Former senior paramilitary commander “HH” has become the first major commander of paramilitary umbrella group AUC to be convicted under the Peace and Justice laws.
In this landmark decision handed down Wednesday, the Court of Justice and Peace in Bogota has sentenced Ever Veloza Garcia, alias “HH,” to seven years in prison.
The AUC commander was charged for the crimes of forced disappearance, forced displacement, conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, murder of protected persons, kidnapping, acts of barbarism, terrorism, aggravated theft and illegal recruitment.
Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law was enacted in 2005 to legally sustain a demobilization treaty between right-wing paramilitary group AUC and the government of former President Alvaro Uribe. In exchange for cooperating with authorities and demobilizing, the AUC received a pledge that no-one who came in as a result of the law would receive more than eight years in prison.
This has resulted in a sentence seemingly out of proportion with the crimes with which HH was convicted; In 2008, the former commander of AUC’s Calima bloc admitted having been responsible for the murder of 1,200 people in the northern region of Uraba in one year alone. There are over 222 investigations still open on the warlord.
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A further complication was that in March 2009, HH was extradited to the US by the Uribe government to face drug trafficking charges.
The militias of which HH was a senior commander arose in the mid-1980s to protect landowners and businesses from Marxist rebels, but degenerated into a fractious coalition of death squads whose chiefs grew rich from drug trafficking, land grabs and extortion. They are suspected to be involved in tens of thousands of forced disappearances and deaths since 1987.