Colombia’s army and police were “crucial” for the growth of paramilitary forces in northern Colombia in the 1990s, the Prosecutor’s General’s Office told investigative website Verdad Abierta.
While links between the military and paramilitary forces have long been established — a number of military commanders have been sentenced to prison sentences for their paramilitary ties — the extent of the military’s influence in the forming and rapid expansion of the AUC paramilitary organization after 1994 is still under investigation by both prosecutors and journalists.
Verdad Abierta reported that the “Bloque Bananero” of the now-demobilized AUC had received the support of both the army and police, which was fundamental to their growth in the northern region of Uraba, the stomping ground of the paramilitary group held responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths and other human rights violations.
FACT SHEET: Uraba region (map)
“Paramilitary activity in Uraba would not have been possible without the support of public force,” a source within the Prosecutor’s General’s Office told the website
|“without the help of the security forces it would have been impossible to bring about war in Uraba”|
The statement has been backed up by testimonies made by Hebert Veloza, alias “HH,” regional commander of the AUC, who stated that “without the help of the security forces it would have been impossible to bring about war in Uraba.”
The prosecutor’s office identified four types of support offered to the paramilitaries; the clearing of specified areas, delaying the entry of military units to certain zones, lifting roadblocks to allow the movement of troops as well as accompanying armed operations.
The Bloque Metro, the military and Uribe
The investigation into the links between the paramilitaries and the security forces unveiled Carlos Mauricio Garcia, alias “Doblecero,” an ex-officer of the Army who then joined the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), as the main link between the two groups.
Doblecero later became the commander of the “Bloque Metro,” a paramilitary group that was active in and around Medellin until it was forced to incorporate into the larger “Bloque Cacique Nutibara,” led by former Medellin Cartel enforcer “Don Berna.”
The same Bloque Metro has been alleged to be the link between the AUC and former President Alvaro Uribe. Opponents of the ex-head of state have accused Uribe of forming the Bloque Metro in the 1990s.
Uribe was governor of Antioquia, the state in which Uraba lies, between 1995 and 1997, coincidentally when the paramilitaries began an anti-guerrilla offensive from the Uraba region to other regions like Magdalena Medio and the eastern plains of Colombia.
The army’s 17th Brigade
The military unit most implicated for collusion with the paramilitaries was the 17th brigade of the national army, based in the municipality of Carepa, Uraba, and headed by Colonel Bayron Carvajal.
“All the operations involving Carvajal, or led by Carvajal in which there were casualties, were always done by us or with us and then legalized,” said Veloza.
“There were many soldiers who would walk around as civilians and who would pose as members of the AUC,” Veloza continued.
Carvajal was later succeeded by former General Rito Alejo del Rio, who is now in prison for helping paramilitaries kill a local community leader.
The prosecutors office highlighted the case of May 2004 when members of the paramilitaries lured two inhabitants from the town of Turbo to a secluded location, where they were then executed and subsequently handed over to the armed forces and dismissed as enemy combatants killed in action.
The army practice of inflating kill counts in order to gain promotion would become a serious human rights scandal for Colombia’s army and became known as false positives. It centered around the extrajudicial killings of thousands of civilians by members of the armed forces who dressed their victims as guerrillas in order to present them as combat kills.
FACT SHEET: False positives
Isn’t this old news?
It is not the first time that links have been uncovered between paramilitaries and the state in Uraba. In 2011, 13 politicians were accused of having ties with the AUC.
The revelation was one of many uncovered during the parapolitics scandal of 2006 when many congress members were accused of colluding with the AUC. Since then, several army generals have been linked, and some sentenced, for their ties to the AUC.
FACT SHEET: Parapolitics scandal (timeline)
The AUC was formally demobilized in 2006 although its dissolution marked the emergence of successor groups formed by mid-level commanders of the paramilitary organization who were exempted from justice or never took part in the demobilization process.
- “Paramilitarismo en Urabá no habría sido posible sin Fuerza Pública”: Fiscalía (Verdad Abierta)
- AUC Fact File (Insight Crime)