Cynocephaly and the mythological dog-headed human………………………..Anubis – The Jackal God and Guide into the Egyptian Afterlife………………………..Maduro Relies on ‘Colectivos’ to Stand Firm in Venezuela……………………..The End of the Big Cartels – Why There Won’t Be Another Chapo……………………Crop Eradication vs. Substitution Doubts Crippling Colombia Rural Communities……………………………….Op-Ed: Promoting the Formation of New Criminal Menace in Colombia?…………………………

Cynocephaly, Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay

Cynocephaly and the mythological dog-headed human

The characteristic of Cynocephaly describes the head of a dog upon a human body. This trait is a theme upon which there are several variations, with representations showing up in several cultures and legends. Tales of human forms with a dog-like head have been told from ancient Egypt, to ancient Greek, medieval, and Christian stories. These tales, eliciting both fear and fascination, are like an ancient form of a monster tale, often invoking the idea that cynocephaly is not just a myth or legend, but an actual race of creatures living here on Earth. The appearance of cynocephaly in stories throughout the ages illustrates the ubiquitous nature of the creatures, and the flexibility of an image that continuously reoccurs with a similar appearance, but varying stories.

The most basic description of cynocephaly is that it is the image of a human figure that has the head of a dog, or, in some instances, a jackal.  This is not to be confused with images of werewolves. Werewolves are a creature where the human forms transforms into a dog-like head and body.  Some believe that werewolves and cynocephalic creatures are somehow related, but they are more likely two separate types of creatures that happen to share some dog-like traits. The name cynocephaly sounds much more like an actual disease than a depiction of an image or a human with a dog head shown in prehistoric drawings and renderings. The name is derived from the Greek language, in which cyno- means dog and –cephaly means a disease or condition of the head. Put together, cynocephaly is a disease or condition where the head is in the form of a dog.

Man with a dog head. Nuremberg Chronical (Schedel'sche Weltchronik), page XIIr, 1493 AD.

Man with a dog head. Nuremberg Chronical (Schedel’sche Weltchronik), page XIIr, 1493 AD. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Images depicting cynocephaly date as far back as ancient Egyptian times. Ancient Egyptian gods Hapi and Anubis were both depicted in the cynocephaly form, with a human body and a dog head, or in the case of Anubis, a jackal. These images were depicted standing and wearing clothing, giving the appearance that in spite of the dog head, these gods are, in essence, humans. It is unknown why these figures are depicted with the head of a dog, but their presence in Egyptian drawings certainly spread to later cultures that followed.

Marble statue of Anubis, Vatican Museum

Marble statue of Anubis, Vatican Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

Greek physician Ctesias wrote of a dog-headed figure called Indici in India in the 5 th century BC. Later, the Greek Megasthenes returned from travels to India with tales of a race of cynocephaly living in the mountains of India. This dog-headed race of people would hunt in the mountains while wearing animal skins, and would communicate through barking sounds. Such stories of sub-human creatures would likely invoke many emotions, including fear, fascination, intrigue, and terror.

Cynocephaly continued far beyond ancient Egyptian and Greek times, also appearing in some works of medieval literature. Their existence and origin were questioned in City of God, Book XVI, Chapter 8, written by Augustine of Hippo. The Christians had the story of the “Abominable” who had the face of a dog and lived in a city of cannibals. Once baptized, the doglike features disappeared. The Eastern Orthodox Church viewed Saint Christopher as having the head of a dog, which may have been the result of a misinterpretation of the word Cananeus to say canineus, or canine. Later, German bishop and poet Walter of Speyer wrote of Saint Christopher as a large cynocephalic figure from the Chananeans that barked and consumed human flesh. When the cynocephalic Christopher met Christ, he chose to be baptized, at which point he shed his doglike appearance and began a life devoted to God.  This idea that the figure with a doglike appearance would become fully human upon being baptized and accepting god is a story that repeats, illustrating that to the Christians, the doglike appearance was a negative feature, a punishment of sorts that could only be eliminated by choosing to follow a certain set of religious beliefs.

