Colombia’s government asked Congress to approve legislation that would allow the demobilization of the country’s largest illegal armed group, the AGC.
The group, which has an estimated 7,000 members, offered to surrender to justice in September last year. Its leaders abandoned the demobilization process of paramilitary group AUC between 2003 and 2006.
The proposal would grant lower sentences to demobilizing members of illegal armed groups, but does not shield them from extradition to the United States.
The lower sentence would allow members who are not accused of human rights violations or other serious crimes to reintegrate more smoothly.
In return, group leaders would be required to help dismantle crime rackets under their organization’s control.
Many of Colombia’s illegal armed groups are financed by illegal activity, for example drug trafficking and illegal mining. The US has accused the AGC, or “Clan del Golfo” as authorities call then, of being the country’s primary drug trafficking organization.
Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group, the ELN, is the only illegal armed group in the country that is considered a political, rather than a criminal organization.
Colombia’s illegal armed groups
The government agreed to pursue the dismantling of AUC successor groups in a 2016 peace agreement with the FARC, a guerrilla group that demobilized 14,000 people last year.
Groups like the AGC are behind much of the violence that cost more than 121 community representatives and rights leaders their lives since the peace process took effect.
State negligence, persistent paramilitary violence and lucrative criminal rackets have fueled the rearming of former FARC members and the formation of FARC successor groups.
The new legislation should remove the judicial obstacles that blocked other demobilization processes.
Groups formed by dissident fighters of the FARC, the guerrilla group that demobilized 14,000 people last year, could also request surrender under the proposed legislation.
To exclude drug trafficking groups, the judicial benefits are only for groups “that, under the command of one responsible leader, exercise control over a piece of territory that allows them to carry out concerted and sustained military operations.”
Groups that fall within that category must expose their entire organization, criminal activities and ties to corrupt government associates.
This way, the government hopes to prevent the continuation of criminal activity or political violence that has terrorized the country, and particularly the countryside, for decades.
Groups like the AGC have posed a major threat to both the country’s peace process and international efforts to reduce cocaine trafficking.
The state has traditionally lacked the capacity to effectively exercise control in the countryside, which allowed the surge of alternative power structures for centuries.