Today on Physical Security Colombia, the ELN is denying reports that it is behind the recent murders of five civilians Colombia’s Choco department. This latest spate of violence is a clear demonstration that the area’s lucrative criminal economy and strategic position is one that organised crime groups are willing to fight over following the continuing demobilisation of the FARC.
According to Nestor Humberto Martinez, Colombia’s Attorney General, the ELN was responsible for the massacre of the five farmers in the small municipality of Litoral de San Juan on 25th March. The killings left 52 local residents displaced and authorities are citing this as an indication that the rebel army intends to attempt to strengthen its grip over the highly lucrative illicit gold mines and drug trafficking markets that were previously under the control of the FARC militias.
Since the beginning of the year, violence in Choco has led to the displacement of almost 2,000 people. Most of the violence has been as a result of a long-standing feud between ELN and the Urabenos, another one of Colombia’s powerful criminal groups.
There have also been outbreaks of violence in the Bajo Baudo and Medio municipalities. Observers are predicting that Choco is set to experience the country’s highest number of displacements as was the case in 2016. According to United Nations estimated, there were 6,900 people displaced.
These developments are a direct consequence of the demobilisation process that has led to the withdrawal FARC militias from these areas. This has left a vacuum that different armed groups want to fill.
For years, Choco has been a contested area as rival criminal groups attempt to control its lucrative drug producing areas as well as its gold resources. The peace process and government actions have only escalated the situation and given rival groups more incentives to fight to control Choco, which is one of Colombia’s most profitable departments in terms of criminal activities.
Choco also sits in a strategic location. Its border with Panama and its Pacific coastline are the perfect points for transportation of drugs.