Saint Christopher with the head of a dog

Saint Christopher with the head of a dog ( Wikimedia Commons )

Images of cynocephaly continued through medieval culture in a book called Historia gentis Langobardorum, written by Paul the Deacon. Again, the doglike appearance was considered un-Christian as it was applied to the Norse at the court of Charlemagne. The Nowell Codex, which is the script that contains the story of Beowulf, also contained references to the cynocephalic, with portions referring to “healfhundingas” or “half-dogs.” The idea spread into Anglo-Saxon England, where outlaws were referred to as wulfes heafod (“wolf’s head”), again giving the impression that the image of a human body with a dog’s head is an inherently negative trait, meant to refer to an outcast of society. Even the tales of King Arthur refer to cynophaly, as King Arthur’s men fight hundreds of the cynophalic creatures, and the stories morph into tales including werewolves.

Cynocephaly of the Nicobar Islands.

Cynocephaly of the Nicobar Islands. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Finally, cynophaly appears in Chinese legends, as told in the writings called History of the Liang Dynasty. In the writings, Buddhist missionary Hui-Sheng describes an island to the east of Fusang which is inhabited by cynophalic creatures. This island could either be referring to Japan, or America. Historian Li Yanshou also describes a dog kingdom in The History of Northern Dynasties.

The repeated appearance of cynophalic creatures in various ancient writings, legends, and myths represents a very common theme in human history. Such stories have held many purposes, from depicting religious figures, to depicting a lower form of human reserved for those who choose not to follow certain religious teachings. Travelers may have told tales of these creatures in hopes of impressing others, or perhaps they truly believed they saw such beasts. Regardless of the reasons for the use of the images, they invoke images of a mysterious, terrifying, and intriguing being. The use of cynophalic figures in modern story-telling, books, movies, and television shows indicate that this ancient mythological depiction has withstood the test of time.

Featured image: Cynocephaly, Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay ( Wikimedia Commons )


Cynocephaly – Wikipedia. Available from:

What are the Cynocephaly? – Rajeshbihani. Available from:

Cynocephaly – the dog heads – I love Werewolves. Available from:

By M R Reese


Anubis – The Jackal God and Guide into the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife

Anubis – The Jackal God and Guide into the Egyptian Afterlife

As god of embalming and the dead, the afterlife and lost souls, Anubis is one of the most prominent and mystical gods of ancient Egypt. He was known since the earliest periods in the history of the civilization that was based near the Nile River.

This god was first mentioned during the First Dynasty period , but it is possible that future research may show that he was present even before then. It is interesting to note however, that the name “Anubis” was unknown before the Greeks arrived in Egypt . In the ancient Egyptian language, he was called Anpu or Inpu. This name has the same root as a word which means ‘a royal child.’ Moreover, it is also related to the word “inp”, meaning “to decay”. Anubis was also known as “Imy-ut” (“He Who is in the Place of Embalming”) and “nub-tA-djser” (“lord of the sacred land”).

Anubis attending the mummy of the deceased.

Anubis attending the mummy of the deceased. ( Public Domain )

A God Without Temples

To date, archaeologists have not unearthed any monumental temple dedicated to this god. His “temples” are tombs and cemeteries . The major centers of his cult were located in Asyut(Lycopolis) and Hardai (Cynopolis).  His name appears in the oldest known mastabas (mud-brick tombs) of the First Dynasty and several shrines to the god have been found. For example, a shrine and a cemetery of mummified dogs and jackals was discovered at Anubeion, a place located to the east of Saqqara.  It seems that during the reign of the first dynasties he was even more significant than Osiris. This changed during the Middle Kingdom period, but Anubis continued to be one of the most important deities.

Anubis was one of the deities that could also work against humans. He was independent, sometimes helpful, but sometimes punished humans as well. One of his main roles was ”The Guardian of the Scales”. This was related to the belief that after death a person meets the gods who put his or her heart on a special scale. The scenes of the weighing of the heart ceremony from the Book of the Dead present Anubis – who measured if the person was worthy enough to live an eternal life. Thus, Anubis could decide the soul’s fate.

