Colombia’s Attorney General’s office has appointed a special prosecutor to lead exploratory talks over the proposed demobilization of Gaitanistas, the clearest sign yet that the government is seriously considering a negotiated exit for the country’s biggest criminal group.
Colombia’s vice attorney general, Jorge Fernando Perdomo, has announced the appointment of a special prosecutor who will meet with representatives of the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), and discuss conditions for a possible surrender, reported El Espectador.
Perdomo said there had already been meetings with lawyers representing the AGC, who have informed the authorities they are prepared to turn themselves in and demobilize their men.
Any deal would involve the AGC handing over their arms and assets, and providing information that would allow the authorities to dismantle their criminal, political and economic networks, the prosecutor added. The AGC would also have to commit to end the recruitment of minors.
One of Colombia’s most prominent politicians — leader of the Alternative Democratic Pole political party and Bogota mayoral candidate Clara Lopez — has rejected the opportunity to act as a mediator between the two sides, according to El Espectador.
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This appointment confirms that the Colombian government sees negotiations as a genuine option — and it is an option that could become even more attractive if the mass manhunt for the group’s leader, Dario Usuga, alias “Otoniel,” drags on without success.
Critically, there is no indication that the authorities intend to bestow political status on the AGC. This is something the group’s leaders themselves have called for, but doing so would seriously complicate Colombia’s conflict. Instead, the proposed deals look more akin to the bargains cut with the US authorities, in which criminals turn themselves in and provide information in return for benefits such as reduced prison sentences.
However, two of the ideas reportedly proposed by the AGC are particularly striking — and both recall recall Colombia’s first and most disastrous negotiation with a major drug lord: Pablo Escobar.
One proposal is that the AGC leaders would be incarcerated in a special site. Escobar built his own, custom-made luxury prison from where he continued to run his criminal empire and from where he was able to escape with ease when the authorities closed in. Given this history, such a move in the AGC case would prove highly polemical.
The second is the guarantee that the AGC leaders would not be extradited to the United States. Once, the prospect of extradition was enough for Escobar to launch a war against the state. However, the AGC proposal could prove less controversial in Colombia’s current environment. These days, extradition is often a preferred option for drug lords looking to cut deals in the US, making it ever more controversial in Colombia. It is possible that authorities would now welcome the opportunity to put the AGC top command on trial in Colombia, using it as an opportunity to show they can now resolve such cases outside of the US.
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