The name of a supposedly dismantled paramilitary group has appeared on pamphlets and other communiques threatening Colombian politicians, journalists and community leaders. But is the group truly behind the threats?
Two Green Party congressmen and a Bogotá mayoral candidate have all received threatening messages claiming to be from the Águilas Negras, or Black Eagles, Semana reported.
These threats are just the latest from the Águilas Negras, the name for an opaque death squad that had first been used by various paramilitary factions involved in drug trafficking and other crimes.
SEE ALSO: Águilas Negras Profile
Since 2006, more than 280 written warnings signed by the group have appeared under doorways, posted on signs, or relayed via WhatsApp chats and emails, according to investigative documents obtained by El Espectador. The group has threatened human rights defenders, social leaders, politicians and journalists throughout Colombia.
According to authorities, the communications don’t match those “traditionally used” by the group and vary in style.
InSight Crime Analysis
Though there is no evidence that the Águilas Negras continue to function as a criminal group, their history of extrajudicial killings and criminal acts provides cover for others using the name of the death squad to make threats.
The name Águilas Negras first emerged in 2006 after the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), a loose federation of right-wing paramilitary groups. The group’s leadership was ascribed to various former paramilitary commanders in the departments of Antioquia, Magdalena, Norte de Santander, and Bolivar. Among those who used its moniker included Daniel Rendon Herrera, who went on to found and lead the Urabeños, one of the main drug trafficking organizations in Colombia. Groups using the Águilas Negras name have appeared in at least 20 of Colombia’s 32 departments.
The group was officially dismantled between 2009 and 2011, according to El Colombiano, though it’s unclear what the dissolution of such a nebulous group means exactly. Authorities told the news outlet this month that there are currently no active armed groups with that name.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile
The name Águilas Negras, however, has been used to make all types of death threats, some of which have been carried out.
For example, a journalist in Colombia's southern Huila department received a threat from the Águilas Negras, after which he waited 155 days for authorities to respond that his level of risk was “ordinary” and that he didn’t deserve further protection. Two of his colleagues, however, were killed in 2015 after receiving similar threats. More than a dozen social leaders in Huila have also received threat messages claiming to be from the group.
According to a report from Colombia’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación – PARES), the moniker is now used by criminal groups of all stripes, from drug trafficking organizations like the Rastrojos and Urabeños to hired hitmen. The group’s name is also invoked to spread fear within communities.
Such widespread use of this name makes it difficult for authorities to track down the origin of these threats. For that reason alone, the specter of the Águilas Negras will continue to bring terror.