Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday ordered the military to intensify operations targeting paramilitary successor groups to prevent them from overtaking criminal operations from demobilizing FARC units.
The FARC has repeatedly asked for the effective dismantling of “paramilitary structures” they fear pose a threat to the peace process and to individual guerrillas.
When the FARC helped found a political party in 1985 as part of peace talks with then-President Belisario Betancur, paramilitary forces worked together with far-right factions within the military to exterminate this party, the Patriotic Union.
Colombia’s illegal armed groups’ areas of influence
The extermination campaign cost the lives of thousands and is one of the biggest traumas of the FARC that again is seeking to disarm and promote their Marxist ideas through the ballot box.
Additionally, if the FARC and the government sign peace as planned, large numbers of FARC members will abandon their criminal activities in drug trafficking and illegal mining.
“When peace comes, when the FARC leaves these areas where they are protecting these criminal activities, illegal mining, drug trafficking, we need to immediately sweep these areas and as efficiently as possible combat organized crime that is tied to these criminal activities,” Santos said.
Therefore, “I gave orders to the security forces to, together with the prosecution, concentrate on increasing efficiency in investigation and intelligence,” Santos said.
The FARC, which has financed its 51-year-long attempt for a revolution by taxing coca farmers and local drug traffickers, effectively control vast parts of Colombia where they “tax” coca farmers, miners and local drug traffickers.
With the FARC’s exit, the fear is that other groups step in to fill in the void, which could potentially lead to a temporary increase in violence rather than the peace promised by the Santos administration.
Another fear is that the neo-paramilitary groups could usurp dissident FARC members and inflate even further.
Officially, Colombia’s paramilitary groups demobilized between 2003 and 2006 when paramilitary umbrella organization AUC formally laid down weapons
However, in reality a large number of AUC members refused to demobilize and formed successor groups that took over the AUC’s drug trade routes and have since become Colombia’s primary human rights violator.
Instead of paramilitaries, the government prefers to refer to these neo-paramilitary groups like the Aguilas Negras or the Urabeños as criminal bands, or BaCrim.
The security forces embarked on a major offensive to curb the power of the Urabeños, by far the most powerful neo-paramilitary group, but without significant success.
According to independent researchers, the Urabeños have more than doubled their territory in the three years of peace talks with the FARC.
However, fighting these groups is complicated by ongoing corruption in the security forces. Frequently, soldiers and policemen are arrested for trafficking drugs or arms in conjunction with the neo-paramilitaries.
This corruption goes so high up the chain of command that two of former President Alvaro Uribe’s security chiefs are in US prisons for collaborating with these groups and their predecessors.