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The cartel ramps up police attacks as Colombia’s transfer of power nears

#cartel #ramps #police #attacks #Colombias #transfer #power #nears

A dozen police officers have been killed and dozens more injured by Colombia’s most powerful drug gang, the Gulf Clan, in recent weeks.

The group has been sowing terror in the country since May, when its boss Dario Antonio Usuga, known as “Otoniel”, was extradited to the United States on human trafficking charges.

But those attacks have intensified recently as Colombia nears the August 7 handover of power from conservative President Ivan Duque to leftist former guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro, who has vowed to negotiate with criminal gangs in exchange for a decades-long conflict quit for lighter sanctions.

“They (carry out attacks) with the sole intention of positioning themselves for political negotiations. This is unacceptable,” Defense Minister Diego Molano warned.

According to official figures, 25 police officers have been killed by the Gulf clan since the beginning of the year, almost half of them in the last month. Another 60 officers were injured in dozens of gun and explosive attacks.

And three police officers were killed in separate attacks by suspected gang members just this week, officials said.

“They’re attacking patrols from behind… that’s unacceptable,” Molano said.

Officials say the Gulf clan, made up of former members of right-wing paramilitaries, launched an “armed strike” following Otoniel’s extradition.

According to police, the clan is offering between $1,000 and $5,000 for each murder of a member of the security forces.

It’s a tactic reminiscent of those used by the late cocaine king Pablo Escobar in the 1990s as part of his open war with the “gun plan” against the state.

At least five clan members were killed and a dozen captured in the police counter-offensive.

– Possible surrender –

According to the Center for Conflict Analysis Resources (CERAC), security forces have been attacked by clan members and other groups in 75 attacks since the historic victory of a left-wing candidate in the presidential runoff in June.

The clan “is escalating the violence to present itself in an eventual negotiation as a group that can offer de-escalation,” CERAC director Jorge Restrepo told AFP.

Otoniel had indicated in 2018 that he was ready to turn himself in, and Colombia’s then-President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for signing a peace deal with the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began organizing the process.

But it never came to fruition and the clan continued to deal in cocaine.

When authorities arrested the drug lord in October after months of chasing him through the jungle, Duque declared the end of the Gulf clan, but the cartel has been more active than ever since.

According to independent estimates, the clan can count on 3,000 fighters and collaborators.

A letter began circulating last week in which the clan and other armed groups involved in the cocaine trade said they were ready to declare a ceasefire on August 7 before eventual disarmament.

Authorities have not confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but Foreign Minister-elect Alvaro Leyva said he was aware of the document.

However, collective surrender seems far-fetched “unless there is a sufficiently strong incentive for these groups to surrender … something that would allow them to avoid extradition or keep their assets,” Restrepo said.

Petro has also opened up the possibility of suspending the extradition of drug dealers who “peacefully wind up” their businesses.

However, he has admitted that this is subject to “negotiations with the United States,” which has not commented on the possibility.

Despite nearly five decades of fighting drug trafficking with American authorities, Colombia remains the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the United States its largest user.

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