Despite the promise of June’s peace accord with the FARC guerrillas, Colombia can’t seem to escape endemic narco-violence.
On Sept. 14, a street gun-battle sparked panic in the tourist district of Cartagena, the Caribbean resort city. The clash began as sicarios (hired assassins), in broad daylight, tried to kill a captured gang-member cooperating with police. The three sicarios, wearing prison guard uniforms, attempted to enter the building where John Jairo Jimenez, aka “Pichi,” was being held under house arrest. Two assailants were wounded and apprehended, while a third escaped. Wanted for coke trafficking, Pichi turned state witness after his arrest last year, ratting out his former cohorts in the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, popularly known as “Los Urabeños.”
The shoot-out came the same day Bogotá’s El Colombiano newspaper ran an editorial warning of a “renarcotization” of the country after tentative gains against the cocaine economy and attendant violence. The editorial made note of recent international findings that coca cultivation has soared in Colombia over the past year.
“It would be fatal to see the country again taken over by the narco-traffick and its cartels,” the paper warned.
Kevin Whitaker, the U.S. ambassador in Bogotá, contributed to this uneasy sense of déjà vu by telling reporters he has been speaking with Colombian authorities about resuming the U.S.-funded program of spraying glyphosate on coca crops. Colombia suspended the program last year, citing health risks—long a complaint of the impacted peasant communities.
“The use of glyphosate is effective and safe,” Whitaker said