Colombia’s National Police face killing spree by Gulf Clan

Minister of Defense Diego Molano attends a memorial ceremony for slain police officers.

A spate of horrific shootings in which members of Colombia’s National Police are being killed by snipers and motorized hitmen has claimed the lives of six agents over the last week, the most recent killings taking place on Tuesday, when 25-year-old Leidy Tatiana Sánchez was murdered in the rural township of San Pablo, in the south of Bolívar department. Luisa Fernanda Zuleta, age 27, died Sunday from wounds sustained during an ambush in Yarumal, Antioquia, and was expecting her first child.

Luisa Fernanda Zuleta was killed during an ambush in Yarumal, Antioquia.

The deaths of four men, and two women, all under the age of thirty, and members of the force working in regions where the illegal armed group Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan) operates, forced Colombia’s Armed Forces to place soldiers on high alert to protect civilians and members of the National Police. This year 61 members of the police force have lost their lives, 34 in the line of duty.

The systematic killing spree is in retaliation by the largest drugs cartel in the country, which controls large swathes of territory along Colombia’s northern coast, to the recent extradition of Gulf Clan boss Darío Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel.” The cartel has offered cash payments between COP$5 million (US$1,100) and COP$20 million (US$4,500), for every police officer killed.

Dubbed Plan Pistola – or in English – pistol plan, the criminal organization is also responsible for a terror campaign that began hours after “Otoniel” was flown to the U.S on May 4, 2022, to face charges for trafficking more than 180 tonnes of cocaine per year. The 50-year-old crime boss is also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of Colombia’s security forces.

The Gulf Clan ordered an “armed strike” in several departments along the Caribbean coast, among them Chocó, Bolívar, Sucre, Córdoba, Cesar and northern Antioquia that resulted in road blockades, torching of inter-municipal buses and food trucks, and attacks against commercial establishments, including supermarkets that defied their order to stay closed for 72 hours.

The targeted murders of members of the Colombian police recall a similar order by the Medellín cartel’s Pablo Escobar, during the late 1980s and early 1990s when he paid hitmen – sicarios – for every officer killed. For the National Police’s chief of intelligence at DIJIN and Interpol, Mayor General Fernando Murillo, the similarities between the Medellín cartel’s modus operandi and the Gulf Clan’s ransom money, is all too evident.

“It is an unfortunate fact that the recent killings of our soldiers and policemen can be compared to the time of Pablo Escobar, but it is real,” he said. The senior law enforcement official also confirmed that the Gulf Clan and ELN guerrilla “have put the country on high alert,” and a security threat that expands to 12 departments.

The increase in rural violence prompted the United Nations to issue a warning to the incoming government of Gustavo Petro with a report that outlines a series of urgent recommendations. “The State must protect the population from violence, and do so in a manner respecting international human rights law. This is why we are urging the Government to adopt public policies to efficiently respond to and prevent further violence, in compliance with Colombia’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report claims that violence is having “a devastating impact” on women and children, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, community leaders and human rights defenders. “Dismantling the wide array of non-State armed groups and criminal organizations operating in Colombia should be a priority for the government (…) together with the consolidation of the rule of law and strengthening public institutions in the most affected areas”.

The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia has received information on 114 killings of activists so far this year, with 22 cases verified.

“We are going to continue until the very last minute of this government in capturing and prosecuting those responsible for these abominable crimes,” stated Defense Minister Diego Molano, adding that over the last four years “443 heroes have lost their lives and 3,372 have been injured in their service to the country”.