Colombia has begun seizing properties of businessmen, ranchers and companies that collaborated with far-right paramilitary groups that have killed thousands and displaced millions of Colombians.
The Metropolitan Police of Pereira oversaw the forfeiture of the property of rancher Jose Leonidas Osorio who was linked to the Cacique Pipinta Front of the now defunct paramilitary group AUC.
The former commanders of the Cacique Pipinta Front have admitted to killing 140 civilians, including school teachers, human rights defenders and labor rights workers, incriminating numerous politicians and businessmen implicated in these crimes.
Osorio is the first of a growing list of paramilitary collaborators.
The current investigation targets some 150 companies, entrepreneurs and ranchers who funded and supported extreme-right paramilitary groups like the Cacique Pipinta Front.
The list includes multinational banana company Chiquita and prominent businessmen like the late “emerald czar,” Victor Carranza.
More than 10,000 individuals and businesses are accused of having collaborated with the AUC.
The seizure of the properties marks the first stages of government attempts to dismantle the right-wing neo-paramilitary organisations in Colombia that that are posing a major threat to the peace process with guerrilla group the FARC.
The judicial procedure was performed in seven different municipalities in the rural coffee region with assets seized estimated to value over $2.6 million (7.5 billion pesos).
The funds from the confiscation of these properties would be used for the reparation of victims affected by the conflict.
The address of the Office of Forfeiture noted the significant impact that these armed death squads had on the populations in these areas.
“There remained settled large groups of ‘counterinsurgency’, the same groups conducting patrols in rural areas sowing the terror of death in the population.”
Of Osorio, witnesses corroborated his links with the AUC organization that was allegedly demobilized under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe.
“Mr. Osorio had a strong tie to the organization because he provided all the farms for us to stay in and hide from the law,” a former AUC member explained a court.
The clamp down on paramilitary collaborators comes as Colombia’s government are locked in peace talks with the country’s largest left-wing guerrilla group, the FARC.
As both sides negotiate a bilateral ceasefire and a framework for the demobilization of the rebels, the FARC have demanded that the government deal with the threat of paramilitarism.
President Juan Manuel Santos has come under pressure to allay the fears of the FARC that they will face political extermination should they disarm.
They seizure of property and assets from paramilitary sympathizers is part of a wide range of new measures introduced by his administration as they seek to dismantle the remnants of paramilitary structures and pave the way for peace.