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Illegal armed groups use pandemic to tighten control of Colombian hot zone

BOGOTA – As long as the demand for blow, coke, or snow remains, it will be difficult for Colombians to feel safe. It is why in some areas, violating a curfew during the coronavirus pandemic could get a person killed — despite the November 2016 peace deal with leftist guerrillas.

Lorena Paredes, a Colombian attorney, said she is worried about the new illegal armed groups’ draconian measures. She and a colleague were in a silver SUV in the countryside when they ran into a roadblock. The men greeted them with bullets. She was shot in the leg and her colleague in the face and arm.

Paredes, 28, is still recovering from the May attack. She said their attackers considered the shooting a warning and refused them medical attention. They had to drive away wounded. Eventually, they saw homes and stopped. She was shouting, begging for help, when a man approached her.

“Quiet! We are not allowed to help,” the man said before saving them from bleeding out in the car, according to Paredes.

Tumaco is a Pacific port city near the border with Ecuador. Only one road connects the city of about 257,000 to the rest of the country. Armed groups without a political ideology are using the small isolated area to earn big from narcotrafficking. With that comes the rapes and the homicides.

The violence makes legal foreign investment nearly impossible, so there are rows of overwater decrepit wooden homes without running water or electricity. Some of the residents have fled their farms out of fear of the violent men who oversee the illegal coca plantations.

The rivers’ banks are known for hiding rugged laboratories to turn coca into the powerfully addictive stimulant drug. There are trails and narco-submarines to deliver the blocks to Central America. The cat-and-mouse game continues, as the U.S. and Colombian authorities, are aware of their activities, which often also involve Ecuadorian citizens.


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