It’s hard to believe anyone would even try to map out the tangled, shifting patchwork of violent groups active in “post-conflict” Colombia’s Pacific coastal region. But the Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), a Bogotá-based think tank, accepted the challenge.
This map, from an April 10 FIP report on rearmed FARC “dissident” groups, depicts the department of Nariño in Colombia’s southwest corner, along the border with Ecuador. Nariño and neighboring Esmeraldas, Ecuador, appear to be the busiest cocaine trafficking corridor in South America right now. Colombia’s Navy has been cited as saying that 60 percent of Colombia’s cocaine comes through here (though this sounds a bit high). It is here where the dissident group headed by alias “Guacho” (denoted on the map as “FOS”) has been causing so much mayhem.
This map, from the same FIP report, zooms in on the downtown of Tumaco, Nariño’s principal port city. In just the first 85 days of 2018, Tumaco’s urban core (population perhaps 125,000) saw 67 homicides, an annualized homicide rate well over 200 per 100,000 residents. This map of who purportedly controls which neighborhoods—with even a spot for Mexican intermediaries! (orange)—shows why.
This one, from a July 2017 report, shows Chocó department, Colombia’s poorest, in the country’s northwest corner. Here, the ELN and the Urabeños organized crime group have been fighting bitter territorial battles, and FARC dissident bands were just emerging.
On a Twitter DM with one of these maps’ creators, I joked that they’re probably already out of date. The reply was “some parts are.” In the absence of government, territorial control over illegal economies shifts constantly, with every murder of a low-level leader, every mass displacement, every fragmentation of a criminal group. This makes mapping almost impossible. It also makes living there almost impossible: the population, terrified and unprotected, suffers. Residents quietly pay extortion demands and lose children to recruitment—or they leave for somewhere else, abandoning their land, much of it Afro-Colombian community councils’ shared landholdings.
Congratulations to the team at Fundación Ideas para la Paz for putting these maps together. What a tragedy that the government has shown such a lack of urgency in filling the post-conflict territorial vacuum in a part of the country that’s crucial for both humanitarian and counter-drug priorities.