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In early May, much of northern Colombia was locked down due to an “armed strike” declared by the Clan del Golfo – a powerful local drug cartel – in retaliation for the extradition of its leader. For several days, the inhabitants were not allowed to move or work, vehicles were set on fire and assassinations were committed. The “strike” is over, but for the inhabitants, this does not mean the end of the violence of this group.
On May 4, the leader of the Clan del Golfo, Dairo Antonio Usuga, alias “Otoniel”, was extradited to the United States. Considered the biggest Colombian drug trafficker in recent years, he was arrested in October 2021.
In retaliation, on May 5, his group organized an “armed strike” that blocked off a large part of northern Colombia: residents were prohibited from leaving their homes to move or work, vehicles were burned, roads were blocked, the acronym AGC (for Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, the other name of the Clan del Golfo) was painted in different places… In addition, assassinations of civilians, police and soldiers have been listed: at least 14 according to the NGO Indepaz, 24 according to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
Deserted streets in Santiago de Tolú, in the department of Sucre (geolocation here) : “Looking for something to eat, how hungry am I”, wrote this Internet user, visibly on vacation in the area, on the 5th may 2022. The next day he published a similar videoshot at the same place.
Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) dejan mensajes a las afueras del palacio municipal de #Corozal
— Corozal Noticias (@corozalnoticia) May 5, 2022
The AGC logo, visible on this vehicle, near the town hall of Corozal, in the department of Sucre, during the “armed strike” (geolocation here).
In all, around a hundred municipalities were affected – including large cities like Montería – in around ten departments. In most places the “strike” ended four days later.
Assessment of the “armed strike” of the Clan del Golfo, carried out by the NGO Indepaz.
“If people don’t obey the rules of the Clan del Golfo, they can be beaten or killed”
Alberto (pseudonym) works in a village in the department of Bolívar. He wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, like all of the people interviewed by our editorial staff.
In the village, people remained hidden in their homes during the four days of “armed strike”. We felt that they were afraid. Me, I just went out once, to look for bread: I had to knock on several doors, because all the shops were closed, and I only met two or three people. Luckily, I had food supplies at home. On the other hand, my gas reserves for cooking ran out on the fourth day.
On May 5, several motorcycles were burned, and Clan del Golfo men also stopped a gentleman’s vehicle, which was carrying passengers, outside the village. They took them down, then they burned the vehicle and pulled in his direction. I assume that the driver was unaware of the “armed strike” because otherwise he would not have taken the risk to move.
Members of the Clan del Golfo set fire to this vehicle and fired at it, after driving down its occupants, in the south of Barranco de Loba, in the department of Bolívar, on 5 may 2022.
In the village, the police did nothing during the “strike”. But there aren’t many of them, and I think they have ties to the Clan del Golfo.
Many social leaders have thus criticized the lack of reaction from the State in the areas affected by the “armed strike”. The Colombian President, Iván Duque, notably waited until May 9 to organize a security council on the subject. The government ensures having yet arrested a hundred men, deployed more than 19,000 soldiers and organized convoys to secure the roads during the “strike”.
Since the end of the “strike”, everything has returned to normal. But the men of the Clan del Golfo remain present in the area: some are even from the village. Here, those who own gas stations or large farms must pay them a monthly “contribution”, which can represent more than a million pesos [soit plus de 235 euros, l’équivalent du salaire minimum colombien, NDLR]. Peasants who grow and process coca are also forced to sell their products to the Clan del Golfo, at low prices. If people don’t obey these rules, they can be beaten or killed. Before the “strike”, people accused of selling stolen cattle were even killed.
A Sotrauraba company bus on fire, in the department of Antioquia, on May 5 2022.
An almost deserted road in the Dabeiba area, in the department of Antioquia, at the start of the “armed strike”. Video shot by a person working in the area.
“The violence will never stop until the state invests in social matters”
Andres (pseudonym) lives in the Monts de María sub-region, in the department of Sucre.
The Clan del Golfo locked up the inhabitants of an entire region for several days: I would never have thought that this would have been possible! That said, violence has existed for years in the Monts de María area. For example, in the past there was the Chengue Massacreassassinations…
The violence will never stop until the state invests in social matters. Here, many young people are unemployed, so they are ready to accept any job, if it allows them to bring food home. In addition, the schools are abandoned: the students are sitting on the floor, there are no markers… In the health centers, you have to buy everything yourself if you want to be treated: syringes, aspirin… In addition, many roads are dirt and become impassable when it rains. So when crops cannot be sold, they are lost.
Other “armed strikes” have already been decreed in Colombia in the past, in particular by the ELN guerrillas last February. But analysts agree that they had never been as massive and violent as that organized by the Clan of Golfo, while the Colombian president had declared, last October, that the arrest of “Otoniel” “mark[uait] the end” of this cartel.