Gangster Rule

Forrest Hylton

Since I last wrote about the trials of Víctor Peña, his doctor’s son has died of the injuries inflicted on him by the narco-paramilitaries who followed through on their threats of what would happen to Dr Z’s family if he didn’t turn ‘el indígena Víctor’ over to them. This desperate situation was created by the nightmarish configuration of gangster rule in Colombia, in part a consequence of US counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics policies under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

The main narco-paramilitary confederation, the AGC (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia), controls most of the territory around Medellín. Dr Z’s tormentors in Rionegro are probably working under that umbrella. The men who have beaten Víctor several times since 2020 – and displaced him at least half a dozen – belong to one of the five sub-organisations that make up Medellín’s own narco-paramilitary mafia confederation, the Oficina de Envigado, which is far from united.

Those who murdered two of Víctor’s brothers, his sister-in-law and his compañera probably work for the AGC, though they may be part of another more local outfit, Los Caparracos. The two groups grew out of different blocs of the national paramilitary confederation, the AUC, which ‘demobilised’ under President Álvaro Uribe between 2002 and 2006.

In 2008, Uribe extradited the top AUC chieftains to the US to be tried on cocaine charges, rather than for the atrocities they committed with the aid of the Colombian army, police, intelligence services and politicians. Last week, one of the most important AUC leaders, Salvatore Mancuso, testified from his jail cell in Georgia that he and his people murdered Zenú leaders in Córdoba, where Víctor is from, on orders from the army and police. He named names. Uribe, who owns several properties in Rionegro and the surrounding area, not to mention Córdoba, is currently under investigation for bribery and witness tampering.

It turns out, as was predictable at the time of ‘demobilisation’, that the financial networks, arms and cocaine corridors, money-laundering businesses, jungle labs, storage and distribution hubs, air strips and land transport routes, luxury haciendas, urban real estate, campaign finance, credit and debt markets, ghetto labour and housing markets, not to mention infiltration of the military, police and intelligence services, were far too lucrative and well-protected to end.

Instead, they grew to new heights. Thanks in part to Mexican organisations from Jalisco, Sinaloa and Michoacán, cocaine production and export have continued to break records, while the trade in synthetic drugs and opiates is also booming. The AGC or local narco-paramilitary groups like the Caparracos rule most of Colombia, especially its peripheries and frontiers, where, if they’re not fighting against ex-FARC splinter groups, they’re co-operating with them in the drug business. The same goes for the ELN guerrillas.

Since being elected president last year, Gustavo Petro has made little headway in his attempts at dealing with the AGC (and arguably even less with the remaining guerrilla groups). He has staked his presidency on the possibility of peace and shown remarkable political will in pursuing it, but his chances for success look dim.

Dr Z, meanwhile, unable to begin mourning, or to help his wife and daughter, is trying to pawn his remaining possessions to pay his son’s bills at the hospital where he used to work (they gave him a discount, from just over 1.98 million pesos to 1.73 million pesos) and to pay for the burial (996,400 pesos). The only loans he can get are operated by narco-paramilitaries – not the same ones who are threatening him – who charge 35 per cent interest. He is in grave danger until he can rejoin Víctor in hiding. The total he owes is equivalent to a little over $600, and the cost of psychological care for his wife and daughter is more than $200. My fee for this piece will cover a fraction of the expense. As before, anyone who wishes to help should email

Read Forrest Hylton’s next post about Víctor Peña here. The first one is here.