Drug gangs take aim at police amid coca crackdown

2017-05-27 23:16
Coca plants being dried. (iStock)

Coca plants being dried. (iStock)

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Bogota - With a shot to the chest, Alejandro Caro fell from his motorbike while on patrol in a small town in northern Colombia, another victim of criminal gangs who have killed 11 officers over the past month, mostly in gang-dominated regions.

Caro's mother, Consolacion Jabe, is still stunned by his death. She said the youth had always dreamed of being a policeman and even after being injured earlier, he "survived and kept fighting for his country. ... Now he is definitely gone".

Colombia's largest illegal organisation, the Gulf Clan, has distributed leaflets that call for killing police, and police intelligence officials say the gang members are offering would-be assassins up to $600 per death - nearly triple the nation's monthly minimum wage.

Response to crackdown

Authorities compare the killings to Pablo Escobar's "pistol plan," a strategy the drug kingpin devised in his final years to target officers. Hundreds of policemen were killed in the city of Medellin alone before Escobar was gunned down in 1993.

Some see the killings as a response to a crackdown that has reduced the Gulf Clan's ranks to about 1 500 members - half the number Rr had in 2010, according to the Defence Ministry. Authorities say they have captured 500 Gulf Clan members this year alone, though the group's leader, Dairo Antonio Usuga, remains at large.

"In Colombia, every time a criminal group turns to killing police, they do it as a desperate measure," said Vice President Oscar Naranjo, who battled the nation's drug cartels as national police chief.

The rash of shootings has taken place in pockets around the nation but is concentrated largely in the north and along the border with Panama, a region with a long history of drug trafficking. Most of the 11 were shot while on patrol.

Manual eradication

In response, the military is sending troops to accompany police. Officers are also being encouraged to arrive to work in plainclothes, wear bulletproof vests and travel in pairs.

The killings come at a time of flux in Colombia's drug war.

Coca production in the country surged 18% last year to levels unseen in nearly two decades of US eradication efforts, according to a White House report. Authorities have set a goal of destroying 100 000ha of coca crops this year through a combination of manual eradication and voluntary crop substitution agreements with farmers.

Read more on:    colombia  |  narcotics

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