Emerging from the ashes of Colombia’s bloody paramilitary counter-insurgency in the mid-2000s came a new type of criminal network Colombia's authorities christened "bandas criminales" (BACRIM) or criminal bands. The BACRIM have since become the dominant criminal force in the Colombian underworld.

These criminal hybrids oversee cocaine trafficking and have established illicit empires in illegal mining, extortion, and the trafficking of everything from people to weapons. The most powerful of these networks in Colombia is the Urabeños, whose network stretches into two-thirds of Colombian states and whose criminal “franchise” has become the model for much of organized crime in the country.

Today, the Colombian underworld -- flooded with cocaine from booming coca production and rife with criminal opportunities created by the withdrawal of thousands of demobilizing leftist insurgents -- stands on the cusp of seismic change. The Urabeños and other BACRIM will play a decisive role in shaping this new order.

This special multimedia report takes you deep inside an Urabeños' cell in the prized criminal territory of Bajo Cauca, a region in the northern part of the department of Antioquia. It offers a unique insight into how a BACRIM network operates and what their role in the underworld is.

Based on three years of investigation and interviews with current and former BACRIM members with different ranks and responsibilities, this report presents the BACRIM in the words of its members, as well as their victims and the Colombian authorities. The section on money examines the ways the BACRIM profit from a broad and diversified portfolio of criminal activities. Power analyzes the BACRIM’s inner dynamics, structure, and social control. Murder breaks down the functioning of the BACRIM’s armed wings and their assassin networks.

BACRIM BAJO CAUCA MAP

BACRIM Profiles

InSide Colombia's BACRIM features video interviews with five current or former members of the Bajo Cauca BACRIM. Some names have been changed, and some of their faces and voices have been obscured or distorted to protect their identities.

Alias "El Gordo" was a BACRIM commander in Bajo Cauca. He left the region after a change in leadership and currently works for a different Urabeños cell located in another department.

Alias "Manuel" joined the Urabeños at a young age and worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a "campanero," or lookout, and ending up as one of the trusted deputies of one of the region’s commanders. He left Bajo Cauca after the arrest of several senior members of the cell, fearing that his identity would be revealed to the police. He has been involved in the murder of scores of people, though he says he never pulled the trigger.

Alias "Fredy" joined the BACRIM as a 13-year old and was trained to become a killer. He described himself as one of Bajo Cauca’s most wanted "sicarios," or hitmen, and claimed to have murdered over 20 people. He spent six months in prison in 2015, and was murdered shortly after his release the following year.

 

Sergio Corgullo, alias "El Soldado," was a member of the Urabeños enemies, the Rastrojos, working as bodyguard for one of the top Bajo Cauca commanders and coordinating the group’s network of lookouts in Caucasia. When the Rastrojos withdrew from the region after striking a deal with the Urabeños in 2012, he fled the region, then turned informant for the army. In April 2016, an Urabeños hitman murdered him in the streets of Caucasia.

Alias "Milton" worked as an "extorsionista," or extortionist, in Caucasia. He says he was forced to work for the BACRIM against his wishes. He gave himself up to the police after a friend threatened to report him. He revealed the identities of some key BACRIM figures in return for an amnesty. However, he says the police went back on their word, and he is now in prison.

Credits

Reported and written by James Bargent and Mat Charles

Filmed and edited by Mat Charles

Additional filming by Sven Wolters