Neo-paramilitary group ERPAC begins demobilization

Some 150 of at least 320 members of the neo-paramilitary group ERPAC are demobilizing Thursday in the first leg of a number of surrenders planned over the next 10 days.

The group of about 150 neo-paramilitaries have decided to arrive in the central Colombian towns of San Martin, Mapiripan and San Jose del Guaviare to begin the demobilization process.

A commission of 25 prosecutors and at least 300 government researchers were called to Villavicencio Wednesday to coordinate the delivery of the ERPAC members, according to newspaper El Espectador.

The commission will receive and interview the neo-paramilitaries, and after all the facts are brought to light, decisions will be made as to what sort of respective charges will be brought against them. Most will have to answer for crimes of conspiracy, drug trafficking and weapons manufacturing.

Under the current legal framework, the ERPAC are not entitled to the same liberating benefits as other illegal armed groups such as the FARC, who can turn themselves in without fear of persecution.

The eagerness of the ERPAC to lay down their arms is such that they are willing to face indictments and convictions to no longer be part of the drug-trafficking organization. For their compliance to demobilize, many ERPAC members will be given the opportunity to accept preliminary bargains in order to receive reduced sentences, Caracol Radio reported.

According to the radio station, the most worrying thing about the demobilization and the subsequent prosecution of ERPAC members is the small number of prosecutors who will attend the proceedings. Compounding the problem are also food costs and temporary accomodations for the anticipated influx of the neo-paramilitaries.

ERPAC’s current leader, Jose Elberto Lopez, alias “Caracho,” has been saying on several occasions that he was looking for a way out and blamed his slain predecessor, alias “Cuchillo,” for the majority of the crimes of which the organization is accused.

Caracho insisted that there be no close police involvement in the demobilization process while the chief of police from the town of Meta said that he had not received any instructions that the police were to be involved and that everything would be coordinated by the prosecution, reported newspaper El Tiempo.

According to Elyssa Pachico, an analyst for organized crime website InSight Crime, Caracho’s faction makes up about a third of the 1,200 active ERPAC members.

It may be just Caracho’s faction of the ERPAC which is demobilizing. There is reportedly another faction loyal to another paramilitary leader. So that probably explains why just 400 out of 1,200 guys are demobilizing. That ERPAC faction will probably stay in the Eastern Plains and keep on trafficking drugs.”

“Meanwhile you have alleged paramilitary, Victor Carranza, who always hated the ERPAC and another old timer,  Hector German Buitrago, alias “Martin Llanos,” who used to work in Casanare and who also hates the ERPAC. I think if there’s going to be fighting over the Llanos, it’s going to originate in the Llanos.”

As for the FARC, who reportedly have been working together with ERPAC, the analyst said, “The FARC have really been hammered in the Eastern Plains. They only went into an alliance with the ERPAC because they had to; they needed the help. So I think rather than seeing the ERPAC’s surrender as the loss of an ally, the FARC may see an opportunity to take over more parts of the drug trafficking chain.”

Pachico estimates that other prominent drug trafficking organizations like the Rastrojos and the Urabeños do not have the manpower in the east of Colombia to enter a possible power struggle.

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