his brother Juan Diego, in May 2012 in Medellín; Alexander Montoya Úsuga, also known as "Flaco," who was commander of the Urabeños in the municipality of Turbo, in July 2012; Luis Fernando Úsuga Arango, also known as "H20", "Eleno," or "Ferney" in April 2013; Arley Úsuga Torres, also known as "Cero Siete," who was in charge of the criminal group's finances, in December 2013; and Dario Antonio Úsuga's sister, Nini Johana, in January 2014 (18 Jan. 2014). On 18 March 2014, sources reported that the authorities had launched an operation against the Urabeños in the departments of Antioquia and Chocó as well as on the Caribbean coast and that they had arrested 17 people who worked for the criminal group, including three army members (Terra 18 Mar. 2014; El Espectador 18 Mar. 2014). These army members reportedly assisted the Urabeños in drug trafficking activities in the Urabá gulf (ibid.; Terra 18 Mar. 2014). Sources report that in September 2014, the police arrested Daniel Anaya Martínez, also known as "Tierra," who was fourth-in-command of the Urabeños, along with seven (Colombia Reports 11 Sept. 2014) or nine (El Tiempo 8 Sept. 2014) gang members, and killed two other members (Colombia Reports 11 Sept. 2014; El Tiempo8 Sept. 2014). The Bogotá-based newspaper El Tiempo adds that Anaya Martínez was the head of drug trafficking for the Urabeños (ibid.). Colombia Reports indicates that the Urabeños "carried out a series of indiscriminate attacks against several on-duty policemen" in northern Antioquia after the police operation (Colombia Reports 11 Sept. 2014). According to an article by Semana and news agency Agencia EFE, Chilean authorities detained Fanny Grueso Bonilla, also known as "La Chily," in September 2014; she is accused of being part of the Urabeños and of running a "chop-up house" in Buenaventura (Semana and Agencia EFE 25 Sept. 2014). Sources report that the Spanish police captured Víctor Alfonso Mosquera Pérez, also known as "Palomo" [and "Negro Mosquero" or "Monpirri" (El Tiempo 15 Dec. 2014)], on 12 December 2014 in Madrid (InSight Crime 18 Dec. 2014; Agencia EFE and El Colombiano 16 Dec. 2014). Authorities indicate that Mosquera Pérez is the leader of the Urabeños' hit squad (ibid.; InSight Crime 18 Dec. 2014). He was sent to Europe by the Urabeños to expand the gang's operations on the continent (ibid.; Agencia EFE and El Colombiano 16 Dec. 2014; El Tiempo 15 Dec. 2014). Sources say he was also sent to Europe to establish a hit squad to [translation] "settle scores" related to drug trafficking (AFP 16 Dec. 2014; El Espectador 12 Dec. 2014). Sources report that, as a result of Operation Visillo, in January 2015 the Spanish police detained 19 people who were smuggling 1,500 kilos of cocaine into Spain (La Provincia 17 Jan. 2015; Faro de Vigo 17 Jan. 2015). The detained people were part of a Galicia drug trafficking ring that operated with the Urabeños (ibid.; La Provincia 17 Jan. 2015).

Sources indicate that while the authorities have captured many gang members, including Urabeños, they have failed to curb the power of the criminal groups (Human Rights Watch Sept. 2013, 16; El Espectador 5 Mar. 2014). Jeremy McDermott states that although the Urabeños do not have links with the military as the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC) once did, they have enough power to corrupt members of the security forces and the judiciary at the local and regional levels (InSight Crime 2 May 2014b). Similarly, AI notes that criminal gangs commit "serious human rights violations, sometimes committed with the collusion or acquiescence of the security forces" (Feb. 2013, 7).

Agencia EFE reports that a human rights activist who was part of the movement of victims of the armed conflict in the department of Quindío was killed in September 2014 after being threatened by the Urabeños (Agencia EFE 25 Sept. 2014). According to the Ombudsperson of the department of Quindío, several human rights activists belonging to the same movement have been threatened, and the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) has not provided them with protection (ibid.). Agencia EFE quotes the Ombudsperson as saying that [translation] "it is normal at the UNP to take 'a long time' to provide protection to threatened people" (ibid.). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a representative of Human Rights Watch who specializes in Colombia indicated that the "vast majority" of victims of criminal groups do not receive protection (Human Rights Watch 27 Jan. 2015). The representative explained that protection measures do not address the source of the threats, as authorities seldom investigate in this regard (ibid.).