The Egyptian god Anubis (a modern rendition inspired by New Kingdom tomb paintings)

The Egyptian god Anubis (a modern rendition inspired by New Kingdom tomb paintings) ( GFDL)

The god Anubis was usually depicted as a jackal and sometimes as a man, but he was always in black, which was a color connected with desolation and rebirth. Anubis had a female counterpart named Anput, and a daughter, who was the serpent goddess Kebechet. He was also associated with the god Upuaut (Wepwawet), another deity with canine features.

Anubis was also the patron of lost souls, including orphans. During the Greek period, he was associated with the god Hermes. The Greeks created a composite deity called Hermanubis as well. They decided to combine Hermes as a messenger of the gods with Anubis who guided the dead to meet them. Over time, Hermanubis became related to Herpokrates in the eyes of the Romans – a popular god for alchemists and philosophers during the Renaissance.

Statue of Hermanubis, a hybrid of Anubis and the Greek god Hermes (Vatican Museums)

Statue of Hermanubis, a hybrid of Anubis and the Greek god Hermes (Vatican Museums) ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The most famous of Anubis’ shrines found to date was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62). Now it is located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (JE61444). It was found behind the un-walled entrance which led to the ”Store Room”. The shrine was located near the canopic chest, which still contained its jars.

The Guardian of the Dead

Anubis’ main roles were embalming the body, guiding the soul, and protecting the tomb. According to an Osiris myth, he helped Isis embalm her husband. Due to this story, the priests who worked during the mummification process wore masks with a jackal face. Moreover, the legends say that when Osiris was killed by Set his organs became a gift for Anubis. This started a tradition of offering him some parts of the dead. Real jackals were prone to digging bodies out of shallow graves and eating them. Ancient Egyptians made Anubis the guardian of cemeteries and the god of embalming to turn a negative force into a positive one.

Anubis Statue.

Anubis Statue. ( CC BY 2.0 )

According to Geraldine Pinch:

“Anubis was the guardian of all kinds of magical secrets. In the Papyrus Jumilhac, he appears as the leader of the armed followers of Horus. His ferocity is a match for the violence of Seth. In magical texts of a similar date, Anubis is named as ‘Lord of the Bau’. Whole battalions of messenger demons are under his command. In the magical papyri dating to Roman times, Anubis acts as the main enforcer of curses. The gracious deities of the cult temples are scarcely recognizable in the pitiless gods and goddesses encountered in everyday magic. (…) A story in Papyrus Jumilhac (c. 300 BC) explains the custom by relating how Seth once turned himself into a panther after attacking the body of Osiris.  Anubis captured and branded the panther, creating the leopard’s spots. The jackal god decreed that leopard skins should be worn by priests in memory of his victory over Seth.”

Papyrus Jumilhac.

Papyrus Jumilhac. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

For centuries, people believed that tomb robbers would be punished by Anubis as he was the guardian of the dead. Moreover, it was believed that good people would be protected by him and their eternal life would be peaceful and happy due to his care.

A Pop-Culture Change

Anubis received many additional powers and attributes from modern popular culture. The mysterious god became a popular character in books, video games, and movies during the 20th and the first years of the 21st centuries. Modern artists often imagine Anubis’ powers as something more sinister than Ancient Egyptians did. His bad reputation was created by fear and for modern entertainment value.

In the past, there was a belief that people didn’t have a choice over their destinies, but there was hope that the jackal god would allow them to enter the afterlife and enjoy it forever.

Top image: Illustration of Anubis Source: SirenD/Devianart

By Natalia Klimczak

Maduro Relies on ‘Colectivos’ to Stand Firm in Venezuela

President Nicolás Maduro’s recent call for armed civilian groups to “resist and stand firm” amid Venezuela’s ever-worsening social crisis, confirms his reliance on these criminal organizations to help the regime stay in power.

