Judicial authorities said Sunday they are “90% certain” they have exhumed the remains of Fidel Castaño, one of the main founders of Colombia’s paramilitary groups.
At a press conference in the capital Bogota, top prosecutor Juan Pablo Hinestroza told reporters that “a mission of the exhumation team of the Justice and Peace Unit has probably found the remains of him who was considered the boss of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia [AUC], Fidel Castaño Gil.”
According to the prosecutor, investigators found the body with the help of former paramilitary commander “Monoleche,” who had given the Prosecutor General’s Office the coordinates of where Castaño’s body could be found.
Investigators then exhumed the body from a mass grave in San Pedro, a municipality in the northwestern Uraba region.
“The corpse has been identified,” said Hinestroza, adding that following an examination of dental records his investigators are 90% certain the remains belong to Castaño, who disappeared in 1994, less than a decade after the senior criminal began organizing private paramilitary armies to protect his own drug business and local ranchers from attacks by leftist rebel groups like the FARC and ELN.
Castaño, whose brothers were a long-time ally of slain drug lord Pablo Escobar, formed the Pepes, a paramilitary group that carried out bloody attacks against Escobar’s drug empire in the early 1990s. The militia allegedly collaborated with Colombian police and the DEA to locate and kill Escobar.
Following his death, Castaño’s brothers Carlos and Fidel went on to found the ACCU, a paramilitary organization active in the northwest of Colombia that was later converted to the AUC.
The AUC, with the help of local military and police commanders and the financial support of local businesses, began a bloody offensive against the FARC in the mid-1990s that consolidated the group’s control over cocaine exports to the United States and Europe.
Following the presumed death of Carlos and Vicente Castaño, the paramilitaries took part in peace talks with the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe — himself investigating for dealings with the paramilitary group — and demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
Demobilized members of the AUC confessed to tens of thousands of human rights violations including murder, rape, forced disappearances and forced displacement.