U.S. Offers to Help Colombia Crack Down Hard on Gangs

Analysts say dealing with gangs is complicated by the fact that many gang members have strong ties to local elites and politicians.

The United States has reportedly agreed to provide intelligence support for Colombia to crack down on criminal gangs. There are about 3,000 members spread across three gangs earning millions of dollars in illegal trade, according to the national police. Some of the members have even been accused of collecting protection money from businessmen.

“The U.S. will help with intelligence,” said President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview with local Caracol radio. “The most effective strategy against these organizations is intelligence.”

The United States has long been a supplier of military resources for Colombia. Thanks largely to the U.S. support, Colombia has successfully disrupted drug cartels operating in Cali and Medellín. The support has also helped Colombia beat back the largest guerrilla groups operating in the nation enough to get one, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to agree to a ceasefire as a final peace accord is sought, while the other, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has entered into peace dialogue.

Some analysts say dealing with gangs is complicated by the fact that many gang members have strong ties to local elites and politicians. Months ago, police captured a congressional staffer in Bogota with the equivalent of nearly $205,000 in cash, believed to belong to one of the criminal gangs.

These groups “are still systematically violating human rights, affecting citizen security, the administration of justice and the construction of peace, and interfering with the restitution of [stolen] land,” UN human rights representative to Colombia Todd Howland said on presenting the agency’s annual report, according to The Guardian.

The Gaitanista Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC), is reportedly one of the most ambitious and ruthless of the gangs. Opposition parties recently released a video showing a rebel member extorting money from a businessman from the Colombian province of Meta.

The Colombian economy, meanwhile, has relatively remained healthy despite a significant drop in oil production, one of the key growth engines of the country. If the country is able to reach a final peace accord with FARC and the ELN, the government could launch land reforms that would further boost the economy.

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