Amidst rolling power blackouts, which suspended critical services throughout the country causing raids and vandalism from March 7 onward, Maduro requested the support of the “colectivos” (armed civilian groups acting as paramilitaries) and other communal organizations created by his government, through a radio and TV broadcast.

“I call on all the social power, on all the popular power in Venezuela… I call on the ‘colectivos’, on everyone. The hour of active resistance has arrived,” declared the president, whose rule has been deemed llegitimate by more than 60 countries.

The “colectivos” appeared during the administration of Hugo Chávez with the purpose of defending the Bolivarian Revolution and have since been supported by the government. Armed and traveling in motorcycles, the ‘colectivos’ are used by the regime to restrain protests against the government as well as to violently bring “order” through raids, such as those seen in increasing number in Venezuela of late.

InSight Crime Analysis

Maduro’s call once again evidences the ties his government has with paramilitary groups dedicated to criminal activitiessuch as kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking and other offenses.

The “colectivos” have been allowed to act with impunity in exchange for their support in combating anti-government protests as well as opponent intimidation and persecution, aiming to safeguard the unstable Venezuelan regime.

This national blackout has been a backdrop for yet another round of public protests, once again interrupted by the “colectivos”. A video released on Twitter recorded thesearmed groups in action on March 10 in the Caracas municipality of Chacao, dispersing people expressing their anger at the power cuts. The groups of armed men were seen leaving  from the Transport Ministry.

Next to the social fretfulness, raids, riots and public disorder, the interventions by the “colectivos” have also been center stage.

Last February, Insight Crime alerted about the existence of the “Border Security Colectivo.” It operates in the state of Táchira and its members are dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). The group acted in coordination with state security forces to block the entrance of international humanitarian aid, last February 23.

While the social and political agitation increases in Venezuela, the “colectivos” appear empowered as a strike force and armed wing of the Chavista revolution, with permission to perpetrate brutalities and further their criminal activities.

The End of the Big Cartels – Why There Won’t Be Another Chapo

Earlier this month, a federal jury in New York convicted Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the former kingpin of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel, on ten charges related to drug trafficking. El Chapo was stunned, his wife cried, and U.S. authorities crowed.

For some, the verdict offered finality: “The reign of Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s crime and violence has come to an end,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

For others, vindication: “There are those who say the war on drugs is not worth fighting,” said Richard P. Donoghue, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “Those people are wrong.”

*This article was originally published by Foreign Affairs and is reprinted with permission. See the original here

Some spoke of heroism: “Today’s verdict,” said U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, “sends an unmistakable message to transnational criminals: You cannot hide, you are not beyond our reach, and we will find you and bring you to face justice.”

Others expressed a sense of relief: “As was clear to the jury, Guzmán Loera’s massive, multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise was responsible for flooding the streets of the United States with hundreds of tons of cocaine as well as enormous quantities of other dangerous drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine,” according to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

These officials all offered variations on a popular drug war narrative: an all-controlling kingpin builds a criminal empire, leaving death and destruction in his wake. Law enforcement tracks, arrests, and incarcerates him—and, in the case of El Chapo, rearrests and reincarcerates him after he escapes—and then convicts him.

The public embraces this story, watching it over and over, first as news on CNN and then as fiction on Netflix. It is simple and understandable, and it helps us sleep at night. It is also false.

The obsession with El Chapo and his exploits, as well as those of his associates and his cartel, reflects an outdated view of the drug trade. The idea that this trade is dominated by vertically integrated organizations, each run by a single mastermind such as El Chapo, is a myth—and a dangerous one, in that it may undermine international efforts to slow drug trafficking and combat the violence of criminal groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel.

The New Drug Trade

Take the case of fentanyl. The same day that El Chapo was sentenced, anywhere between 60 and 100 people in the United States likely died from overdosing on fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid made in China and often trafficked through Mexico by the country’s myriad criminal organizations.

