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Conflict Exacerbates in Chocó

According to the Bishop of Quibdó: In Chocó (one department of Colombia) 20 out of the 30 municipalities have been declared in a state of “Alert” due to combats between the ELN Guerrilla and neo-paramilitary groups (BACRIM). This is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the department.

As the Colombian Government and the largest guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), seek to implement the revised Peace Accord, levels of violence and human rights abuses soar to unprecedented levels in the rural areas of Colombia. The second largest left-wing guerrilla group in Colombia Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) started Peace Talks on 7 February 2017 with the Colombian Government, however as yet, no bi-lateral ceasefire has been agreed. In addition to the ELN, right-wing neo-paramilitary groups, referred to by the Colombian Government as ‘Criminal Gangs’ (BACRIM by their Spanish acronym) continue to grow and consolidate. These neo-paramilitaries threaten and perpetuate violence against rural communities and their leaders. They confine the movement of communities, are using anti-personnel mines, generating forced displacement all of which is contributing to the humanitarian Crisis in Colombia, and intensifying the situation of poverty and marginalisation of the population of Chocó.

Many communities are being forced to displace due to combats between the ELN and the neo-paramilitary group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) [1]. These combats are part of a fight to control strategic locations for coca cultivation, processing and commercialisation, and mechanised small-scale gold mining, in areas abandoned by the FARC guerrilla when they moved into Transitional Local Zones for Normalisation (ZVTN) to disarm. Despite the Early Warning Alerts and the presence of a Joint Task Force TITAN (Navy, Army and Air Force) based in Choco [3], no effective methods were put in place to help protect the local population and to prevent the displacement. TITAN have a force of over 2,500 troops based in Chocó.

The Bishop of Quibdó, Monseñor Juan Carlos Barreto Barreto, points out that whilst there is a general effort on the part of the Security Forces, the problem in Chocó is very complex. There are very profitable illegal businesses, such as drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining, which finance the illegal groups. However, he also raised the issue that at times, in Choco, there appears to be a lack of commitment by the Security Forces to protect local communities. [2]

According to the Inter-Ethnic Forum (FISCH), the Indigenous Board and the Dioceses’ of Quibdó, Istmina and Apratadó: “In Chocó, as well as in many regions across the country, we have witnessed widespread and systematic control by illegal armed groups … resulting in the insecurity and vulnerability of numerous communities.”

According to Monseñor Barreto it is insufficient to call many of the illegal groups operating in Chocó ‘Criminal Gangs’; as they are in fact neo-paramilitary groups. The Bishop explained in an interview with El Espectador [3], that the Dioceses has information that, in some areas of the country, there are links between the neo-paramilitary groups and the Security Forces. He goes on to say that it is essential that the Security Forces undergo an internal review, and a purification process so that those with links to the neo-paramilitaries are removed from the Security Forces and are no longer able to act in the name of the State.

Recommendations to the Government of Colombia

• To urgently implement measures in Chocó to address the humanitarian and security crisis, and to consult civil society organisations and the Dioceses’ of Quibdó, Istmina and Apratadó on measures that will most effectively increase security for the citizens of Chocó • To immediately implement the Point 3.4 the Security Guarantees’ Chapter of the Peace Accord and ensure that the financial and political structures supporting paramilitarism in Colombia are dismantled; • To undertake an internal review and purification process of the Security Forces; • Initiate an inter-institutional and intersectoral working group to formulate a specific plan to and allocate sufficient resources to address the issues of unemployment, education, health and public services in the marginalised region of Chocó.


[1] The Neo-Paramilitary Groups grew out of the mid-ranking Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) that did not demobilise in 2005. The neo-paramilitary groups are referred to by the Colombian Governemnt as Criminal Gangs (BACRIM)

[2] “En algunas regiones de Chocó falta más compromiso de la Fuerza Pública”: obispo de la Diócesis de Quibdó

[3] Ibid


(C) 2017 ABColombia

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