Colombia sentenced 43 demobilized members of the ERPAC neo-paramilitary group to over four years in prison, adding to concerns that the group will not be made to answer for their crimes, thought to include the murder of 1,200 people.
Forty-three former members of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC) were sentenced on August 21 to four years and four months in prison for aggravated criminal conspiracy. The demobilized neo-paramilitaries reacted to the judgement with joy, laughing and smiling, according to El Espectador.
Some 267 members of the ERPAC demobilized in December. The Colombian government failed to legally process all the fighters, and over 240 were freed within hours. Eighty percent have since been re-captured, with 43 members sentenced to four years and five months in May.
The group’s leader, Jose Eberto Lopez, alias “Caracho,” who orchestrated the demobilization, is still reportedly negotiating with prosecutors over his charges. He is currently facing charges of homicide, forced displacement and extortion, among others.
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The latest round of sentencings provides further reason to criticize what has been perceived as a toothless demobilization process. Though the government was able to re-capture many of those originally freed, the length of sentences so far handed down to members of a group suspected of being responsible for 1,200 murders opens the government up to accusations it is being too lenient. The apparently celebratory reaction of the 43 sentenced will do little to quell such criticisms. It remains to be seen if higher-up members will get tougher sentences.
Despite the demobilization, there are an estimated 500-700 remaining ERPAC members still at large in Colombia’s Eastern Plains. According to an International Crisis Group report from June, these have split into two warring factions, the Meta Bloc and the Libertadores del Vichada, with the first group believed to still have ties to Colombian kingpin Daniel “El Loco” Barrera Barrera, a long-time ally of the ERPAC. The groups are reportedly fighting for control of drug cultivating territory and trafficking corridors.
In May, a shipment of 150 rifles reportedly sent by El Loco was seized in the province of Meta, presumably headed for the Meta Bloc faction of the ERPAC.