In 2018, fentanyl accounted for roughly 30,000 overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fentanyl was barely a blip in the U.S. drug market in 2013. Today, it is replacing heroin. Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice told me recently that there are two major criminal groups—El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG)—behind the surge in fentanyl.

But a deeper look reveals a wide variety of American, Chinese, Dominican, Indian, and Mexican groups supplying the U.S. market, some that conduct almost all of their business online from within the United States. El Chapo and his vaunted Sinaloa Cartel are not responsible for this transformation.

And as InSight Crime showed in a recent report on Mexico’s role in the fentanyl trade, published with support from the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, removing cartels and their kingpins will do little to slow this transformation.

The reason is that the rise of synthetic drugs is changing the structure of the illegal drug market. Mexican cartels were built for trafficking drugs such as cocaine and heroin. These drugs, which are labor-intensive to produce and most profitable when trafficked at scale, tend to favor the emergence of large, centralized criminal syndicates that can coordinate vast transnational networks of production and distribution.

Synthetics, by contrast, can be cheaply produced from precursor chemicals and are potent enough to be profitable even when produced on a small scale: one fentanyl analog, carfentanil, is roughly 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which is itself some 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

In our report, we liken the synthetic drug trade to the microchip industry, in which continued innovation allows for ever greater potency to be fit in ever smaller packages.

Because fentanyl is so potent, it can move in small consignments. A large part of the fentanyl produced in China is sent directly to the United States through the mail. Even many precursor chemicals, also produced in China, go directly to the United States.

According to numerous US officials and health experts we consulted, this direct-from-China trade may account for the bulk of the fentanyl in the US market. Once the drugs reach the United States, small traders peddle the drugs over the dark web, encrypted messaging services, or social media, cutting out the cartels entirely.

Some fentanyl and fentanyl precursors do move through Mexico. But they go through many hands on their way to market.

Mexico’s two main Pacific ports, Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo, service several masters, including various criminal groups that have deep contacts in Asia from their time producing other synthetic drugs, particularly methamphetamine.

The precursors make their way to laboratories in Sinaloa but also Mexico City and points north, such as Baja California, where they are used to make fentanyl that is then trafficked in bulk across the US border.

There is also a possibility that some of the precursors may enter the United States, then cross to Mexico for production on the Mexican side of the border, as one recent case illustrated.

There are, quite simply, a variety of organizations at work. An increasing amount of the fentanyl coming via Mexico, for example, is camouflaged as oxycodone and other prescription pills, since the sellers do not want the users to know they are taking the deadliest drug on the market.

And although the global market for counterfeit pharmaceuticals is huge, it has never been the purview of groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel—it is more likely the domain of smaller organizations in border areas such as Tijuana, which service the wildly overpriced US market.

Fentanyl, with its potency and its relative ease of manufacture and transport, offers an extreme example of the forces atomizing the drug trade, but markets for legacy drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine have also fragmented, in part because of the capture and prosecution of people such as El Chapo.

But although security forces in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere have played a role in this atomization of the drug trade, arresting capos is different from dismantling criminal organizations.

Kingpin Without A Crown

Large criminal groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG are still powerful, and they still serve an important purpose in the drug trade. They assume a good portion of the risk of transporting drugs in bulk and selling them wholesale to smaller networks engaged in street-level distribution.

In the case of fentanyl, for instance, Mexican cartels sell to Dominican groups that control much of the fentanyl and heroin market in the United States. Taking them down should be part of any counternarcotics strategy.

But the days of the monolithic, hegemonic criminal groups with all-powerful leaders are over. For US policymakers, it may be overkill to direct the resources of six federal law enforcement agencies toward dismantling these groups, especially in the era of synthetic drugs.

Dealing with illicit drugs requires a holistic approach dedicated to understanding the complexity of drug use and its ripple effects on everything from the rule of law to democracy. During the El Chapo trial, for instance, prosecutors and the judge spent significant energy suppressing testimony about the systemic failures of Mexican society—grinding poverty, endemic corruption, a fraudulent democracy—that enable large criminal groups to flourish and even penetrate the government institutions set up to combat them.

