Colombian forces seize arsenal from Gulf Cartel on September 25, release 17 hostages in Antioquia
Reports indicate that the armed forces seized an arsenal and 20 kilos of cocaine from the Gulf Cartel in a rural locale near Zaragoza, in the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia, in the north of the country. The arsenal included an M-60 machine gun, several assault rifles, boxes of ammunition, grenades and mortar shells. Additionally, security services released 17 contractors, employed by a public utility company, who were captured on September 22 and held for ransom. However, on September 27 the cartel released a statement denying involvement in the kidnappings. Further reports indicate clashes between armed groups were recorded in the Ituango locale of Antioquia on September 28, allegedly prompting near 300 civilians to flee the rural area. On September 29 military contingents were reportedly dispatched to pacify the area.
Following the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in early 2017, the Gulf Cartel, formally known as Autodefensas Gaitanistas (AGC), has expanded its areas of influence, recruiting former FARC combatants opposed to the peace process with the government. The cartel remains especially strong in north-eastern parts of the country, including remote locales in Antioquia. In this regard, members from the Gulf Cartel were most likely involved in the clashes reported in Ituango, which are likely the result of ongoing struggles for influence between criminal groups. While the Gulf Cartel tends to avoid direct engagements with government forces, focusing instead in challenging rivals to bolster territorial control, the group could potentially seek retaliation for the abovementioned security operation. That said, under present circumstances such actions would entail considerable risks, prompting the government to expand its offensives against the group. Coupled with security operations against the cartel in recent weeks, the latest developments seemingly suggest that Bogota’s campaign is yielding mild results, at least in terms of numbers of militants arrested or neutralized. Notwithstanding the Gulf Cartel’s reluctance to engage security services in open combat, the group is unlikely to be deterred from strengthening its positions in north-eastern parts of the country. In any event, further clashes and security operations could take place over the coming days.