It is now clear that Colombia’s war on organised crime is far from over. Anyone who thought that demobilisation of the FARC rebels was the end game needs to think again.
As the FARC continues to withdraw from Colombia’s northeast, the EPL, a narco-guerilla group, is taking over in these large coca-rich areas.
The Catatumbo region is one of the areas that have seen an intensification of EPL’s operations. The government believes that the EPL has a presence in all 11 municipalities in the region, with a total of no less than 213 members around the area. It looks like the aim of the insurgents is to take control of all territories that were previously controlled by FARC.
Colombian authorities continue to use the “Los Pelusos” reference when talking about EPL so as to paint the insurgent group as one of the many criminal syndicates troubling the country. Indeed the EPL is a very powerful organised crime group. It controls most of the coca grown in the Notre de Santander department, which holds a significant part of Colombia’s coca production.
The EPL has established a worldwide network of drug traffickers to purchase the drugs produced in the entire Catatumbo and transport them abroad. The group is under the leadership of Victor Ramon Serrano, who is its finance commander.
On 20th march, it was reported that EPL guerillas killed Victor Manuel Benavides. The head of the country’s investigative police unit had been leading a team in a raid against the insurgent group. The assassination was greeted with condemnation from the country’s president Juan Manuel Santos who ordered the army and the police to double the clamping down of organized crime groups across Colombia.
The EPL is also reported to be expanding its influence into the neighbouring state of Táchira. This is further evidence that the group is not about to back down in its quest to recapture control of all drug smuggling routes.
Whether some of FARC’s dissidents will be tempted to replicate EPL’s model in other coca growing regions remains to be seen.