Sat, Jan 07, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Fear of violence keeps people at home in Colombia

Reuters, BOGOTA

Colombians closed shops and stayed off the roads on Thursday in parts of the north after threats by one of the country’s main drug gangs sparked fear of violent retribution for the killing of the group’s leader, police said.

“We’ve captured 11 people who were involved in distributing pamphlets and intimidating the population into closing their shops and impeding their free movement by road,” Colombian police General Jose Roberto Leon told reporters.

On New Year’s Day, Colombian police killed the leader of the Urabenos drug cartel — one of Colombia’s main gangs, along with Los Rastrojos, Los Paisas and Las Aguilas Negras.

Fear of retribution by the Urabenos stopped normal activities in areas of the departments of Sucre, Cordoba, Choco, Antioquia and Magdalena, police and local media said.

The Andean nation has faced decades of cocaine-fueled bloodshed involving leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces. While violence has fallen since 2002, powerful new criminal bands made up of ex-paramilitary groups have become a main new threat for Colombia.

Many of those areas affected by threats on Thursday were once dominated by right-wing paramilitary groups, some of whom joined criminal gangs after demobilizing earlier this century.

The killing of Urabenos’ leader Juan de Dios Usuga was the latest blow against criminal groups. In November, Colombia and neighboring Venezuela announced the capture of one of the region’s most wanted drug traffickers.

Colombia — for years synonymous with cocaine lords like Pablo Escobar, high-profile kidnappings and leftist guerrillas marauding and attacking towns — turned a corner after launching a US-backed security crackdown more than a decade ago.

Violence dropped dramatically and security in some rural areas improved — the popular security policies were continued by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos when he took power in 2010.

Last year, Colombia launched a new security plan, vowing to break up criminal gangs, minimize drug trafficking and improve security by 2014.

The new drug bands — made up of ex-paramilitaries and mid-level former drug runners — filled a vacuum left by the destruction of old drug cartels in the 1990s and took over much of the drug trade in the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer.

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