Although some allegations, such as the claim that former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100 million bribe from El Chapo, bordered on the absurd, the excluded testimony highlighted problems in Mexican society that stretch far beyond the cartels and will certainly outlive them.

El Chapo was a powerful and wealthy drug lord, and bringing him down was an undeniably important step in curtailing the reach of Mexico’s cartels. But burnishing his status as a kingpin perpetuates a false narrative that destroying him—and those like him—will solve the problems posed by the drug trade. In fact, convicting one drug lord is more akin to plucking a single bee from the hive.

Crop Eradication vs. Substitution Doubts Crippling Colombia Rural Communities

Colombia’s voluntary crop substitution program has seen almost 35,000 hectares of coca crops destroyed in just eight months, at a time when President Iván Duque is pushing for forced eradication, but this uncertainty risks having a severe human toll.

new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that investigators had verified the destruction of 34,767 hectares of coca plantation from May 2018 to January 2019. They also observed a compliance rate of 94 percent within the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito – PNIS) across 14 Colombian departments.

This compliance level ran across the departments of Putumayo, Nariño, Caquetá, Antioquia, Meta, Guaviare, Córdoba, Cauca, Norte de Santander, Bolívar, Valle, Vichada, Arauca and Guainía.

However, Duque has cast doubt on the speed and efficiency of voluntary substitution, calling instead on an ambitious forced eradication program, targeting 280,000 hectares. A UNODC report from 2017 showed only around 171,000 hectares of coca crops were present in the entire country.

The president claims that more urgency is needed since coca production in Colombia is at an all-time high and that voluntary substitution has not done enough.

“The substitution programs will not lead to ignoring the legal obligation to eradicate illegal crops and the criminal nature of this practice,” read his defense and security plan presented in February.

But critics have warned that voluntary substitution programs have proven popular with farmers, providing them with income in exchange for compliance. While faster, they warn that forced eradication will lead to renewed social conflicts and a further weakening of the 2016 peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).

InSight Crime Analysis

 The real-life impact of the eradication versus substitution debate has not received enough attention.

The reality in rural areas is that coca production has been a means of survival. The FARC peace process and the move away from such production was not a mere economic argument, it involved a shift in lifestyle for hundreds of thousands of Colombians.

Voluntary substitution programs might be seeing high compliance rates to date but the government’s increasingly tough stance threatens to reverse the successes seen by the PNIS so far.

Some families report that they have not received payments owed to them as part of the PNIS, and other incentives to prevent the cultivation of coca have also been frozen, at least temporarily.

InSight Crime found that in the municipality of Santa Rosa del Sur, in Sur de Bolivar, that the first round of payments arrived as scheduled for PNIS participants in September 2018. However, the second installment was due in November but had not been paid out by the end of February. In the nearby municipality of Simití, residents reported that the first payment had never arrived.

The impact has been swift. In areas of Colombia where the presence of the state is scarce, this has led to a return to coca cultivation by families who depend on it. Rural farmers in Sur de Bolivar confirmed to InSight Crime that they pay soldiers off to not eradicate their coca crops or only destroy part of them, while registering the eradication as complete.

This reversal is all the more tragic as significant efforts had been made to get voluntary crop substitution efforts to where they are. Convincing families to sign up was a long, drawn-out process, often involving the implication of community leaders, who spoke up in defense of the government’s intentions and quelled doubts.

Impacts within these communities will be wide-ranging. Those same leaders, who vouched for the peace process, now face losing the trust placed in them, if not more severe reprisals.

Worse, armed groups may now seek retribution against those communities or residents who signed up to the crop substitution program and accepted government funds.

Another challenge is that these crop substitution efforts have not been rolled out in partnership with other efforts, such as Territory-Focused Development Programs (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial – PDET), which seek to promote the development of priority municipalities in the post-conflict environment. Leaving these programs isolated makes their ultimate success less likely and allows them to be progressively weakened.

Op-Ed: Promoting the Formation of New Criminal Menace in Colombia?

