The founder of the Gaitanistas will be tried as a criminal and not a demobilized paramilitary, following a court ruling on a case that marks the dividing line between Colombia's paramilitary movement and their criminal successors known as the BACRIM.
A judge from the Justice and Peace Tribunal -- a court set up to handle the demobilization of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the rightwing paramilitary umbrella group that demobilized in the mid-2000s -- ruled that Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias "Don Mario," did not qualify to be tried as part of the process.
Although Don Mario appeared on the list of AUC chiefs to be tried under the demobilization law, which would see him recieve a maximum 8-year sentence, the court ruled his continued criminal activities after 2006 made him ineligible.
Among the evidence cited by the judge were intercepted phone calls in which members of the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), referred to Don Mario as their leader, and a document written by one of Don Mario's main successors, the now deceased Juan de Dios Usuga David, alias "Giovanni," in which he stated Don Mario was his boss and had ordered the kidnapping of 25 people.
Don Mario admitted rearming and forming the Heroes of Castaño bloc on the orders of notorious AUC chief Vicente Castaño. However, he said he had only done so because Castaño told him that drug lord and paramilitary leader Diego Murillo, alias "Don Berna," planned to kill them.
In the coming weeks, Don Mario, who was arrested in 2009, will be charged with aggravated criminal conspiracy in Colombia. He may later face extradition to the United States, reported El Colombiano.
InSight Crime Analysis
Vicente Castaño was murdered in 2007, most likely at the hands of his AUC associates. Don Mario quickly moved to seize control of the operation and began operating under the name, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces, which would later become the Urabeños.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños Profile
While the end of the demobilization of the AUC in 2006 is often cited as the beginning of the era of the narco-paramilitary successor groups known as the BACRIM (from Spanish "Bandas Criminales" or "Criminal Bands"), it is arguable that the loss of the AUC leadership to violence or extradition in 2007 and 2008 marks the true dividing line between the criminal epochs. It was at this time that mid-level commanders such as Don Mario took control of AUC remnants and began shaping the BACRIM.
The judge's decision to try Don Mario as head of the AGC and not as a Vicente Castaño's finance chief and hatchet man rightly reflects this shift.