Special Police Mobilized in Valle del Cauca Ahead of UN Conference

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent has years of experience and training in open source intelligence gathering and journalism. He specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs, with a broader interest in European politics. Trent serves as the Latin America Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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Four thousand police officers, with some having been trained by the United States, are set to be deployed in Cali, Valle del Cauca ahead of the UN’s Conference on Biodiversity (COP 16) slated for October 21 alongside rising tensions within the department.

Specially Trained Officers

Officers deployed to the department face a number of issues, such as extortion and kidnapping for ransom perpetrated by a splinter faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as the Estado Mayor Central (FARC-EMC), which boasts a strong presence in Valle del Cauca alongside the neighboring Cauca Department. The Colombian National Police further announced the special forces will utilize a number of technological tools including biometric devices, artificial intelligence, specialized equipment, cybersecurity, drones, visualization maps of the police service, and aircraft with video surveillance cameras and tracking capability. One hundred of the special forces have already arrived in the city in order to aid local authorities in securing the department.

Members of Colombia’s Carabineros, a mounted police unit which operates in the nation’s rural reaches. (Photo – Semana)

General William Castaño, director of of the Carabineros, a mounted division of police active in Colombia’s rural regions, stated that “before COP 16 we have completely free of illegal exploitation of minerals the Farallones de Cali natural park. The idea is to dismantle the entire criminal structure that energizes this entire illicit economy and we will do checkpoints in the process of accessing the park.”

Illegal mining and logging will be a key focus for local authorities prior to COP 16 due to the subject matter of the summit, which will bring the eyes of the international community to Colombia. Illegal mining in particular plagues South America due to the continent’s rich wealth in resources, such as gold and other precious metals, combined with the lack of strong regulatory or enforcement authorities. Previously, a mine operated by the Chinese Zijin Mining Company in Colombia was forced to cease an estimated 60 percent of its operations for a time last year after illegal miners under the protection of Clan del Golfo, a right-wing paramilitary and narco-terrorist organization, threatened the security of miners employed by the corporation.

Miners also use unsafe practices, such as using liquid mercury to extract gold and other precious metals, which poses an environmental risk and has previously led to the contamination of water supplies. According to Tearline.mil, an open-source collaboration project by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, miners often use liquid mercury due to its low cost, ease of use, and efficiency when it comes to finding gold. In the process, mercury is used to separate gold from ore, and then burn it off, contaminating water and air. Once mercury enters the environment, it can cause neurological damage in both people and wildlife. Locals—especially indigenous communities—consuming fish caught near illicit gold mining operations have frequently tested for elevated levels of mercury.

Venezuelan authorities evacuated an estimated 7,000 people from an illegal mine in Bolívar, Venezuela in March 2024.

In an effort to address environmentally damaging criminal operations ahead of COP 16, authorities established the Integrated Information and Intelligence Center, which will consist of two strategic command posts located in Cali and Bogota. These posts will help local authorities communicate with national and international intelligence agencies for intelligence gathering alongside communication regarding the intervention of authorities in criminal operations.

The FARC-EMC’s Continued Efforts

Aside from the environmental dangers criminal groups in Colombia pose, authorities will need to grapple with more personal threats such as kidnapping and armed attacks on officials from the United Nations. These threats come amid rising tensions between authorities and the FARC-EMC in the region, with a multitude of attacks being attributed to the group in Valle del Cauca and Cauca. The FARC-EMC may find the summit as a key opportunity to exert their control over the two departments as part of the group’s continued efforts to force the Colombian government to return to the ceasefire, which allowed the organization to increase their criminal operations and manpower.

While the FARC-EMC may use the summit as a way to force the government to return to peace talks, the group is unlikely to engage in environmentally damaging operations as they previously attended an environmental dialogue in Ocaña, Norte de Santander with members of the Colombian government and locals from the rural reaches of Norte de Santander. Notable about this dialogue was the FARC-EMC’s proposed plan to combat deforestation in the department, where the net loss due to deforestation currently stands at 48.5 percent.

FARC Members (Photo – NY Times)

Despite the FARC-EMC’s continued efforts to force the Colombian government to reestablish the previously dissolved ceasefire, government officials have stated that such a ceasefire is not in the future of relations between the armed group and the government.

“No matter how much pressure these illegal organizations try to exert, we will not back down from the decision to suspend the ceasefire. Offensive operations by the Public Force [military and national police] will continue,” Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez stated in April following the dissolution of the previous ceasefire.

“This organization has only filled the communities in these departments with anguish and suffering, and it is precisely because of these criminal actions against the population that the government, the President of the Republic, decreed the suspension of the cessation. And no matter how much pressure is intended to be exerted, we are not going to decline this decision taken to suspend the cessation and develop offensive operations by the Public Force,” Velasquez continued.

As special police arrive in Valle del Cauca, increased operations against the FARC-EMC and other criminal groups are certain, while some fear large-scale attacks against municipalities across the departments may make a resurgence.