Colombian authorities are alarmed about increasing paramilitary power across the eastern Colombian plains, reported newspaper El Tiempo on Monday.
While national authorities focus on dealing with escalating violence in Medellin and the southwest, notorious warlord ‘Cuchillo’ – on whose head rests a 5 billion peso reward – has managed to recruit an army exceding 1,100 members.
In addition, there is concern over the rumored return of another paramilitary warlord ‘Martin Llanos’, asumed to have spent the last 5 years in exile in neighbouring Ecuador.
According to local authorities, Pedro Olivero “Cuchillo” Guerrero is offering a 700 thousand peso salary to new recruits but is also using intimidation tactics to increase the manpower of his Army, the Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC).
Authorities are dealing with “increasing systematic recruitment. They use boys to transport arms and drugs as well as … informants placed in strategic locations,” Meta Ombudsman Eduardo Gonzalez told El Tiempo. Gonzalez has received testimonies from at least 40 boys who have worked for ERPAC in recent months but claims the figure is likely to be far higher due to the locals’ fear of speaking out.
Dozens of families have reportedly been forced to flee the area to avoid the recruitment of their children.
Regarding ‘Martin Llanos’, El Tiempo reports that he has gathered a group of some 30 men and is pressuring demobilized paramilitary fighters in the Casanera department to join him. He is allegedly seeking an alliance with paramilitary group ‘Aguilas Negras’ to strengthen his position in the region.
Eastern Colombia is an important region for the country’s drug trade due to its proximity to Venezuela and its access to drug trafficking routes to the northern Caribbean coast.