Colombia has initiated a military presence in the city of Tulua, located in the Valle del Cauca department, in response to escalating violence from criminal gangs since last Saturday. The unrest started on Friday, February 9, following the arrest of Mauricio Marin Silva, also known by the aliases ‘Nacho’ or ‘La N’. Silva is identified as the leading figure of the region’s most aggressive criminal group.
His arrest occurred during a raid by specialized units of the National Police in Cuayabal village, San Lorenzo district, within the rural municipality of Tulua. Authorities say alias Nacho played a key role in the recent escalation of violence by this criminal group.
City militarized and under curfew
Since Saturday night, Tulua has faced strict curfew measures and military presence due to the murder of two traffic officers and the burning of vehicles within the municipality. Furthermore, there are now restrictions on movement, particularly targeting motorcycles. These vehicles are often used by criminal groups for their activities.
Pamphlets of the criminal gang, responsible for murders, extortions and other criminal actions, appeared in several neighborhoods of the city.
These documents contained explicit threats against the director of the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC), Daniel Gutierrez, and the mayor of Tulua, Gustavo Velez. “As of today we will retaliate for the trap that the National Government set for our leaders. As long as our leaders are not released and their rights are violated, we will not stop our activities and (will follow) orders given”, can be read in the pamphlets.
Faced with these serious threats, the mayor of Tulua asked that they be investigated and resolutions be taken to prevent them being carried out. “I ask the authorities to investigate these facts to find those responsible and provide clarity to the people of Tulua. We continue working,” wrote the local mayor in his social networks.
For his part, the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, also commented on the serious security and public order incidents in this part of the south of the country. “The Immaculate gang has challenged society. Their leaders are in jail. We do not accept blackmail,” said the head of state.
Criminal infiltration of public authorities
A serious allegation has been made about this city, located some 100 kilometers north of Cali, the capital of the department of Valle del Cauca. The newspaper El Pais claimed in an article by its investigative unit that a criminal gang called La Inmaculada “co-governs Tulua”. According to the newspaper, the criminal gang has members in at least three levels of municipal government: Finance, Planning, Mobility, and the offices of Planning and Communications.
According to the media outlet, the objective of this infiltration was to “know who to extort, at what time and for what value.” In this way, they control licit and illicit businesses in the city. These facts demonstrate the organizational and intelligence capacity of the criminal group.
Regarding alias Nacho, arrested on Friday, “he (has) a criminal record since 2019, when he was submitted to justice in Buga (Valle del Cauca), by a court order, which held him responsible for drug trafficking, homicide and conspiracy to commit a crime, being released in December 2022 for expiration of terms,” said the police. “Expiration of terms” in Colombia is the expiration of a judicial term when a criminal proceeding is being carried out against an alleged perpetrator, but overruns the set time limit for obtaining a conviction. When this occurs, the prisoner’s release is mandatory, according to the legislation.
Congressman Duvalier Sanchez, for his part, directly asked the country’s presidency to intervene. Sanchez asserted that, from his work as a legislator, he has been insisting for a year “on the need to address the problem of insecurity in Tulua in a special way, with all the institutional capacities, but I have only received responses from the Ministry of Defense and the police”.
Training of minors to commit crimes
The criminal gang La Inmaculada has been active for at least 16 years and its main activity is drug micro-trafficking. In statements made by the Colombian police chief, General William Rene Salamanca, he revealed that the group had trained minors to commit the criminal acts that have terrorized the inhabitants of this municipality.
“This criminal gang has used minors and young people; this is an alarm signal for the whole community of Tulua and the authorities. It is a responsibility that we all have as a country, as a society, so that our minors do not fall into these problematic scenarios”, stated the police chief.
This situation is not unique to Valle del Cauca; it is becoming generalized in other areas where the power of criminal gangs is on the rise, and elicits two opposing political responses: the conservative political opposition insists that the solution is to increase prison sentences and police force, whereas the leftist government insists on greater social investment in the country to encourage these young people away from delinquency.
Crime from prison
According to authorities, the case of Tulua mirrors the criminal activity that has been detected in other countries, as in the recent case of Ecuador. The gang leaders are allegedly directing their criminal operations from prisons.
“The attack on the city is planned and ordered from the prisons, which is where we have placed the leaders who want to terrorize the city,” said Dillian Franciaca Toro, regional governor.
In order to prevent the spread of this practice and the serious consequences it entails, the police commander indicated that, if necessary, the detained criminals could be extradited, thanks to international cooperation. “The plan to put an end to La Inmaculada includes strong international cooperation, because there are many criminals here who also commit crimes abroad,” explained General Salamanca.