An apologetic member of a Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary group AUC was
sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison Tuesday for trying to acquire
anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers and other powerful weapons
for $25 million worth of cocaine.
Diego Alberto Ruiz Arroyave pleaded guilty in October to conspiring
to provide material support and resources to the United Self-Defense
Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials, AUC. The group has
been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
my prayers, I thank God … for the courage he has given me to make
reparations for the damage I have done in my life,” Ruiz read in
Spanish from a statement. His wife, who had come from Colombia, sat in
Under sentencing guidelines, U.S. District
Judge David Hittner could have given Ruiz a prison term of more than 27
years. But he agreed to a request from prosecutor Jeff Vaden to reduce
the sentence because of Ruiz’s cooperation Ruiz with U.S. and Colombian
Erik Sunde, Ruiz’s attorney, said his client
was not a combatant in the AUC. Sunde described him as more of a
“go-fer” for his cousin, Miguel Arroyave, who was the leader of the
Centaurs Bloc, one of the AUC’s biggest factions.
helped demobilize paramilitary fighters as part of a peace effort in
Colombia, even after his cousin was killed in 2004 in the middle of
peace talks with the Colombian government, Sunde said.
“He has continued with this process until this day,” Sunde said.
was one of 14 Colombian paramilitary members extradited to the United
States in May 2008 to face charges of supporting a terrorist
organization and drug trafficking in cases around the country. Since
then, three other paramilitary members have been extradited to the U.S.
case against Ruiz stemmed from a 2004 superseding indictment that
accused him of participating in a scheme to acquire the Russian and
Eastern European-made weapons for the AUC. The weapons included
shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenade
launchers and AK-47 assault weapons. The AUC never got any weapons.
say that for a little over a year from 2001 to 2002, those who took
part in the scheme met in Houston, Mexico City, London, Bogota,
Colombia, and other locations with an undercover police officer and an
FBI confidential informant.
Ruiz was one of nine people in
the plot, including Uwe Jensen, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Denmark
who sat on that country’s parliament from 1975 to 1979. Sunde also
All but two have been sentenced. Carlos
Ali Romero Varela, who brokered the deal, is set to be sentenced next
week. The final defendant remains a fugitive.
The AUC was
formed in the 1980s to defend wealthy ranchers from leftist guerrillas.
But the vigilante force quickly turned into one of Colombia’s biggest
drug-trafficking organizations. It stole millions of acres of land,
often in collusion with local political, business and military leaders.
a peace process begun in 2003, more than 31,000 paramilitary fighters
have demobilized. Many of the group’s leaders agreed to prison
sentences in exchange for protection from extradition to the United
States if they confessed to all their crimes
President Alvaro Uribe decided to extradite Ruiz and the other
paramilitary members, saying they were still committing crimes from
prisons and were not cooperating with authorities.
victims of the private militias and human rights activists have said
the extraditions could undermine investigations into paramilitary
Prosecutors in Colombia blame the illegal militias for at least 10,000 murders.
In all, about 900 criminal suspects have been extradited to the United States under Uribe, the vast majority on drug charges.