Locals from northwest Colombia who last week blocked the demobilization of local FARC guerrillas agreed on Monday to allow the demobilization after the defense minister promised to send more troops to the lawless area, according to newspaper El Tiempo.
The locals stopped the caravan travelling a few hundred armed FARC fighters last week, claiming feared paramilitary death squads had been seen in the area just ahead of the demobilization.
The local farmers, particularly those growing coca, feared that successor groups of the formally demobilized paramilitary umbrella organization AUC would sow terror in Catatumbo, already one of Colombia’s most war-torn regions.
Following mediation by the United Nations, which observes the FARC demobilization process, Defense minister Luis Carlos Villegas traveled to the rural region to talk to the concerned locals.
The minister promised to send in extra police and soldiers to fill up the security void left by the FARC that was the de-facto authority in much of Colombia until a peace deal last year.
However, in some places paramilitary death squads almost immediately filled the power vacuum and are terrorizing and killing civilians in other parts of the country where the national government is hardly in control.
I have given the very clear instruction to reinforce our police and military presence in Catatumbo. We are moving from 6,300 to 8,500, as in, there will be 2,200 additional soldiers and policemen in this region.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas
While the locals, many of whom are coca farmers, said they had been threatened by members of the mysterious paramilitary group “Aguilas Negras,” the minister said the extra forces were “to guarantee that the population is safe from threats coming from the ELN,” Colombia’s last-standing rebel group with whom the government is holding peace talks.
The minister has so far denied the existence of paramilitary groups, claiming that with the demobilization of the AUC an end came of the phenomenon of politicians and businesses using death squads for either “parapolitics” or “para-economics.”
While officially fighting the half a dozen substantial paramilitary groups and smaller drug trafficking organizations, the largest of active paramilitary group, the AGC, has grown from 250 in 2008 to “no more than 3000” in 2016, according to the police.
The paramilitary group told this website it has some 8000 members, “including informants” presumably in the military and police, with whom the AUC often worked together.
While Colombia’s rebel groups like the FARC and ELN have mainly targeted state forces and infrastructure, the paramilitary groups target primarily Leftists, human rights workers, journalists and, since a few years, land claimants.
Particularly during the AUC offensive in the 1990s until their demobilization in 2006, millions of Colombians were displaced. Their lands subsequently were usurped by the business and political allies of the AUC members groups.
Since 2011, a Victims Law allows land theft victims to reclaim their land and last year’s peace deal with the FARC marks the beginning of a post-conflict criminal investigation into the 12,500 suspected civilians collaborators and the 24,400 state officials either in prison or on trial for war-related rimes, many of whom committed in collusion with the AUC.
The parapolitics scandal has already resulted in the incarceration of dozens of lawmakers and more than half a dozen governors. However, the ties between the paramilitaries and their ties to multinationals and locals elites are yet to really begin.
The peace deal and the victims law threaten many of these paramilitary collaborators to be left without their war trophies, which presumably has led to the recent surge in killings of land claimants.
While the government had agreed to begin effectively dismantling “paramilitarism” in September already, it only formally inaugurated the National Commission of Security Guarantees in charge of the investigation of ties between the mafia and the elites less than two weeks ago.
The military, which according to the peace agreement would enter abandoned FARC territory days after the peace deal is nowhere to be seen, locals in several regions have told Colombia Reports.
The ELN has also said to be moving into FARC territory, possibly to increase leverage while negotiating peace with the government.