Several demobilized members of a notorious right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia passed themselves off as a new self-defense force to extort locals, highlighting how these armed actors continue to terrorize the country long after having agreed to lay down their weapons.
Prosecutors arrested six people belonging to the so-called "Marqueteños" in the central department of Caldas on extortion, forced displacement and weapons charges, the Attorney General’s Office announced.
The group's members included Luis Enrique Toro Murillo, alias “Jabalí,” and Luis Carlos Ospina Bedoya, alias “Samaná,” both of whom demobilized with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC), a right-wing paramilitary army that killed tens of thousands of people during the country's armed conflict. The two men participated in the Justice and Peace Program for AUC members, who agreed to demobilize between 2003 and 2006, according to prosecutors.
SEE ALSO: AUC News and Profile
Heavily armed and wearing military uniforms, the group declared itself a new self-defense force and demanded protection payments from residents of Marquetalia and Samaná in Caldas, according to Ángela María Bedoya Vargas, director of the Caldas Section of the Attorney General’s Office.
The threats forced several of the victims to abandon their homes after they were unable to pay. According to one victim in Marquetalia, the group consisted of about 15 people who moved through various neighborhoods.
Jabalí and Samaná weren't the only former AUC members arrested in May. Rubber Antonio Navarro Caicedo, alias "Coyote," was also captured on charges he extorted residents of Puerto Lleras in the central Meta department, according to a news release from the Attorney General's Office.
InSight Crime Analysis
More than 15 years after the enactment of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law – the legal framework under which the AUC demobilized – criminals with a history of belonging to paramilitary groups continue to haunt Colombia.
Under the law, paramilitary leaders were given reduced prison sentences of between five and eight years if they confessed to their crimes and collaborated with tribunals.
Due to case backlogs, however, justice has been slow. In 2017, only 47 sentences had been issued in cases involving just 195 of the 2,378 demobilized leaders participating in the program, according to Colombian government data. Other AUC commanders chose not to turn themselves in or passed themselves off as rank-and-file members to avoid prison.
SEE ALSO: The Ghost and His Paramilitary Army
The transitional justice process with the AUC also was never intended to sentence the more than 30,000 rank-and-file paramilitary members, who were essentially pardoned upon turning over their weapons.
In an effort to facilitate the reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life, Colombia’s Agency for Reintegration (Agencia Colombiana para la Reintegración - ACR) provided temporary stipends, education and vocational training, access to health care, grants for micro-business projects and counseling. Still, recidivism rates were initially estimated at about 20 percent, according to ACR data.
Due to flaws in the monitoring processes, the current whereabouts of many demobilized paramilitary members are unknown, and the recent arrests suggest that some – though it is unclear exactly how many – have returned to the criminal activities they pledged to leave behind.