The AGC, or Gaitanista Self-Defenses of Colombia, is supposed to be much smaller than the FARC, although recent estimates are hard to come by.
While the group was formed by dissident members of the now-defunct AUC paramilitary organization, authorities consistently have tried to disassociate the AGC from the AUC by either changing its name or designation.
According to the National Police’s Integrated Intelligence System Against Criminal Groups, or C12 in short, the paramilitary successor group had approximately 2,366 members in 2013.
When the group formed five years earlier, it only had an estimated 250 members.
Well before the FARC’s peace deal with the government, the AGC had become by far Colombia’s most prominent drug trafficking organization and the main threat to the country’s human rights defenders.
It is also the illegal armed group with most territorial control. It is active along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts and has also popped up in central Colombia since 2014.
Exactly like its predecessors of the AUC, the AGC has now also begun wearing green arm bands.
‘Failed peace process’
Opposite to the FARC, the AGC has anti-communist origins because of its predecessor, the AUC, which was formed in 1997 under the pretext of defending civilians from guerrilla attacks, but soon took to killing other leftist, human right defenders and others.
While the AGC initially was almost as elusive as a ghost, the group has become increasingly vocal and even has its own website and YouTube channel now.
On its recently opened website, the AGC say they formed “in principle as the result of a failed peace process with the Self-Defense Forces of Colombia” (AUC), the paramilitary organization that demobilized between 2003 and 2006 under former President Alvaro Uribe.
Of the approximately 30,000 people who demobilized with the AUC, some 2,000 were assassinated as paramilitaries began testifying against their patrons in politics and the private sector.
The charges of colluding with what was a designated terrorist group according to the United States reach high up Colombia’s political and business elite.
When then-President Alvaro Uribe’s own cousin was charged with colluding with the AUC in 2008, the former president extradited the paramilitaries’ leadership against court orders.
The AGC has always considered this betrayal and the mass extradition of its original leaders has been one of the group’s main justifications for taking up arms.
A systematic issue?
Uribe’s cousin, by the way, was ultimately sentenced to prison and even his own brother is now in jail for allegedly forming a paramilitary death squad.
While among the most high-profile, the Uribe family is by far the only one in legal trouble because of their paramilitary ties.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, paramilitary testimonies have led to the criminal investigation of more than 1,200 politicians, 1,100 members of the armed forces and 12,500 private actors.
These ongoing allegations of ties between the private sector, the political elite and the paramilitaries will again be investigated by both a Truth Commission and a Transitional Justice Court as a consequence of the peace deal with the FARC.
The AGC has repeatedly asked to be included in the peace FARC’s peace process and this time demobilize for real and so have the former leaders of the AUC, but to no avail.
— AGC (@gaitanistascol) August 27, 2016
Second round of paramilitary peace talks?
The Colombian government has always refused to admit many paramilitaries, including AGC founder “Don Mario,” never demobilized. According to the authorities, those who stayed in arms are no more than organized crime groups.
Additionally, while the majority of senior commanders of the AGC are former paramilitaries, many of the members were recruited after the AUC’s demobilization and would be too young to have been part of AUC.
Nevertheless, while initially determining the group as a “Criminal Group” (BaCrim), the AGC is now considered and “Organized Armed Group,” the same as the smaller ELN guerrilla group, which has been holding peace talks with the Santos administration.
According to a top official from the neo-paramilitaries’ home province, Antioquia, the AGC has begun doing the same.
But until also they dissolve, they are likely to remain Colombia’s largest armed group, fueled by extortion, drug trafficking and illegal gold mining.
More imminently, the group is considered among the biggest threats of a successful disarmament of the FARC and not turn the guerrillas’ disarmament into the bloodbath the AUC deal with Uribe provoked.