The Human Rights Watch representative indicated that there have been documented cases of people being tracked down by the Urabeños after fleeing to other parts of the country (ibid.). A report by Human Rights Watch tells the story of Fernando Enamorado, a representative of Tierra y Vida, an NGO that works with internally displaced people to help them reclaim their lands, who fled from Urabá to Medellín in April 2010 after being threatened by the Urabeños (ibid. Sept. 2013, 66-67). The report indicates that Enamorado escaped an assassination attempt on 22 October 2010 outside Medellín, as the unidentified gunman's gun did not go off (ibid.). The same source adds that Enamorado was "nearly killed" three days later when he was shot three times by an unidentified gunman in Apartadó, in the region of Urabá (ibid.). The report further indicates that after the 25 October 2010 attack, the Urabeños set a US$26,000 bounty on Enamorado; according to the Office of the Attorney General, as of April 2013, the investigation against the attempted murder was "only at a preliminary stage" (ibid.). Sources report that David de Jesús Góez, a land restitution activist, was killed in March 2011 in Medellín (Colombia Reports 24 Mar. 2011; El Colombiano 16 Apr. 2011). Góez was displaced in 2009 from the Urabá region to Medellín after being threatened by the paramilitaries (ibid.; Colombia Reports 24 Mar. 2011). According to El Colombiano, a Medellín-based newspaper, Góez said he was threatened by the Urabeños and requested protection from authorities in the Urabá region (El Colombiano 16 Apr. 2011). However, according to the same source, authorities did not provide protection after a [translation] "threat analysis" deemed Góez's case to be of an [translation] "'ordinary risk'" level (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] Soledad Granada is an associate researcher at the Conflict Analysis Resource Centre (CERAC) (Restrepo and Aponte 2009, 598). CERAC is an NGO that undertakes research on armed conflicts and studies their impact "on the socioeconomic development of states and communities" (CERAC n.d.).

[2] Jorge A. Restrepo is a professor at the Economics Department at the Universidad Javeriana and is the director of CERAC (Restrepo and Aponte 2009, 599).

[3] Alonso Tobón García is a research assistant at the CERAC (ibid., 600).

References

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_____. 25 April 2014. "Santos obliga a funcionarios a cambiar nombre al grupo paramilitar Urabeños; Colombia Violencia." (Factiva)

Agencia EFE and El Colombiano. 16 December 2014. "Jefe de 'los Urabeños' fue capturado en urbanización donde viven estrellas del Real Madrid." [Accessed 19 Jan. 2015]

Amnesty International (AI). February 2013. Colombia: Impunity Perpetuates Ongoing Human Rights Violation. Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, April-May 2013. (AMR 23/005/2013) [Accessed 3 Feb. 2015]

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_____. 28 March 2012. "Grave panorama para reclamantes de tierras en Urabá, Antioquia, Córdoba y Chocó." [Accessed 26 Jan. 2015]

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_____. 2 May 2014c. Jeremy McDermott. "The BACRIM and Their Position in Colombia's Underworld." [Accessed 4 Feb. 2015]

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_____. 16 August 2014. "Tres mil personas sitiadas por 'los Urabeños' en Achí, Bolívar." [Accessed 20 Jan. 2015]

_____. 25 March 2011. "El 'Para-Estado' del Urabá." [Accessed 26 Jan. 2015]

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Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: A representative of the Washington Office on Latin America could not provide information within the time constraints of this Response.

A professor of political science at the Universidad de los Andes could not provide information.

Attempts to contact a professor of political science at the University of Miami were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Alba TV; British Broadcasting Corporation; Brookings Institution; Child Soldiers International; Colombia – Consejo de Estado, Corte Constitucional, Fiscalía General de la Nación, Ministerio de Defensa Nacional, Ministerio del Interior, Policía Nacional de Colombia, Procuraduría General de la Nación; ecoi.net; El Colombiano; El Universal; Institute for War and Peace Reporting; International Crisis Group; International Federation for Human Rights; La Patria; Organization of American States; UN – UNICEF; United States – Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State; Washington Office on Latin America.