Two ex-members of the demobilized paramilitary coalition AUC are currently locked in a deadly struggle for control of the drug trade on Colombia’s eastern plains, known as Los Llanos.
In the remote and largley lawless border areas between the central Meta and eastern Vichada departments, “The Liberators of Vichada” and “The Meta Bloc,” (alternatively known as the “Llano Resiste Bloc”) two dissident, drug-trafficking factions of the neo-paramilitary group, ERPAC, have caused havoc as they have turned their weapons against each other in a battle over land rights and the reported 97 tons of cocaine produced yearly in the region.
According to newspaper El Tiempo, both groups have expanded their hold over large swaths of land in the south-central Meta and Guaviare departments in the past few months. During the first month of 2013, some 40 combatants and civilians were believed to have died in the fighting between the two groups. A wide aray of events during 2012 and 2013 indicate the war between the groups is escalating. In December, assassins killed five people in Meta’s capital Villavicencio, while a series of violent attacks in other areas of Meta indicated the feared ex-AUC member “Pijarvey” and his Liberators of Vichada had taken the war to the Meta Bloc’s heartland, possibly aided by another, larger neo-paramilitary group, Los Urabeños.
Pijarvey, the leader of the Liberators of Vichada, was considered the right-hand man of killed ERPAC leader “Cuchillo,” until his death in 2010. Meanwhile, “Monstrico,” the leader of the Meta Bloc, is also a former member of Cuchillo’s organization.
Pijarvey returned to Colombia’s eastern plains in early 2012, after having spent two years in prison. The return of ex-AUC member spread fear among peasants living in the region, and the confrontation with the Meta Bloc escalated.
“It is a territorial dispute to control the narco-trafficking corridors,” said a police representative in the area to radio station RCN about the war between the two groups.
However, the military chief of the Meta Bloc, alias “Orozco,” denied the combat was due to a territorial or drug trafficking dispute.
“What we want is that they [Liberators of Vichada] respect the zone where the self-defense forces of Meta were born aproximately 22 years ago.”
To complicate things further, left-wing FARC rebels have a significant presence on the eastern plains where the groups operate, leading to an intricate turf war between rebels and neo-paramilitaries over economically valuable land. In June of 2012, FARC rebels from the 16th Front massacred five people who were believed to be associates of the Meta Bloc. Meanwhile, the left-wing insurgents have been known to sell coca base, the raw product used to make cocaine, to neo-paramilitaries and drug traffickers in the region.
According to Colombian intelligence sources from 2012, the fighting between the Meta Bloc and the Liberators of Vichada over land and drug trafficking “could be marked by a broad difference, originating from the La Picota prison,” where detained ex-leaders of ERPAC and other drug traffickers tried to send their associates to take control of the region.
ERPAC, or the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia, was considered the heir of the AUC’s Heroes of Guaviare Front, a division of the Centauros Bloc. After the Bloc officially demobilized in 2006, ERPAC, formed by alias “Cuchillo,” a prominent member of the Heroes of Guaviare Front, emerged as a successor group, hiring experienced members of the demobilized AUC. Cuchillo led the organization until he was killed by Colombian security forces in December 2010.
After the death of Cuchillo, the organization fractured, with one part, led by alias “Caracho,” surrendering to Colombian authorities. However, according to the conflict-monitoring NGO International Crisis Group, the demobilization was marred by irregularities and only 270 of the organization’s some 1,200 members surrendered.
BACKGROUND: ERPAC commanders surrender