There is now a clear and present criminal menace and national security threat taking shape, and the Colombian government may be encouraging its growth through its policy choices.

A recent chat with a former FARC guerrilla revealed that potentially hundreds of former rebels are thinking of, or already have, left the peace process to return to the mountains and the criminal economies they once controlled.

“For many of us, the peace process is over. As many predicted, we were betrayed by the government. We assumed that if the government signed an agreement, under international verification, then that agreement would be honored. We were clearly wrong,” a former FARC veteran said.

*This article was originally published by Semana and was reprinted by InSight Crime with permission. See the original in Spanish here.

Many government supporters will quite rightly state that President Iván Duque and his political godfather, former president Alvaro Uribe, led the charge against the peace agreement and won the referendum rejecting it in October 2016.

However, an updated agreement was passed by Congress and ratified by the Constitutional Court, with the condition that it could not be modified for 12 years.

This should mean that the current administration honors the agreement. However, the threats to the accord, and the undermining of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace(Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP), seem to suggest that the word of the Colombia government is fluid.

Add to this the refusal to respect previously agreed and internationally backed conditions in the peace talks with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) and the trustworthiness of this government comes under question. This has huge national and international implications, not just related to the peace process.

For the purposes of this discussion, one implication is that many members of the FARC, who entered the peace process in good faith, feel they are being pushed back into an outlaw life. This does not necessarily mean that they will again take up arms against the state, but they will return to the criminal economies that once funded the FARC’s five-decade-old civil conflict.

Let me make a prediction: if President Iván Duque does not embrace the peace agreement with the FARC and fulfill its conditions to the best of his ability (and resources), as well as strengthen the JEP, the ex-FARC Mafia, allied with elements of the ELN, will establish a criminal hegemony across parts of Colombia and become a new national security threat within three years.

And if a government elected on the back of a promise to improve security allows this to happen, then this will be a betrayal of those who voted for it.

President Juan Manuel Santos must share some of the blame as he signed an agreement and made a lot of promises that he did not keep during his administration, thus passing a Herculean challenge to his successor. However, that is then, and we are talking about now and the days to come.

Let us explore further the nature of this growing criminal threat, which we at InSight Crime call the ‘ex-FARC Mafia.’

This is made up of three components: the FARC dissidents (called by the government Residual Organized Armed Groups – Grupos Armados Organizados Residuales), that profess some sort of ideology, and see themselves as the continuation of the now demobilized guerrilla army; the FARCRIM, which are groups of former FARC members which are involved in criminal activities, but have no ideological pretensions; and the ‘hidden FARC’, which is comprised of rebels that never entered the peace process, but remained in the field, keeping control of criminal economies.

With daily monitoring and field research, we have found at least 37 criminal units linked to the ex-FARC Mafia.  Added to this we have good intelligence showing that the FARC dissidents, under Miguel Botache Santillana, alias “Gentil Duarte” and Nestor Gregorio Vera Fernández, alias “Iván Mordisco,” hace reached an agreement with ELN elements commanded by Gustavo Aníbal Giraldo Quinchía, alias “Pablito,” to divide up territory across the eastern plains and within Venezuela.

Taking advantage of the still expanding cocaine production, illegal mining and extortion, the ex-FARC mafia are growing, controlling drug routes into Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil and earning enough money to fund exponential growth, should they find enough recruits and reconnect with other ex-FARC Mafia cells across the country.

We believe that if the ex-FARC Mafia can find a leader of national prominence and exceptional ability (Luciano Marin Arango, alias “Iván Márquez,” and Hernán Darío Velásquez, alias “El Paisa,” spring to mind) it will be able to unite up to 4000 hardened criminals, which allied with a significant percentage of 4000 ELN members could establish criminal hegemony not only in Colombia’s eastern plains and across into Venezuela, but across Colombia, creating a criminal network of national reach.

Does this sound familiar?

*This article was originally published by Semana and was reprinted by InSight Crime with permission. See the original in Spanish here.

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