HomeNewsAnalysisColombia ERPAC Handover Exposes Holes in Process
ANALYSIS

Colombia ERPAC Handover Exposes Holes in Process

CARACHO / 26 DEC 2011 BY STEVEN DUDLEY EN

A mass paramilitary surrender resulted in just 21 arrests this weekend in Colombia. The rest of the estimated 269 members of the group known as ERPAC who turned in their weapons were released, adding another chapter to a peace process already marred by irregularities and unanswered calls for justice.

The confusing events that resulted in the government's release of hundreds of accused criminals left onlookers groping for answers and accurate numbers. El Tiempo said that 21 members were arrested, and 248 released. Spanish news agency EFE, said that just 17 of 284 ERPAC members had been arrested.

In either case, government representatives where the demobilizations took place insisted that those released were "easily locatable" again and promised they would submit to the rules regarding their handover. Perhaps most confusing, Colombia's presidency did not even refer to the demobilization on its webpage.

But other parts of the government have scrambled to reverse the sense that justice has been shelved in favor of expendiency. Colombia's Attorney General's office on Monday announced that 51 "arrest warrants" had been issued for ERPAC members who'd been sent home by the same institution on Friday.

With an estimated 500 soldiers, the Popular Revolutionary Anti-terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) was one of the largest remnants of Colombia's paramilitary armies that once fought as the government's proxyies against leftist guerrillas. The varying estimates on numbers add to the mystery and concern about this weekend's events: What happened to the other 200 members?

[See InSight Crime's ERPAC profile]

The group has been reeling since its leader, Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias 'Cuchillo,' was killed in a Christmas ambush by the government last year. The handover this holiday weekend appeared to be an effort to take advantage of the expiring "Justice and Peace Law."

The controversial law was adopted in 2004 and was designed to open the door for paramilitaries to submit to justice, but it has been used by large criminal groups to shield themselves from prosecution for criminal acts ranging from extortion to drug trafficking, to wholesale murder and displacement.

What's more, over 30,000 paramilitaries turned themselves in, many of whom simply did not hand over their real weapons and returned to their criminal ways, forming the core of a new generation of groups the government has dubbed 'bandas criminales' or BACRIMs.

The ERPAC was the prime example of a BACRIM. With Oliveiro at the helm, it retained a hierarchy and military structure that allowed it to dominate a vast portion of the country's Eastern Plains since at least 2007.

Just how the government will tabulate the criminal acts since that year is a mystery, but the release of nearly all of the demobilized members of ERPAC this weekend gives an idea of the direction it is headed.

Of the ERPAC members arrested is Jose Eberto Lopez Montero, alias 'Caracho' (pictured above). Colombia's Verdad Abierta, a news organization dedicated to keeping watch of the process, says Lopez Montero could be responsible for 1,200 murders in three Colombian departments.

Lopez Montero, however, is pleading for clemency, asking the government to prosecute "for what we've done, not for what we haven't done." If tried under the legal shell of "Justice and Peace," he faces a maximum of nine years of prison.

In an interview in November with Colombia's Semana magazine -- undoubtedly designed to lay the groundwork for this mass handover -- he claimed the ERPAC did not traffic drugs and regularly fought leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Both assertions are patently false. Following its re-mobilization under Oliveiro, the ERPAC teamed with Daniel Barrera Barrera, alias 'El Loco.' Barrera's drug trafficking network is intimately tied to FARC-controlled areas of production that provided him with raw material to process coca base into cocaine, which was then mostly shipped to the United States and European markets.

[See InSight Crime's 'Loco' Barrera profile]

If there were battles between the FARC and ERPAC, they were over control of lucrative drug trafficking routes.

Just how deeply government investigators will probe Lopez's murderous past and the ERPAC's illicit businesses is at the heart of what has made the "Justice and Peace Law" so controversial.

At best, the government has applied the law unevenly, allowing criminals to go free after years of committing atrocities. At worst, the government has used the law to formalize 20 years of criminal activities in which the paramilitary armies not only killed thousands of innocent civilians but also stole their land and displaced them to mostly urban areas to live in squalor.

Meanwhile, wealthy and politically-connected economic interests have reaped the benefits of these displacements. Massive agri-business projects are booming in rural areas, alongside a rejuvenated mining sector, and helped Colombia grow close to eight percent in the third quarter this year.

To end wars, trade-offs are always necessary, and the benefits of getting hundreds of armed men to hand in their weapons are obvious. But the government needs to follow through on both the "peace" and the "justice" promises embedded in the law, or it will lose credibility and set the stage for further conflict.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 2 MAR 2018

The unprecedented seizure of more than half a ton of cocaine at an Albanian port suggests Colombian crime groups seeking…

COLOMBIA / 30 AUG 2019

Authorities in Colombia continue to home in on the Urabeños crime group, arresting the brother of boss Dairo Antonio Úsuga.

COLOMBIA / 1 JUN 2016

A recent report examining the effect of criminal truces in Latin America is both promising and discouraging; although we have…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Oceans Pillaged in Central America and the Caribbean

5 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the first installment of a nine-part investigation uncovering the hidden depths of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Latin America. The first installment covered Central America and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Memo Fantasma Coverage Gets Worldwide Attention

1 JUL 2022

Guillermo Acevedo, the former Colombian drug lord and paramilitary commander better known as Memo Fantasma, may soon be allowed to leave prison. Since first revealing the identity of Memo Fantasma…