In the midst of a control operation carried out in the southwest of Barranquilla, the Unified Action Group for Personal Freedom (Gaula) of the Police captured three alleged criminals who intended to extort money from merchants from the center of the Atlantic capital. The detainees were identified as Carlos Andrés Ledezma Jiménez, Yosnaidys Rodríguez Moreno and José Manuel Puertas Viloria, who They would be part of the band Los Costeños.
One of the key pieces that would link those captured with Los Costeños is a fragmentation grenade that the criminals had at the time of their apprehension. Several violent episodes perpetrated by the aforementioned gang in order to intimidate the city’s merchants have been committed with these triggers.
“Apparently they were going to use it to intimidate some merchants or attack one of them. They were carrying pamphlets that are the same ones that have been delivered in the center of the city of Barranquilla, especially in the San Roque sector,” said Major Diego Molina, commander of the Police Gaula in the Atlantic.
Extortions have been one of the most reported crimes during the last year in Barranquilla. At the end of last year it became known that around 40 shopkeepers in Barranquilla, Soledad and Malambo had closed their stores because they were being extorted.
“We, in Barranquilla alone, know of about 10 or 12 businesses that definitely had to close because the pressure they were exerting on them was very strong, also in Soledad they tell us that there are many neighborhoods in which the shopkeepers are paying a monthly fee or weekly and that there are times when another alleged member of another gang arrives and demands another amount of money that it is impossible for him to pay, because he is already giving it to another organization”, denounced Orlando Jiménez, director of the National Union of Merchants (Undeco) sectional Atlántico.
This money would be reaching narco-paramilitary groups in order to finance them to buy weapons. In addition, to pay for the execution of illicit activities such as drug trafficking and micro-trafficking.
The same Ombudsman’s Office issued an early warning on August 13 in which it warns of the increase in extortions and homicides in Barranquilla and its metropolitan area, made up of Soledad, Malambo, Puerto Colombia and Galapa. The control body warns that there are 28,430 people at risk, and among them there are merchants, teachers, activists, informal workers and indigenous and Afro communities.
It was noted that the strongest organization operating in the department are Los Costeños and its recent reconfigurations such as Los Nuevos Rastrojos and the Nuevo Bloque Costeño. The Central Renacer Block, Los Papalópez, Los Vega and Los Meleán are also mentioned. In addition, the presence of other armed actors such as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), better known as the Clan del Golfo, is not ruled out.
The residents of the municipalities of the metropolitan area of Barranquilla, especially those who live in rural areas, fear that the situation will get worse and they will end up being displaced from the territory or forced to commit illegal acts in exchange for not attempting on their lives.
The worst thing about this situation is that, according to Undeco, between 70 and 80% of cases, small businesses do not dare to go to the authorities out of fear and agree to pay extortion.