Almost 2,000 demobilized paramilitaries have requested increased security measures from the Colombian government following assassination attempts and threats against them, reports El Tiempo.
Authorities report that many of the threats come from neo-paramilitary groups seeking to re-recruit former paramilitaries, with the most serious cases located in the departments of Antioquia, Cordoba, Cesar, Santander and capital city Bogota. 1,622 former paramilitaries have been murdered since they demobilized, according to authorities. A further 1,862 have requested more state security because they fear for their lives.
“In 2008 we had to move a demobilized paramiltary and his whole family, after his tongue was cut out, because they said he talked too much,” said Karen Aparicio, a representative of the High Council for Reintegration. Aparicio added that former paramilitaries are the primary targets for recruitment by neo-paramilitary groups.
To date, 325 demobilized paramilitaries and their families have been moved to other cities due to threats and assassination attempts. Since 2008, 64 demobilized paramilitaries have been murdered after reporting to authorities that they had received death threats, El Tiempo said.
Marcelo Alvarez, head of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) mission in Colombia, said that “the majority of threats and homicides of demobilized correspond to recruitment attempts by criminal groups.”
Alvarez added that offers to join criminal groups are becoming more “attractive” and less risky. “They are drug trafficking, patrolling and intelligence jobs; but they don’t participate in combat, which makes them less visible,” he said.
Colombian NGO Nuevo Arco Iris reports that drug lord kingpin Pedro Oliverio Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” offers luxuries and “excesses” such as drugs, alcohol and women, as well as large amounts of cash, to entice people to join his organization.
While previously paramilitary leaders were paid approxiamtely COP1 million (approximately $500) a month, they are now offered up to COP8 million COP (approximately $4,000) according to Nuevo Arco Iris.
A report by the OAS cites a study by the Antioquian local government, which estimates that 79% of the 2,704 demobilized paramilitaries surveyed had received a re-recruitment offer. The OAS says that one of the biggest problems facing former paramilitaries is that they are too scared to go to the authorities to seek protection.
Peace commissioner Frank Pearl told El Tiempo that in the last few months added security measures have been adopted to guarantee the safety of 90% of the demobilized paramilitaries who have been threatened.
Pearl also said that the government’s demobilization program offers a viable alternative to a life of crime.
“We don’t compete with money, nor does it interest us to compete with drug trafficking. An offer can be attractive economically, but what we offer is something better: peace. They can become qualified, have health, psychological support, in order to be able to enjoy life,” Pearl said
The High Council for Reintegration estimates that approximately 3,600 demobilized paramilitaries have been re-recruited, a total of 7% of the 52,000 demobilized paramilitaries around Colombia. NGOs estimate the figures to be considerably higher, El Tiempo comments.
According to the government 1,313 of those who joined neo-paramilitary groups were re-recruited in prison. The OAS cites problems in reintegrating into society as the key factor for former paramilitaries returning to crime. Lack of money was another reason cited.
While on average demobilized paramilitaries receive more than COP500,000 a month from the government, “some ex-combatants return to illegality not only for survival resources but also in pursuit of a more lucrative income generator,” the OAS concludes.