Military


United Self-Defense Forces/Group of Colombia
(AUC - Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia)

Description

The AUC-commonly referred to as the paramilitaries-is an umbrella organization formed in April 1997 to consolidate most local and regional paramilitary groups each with the mission to protect economic interests and combat FARC and ELN insurgents locally. During 2002, the AUC leadership dissolved and then subsequently reconstituted most of the organization, claiming to be trying to purge it of the factions most heavily involved in narcotrafficking. The AUC is supported by economic elites, drug traffickers, and local communities lacking effective government security and claims its primary objective is to protect its sponsors from insurgents. It is adequately equipped and armed and reportedly pays its members a monthly salary.

Strength

Estimated 6,000 to 8,150, including former military and insurgent personnel

Location/Area of Operation

AUC forces are strongest in the northwest in Antioquia, Cordoba, Sucre, and Bolivar Departments. Since 1999, the group demonstrated a growing presence in other northern and southwestern departments. Clashes between the AUC and the FARC insurgents in Putumayo in 2000 demonstrated the range of the AUC to contest insurgents throughout Colombia

External Aid

None.

Activities

AUC operations vary from assassinating suspected insurgent supporters to engaging guerrilla combat units.

The United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) umbrella group, which includes many Colombian paramilitary forces, admittedly uses the cocaine trade to finance its counterinsurgency campaign. The head of the AUC, Carlos Castano, stated in 2000 that "70 percent" of AUC operational funding was from drug money and described it as an undesired but necessary evil. AUC elements appear to be directly involved in processing cocaine and exporting cocaine from Colombia.

Some insurgent units apparently have assisted drug trafficking groups in transporting and storing cocaine and marijuana within Colombia. In particular, some insurgent units protect clandestine airstrips in southern Colombia. There was, however, no information as of 2000 that any FARC or ELN units had established international transportation, wholesale distribution, or drug money laundering networks in the United States or Europe. Northern and central Colombia continues to be the primary base of operations for paramilitary groups. Recent reporting, however, indicated that paramilitary groups have become more active in southern Colombia.

Most of these paramilitary groups do not appear to be directly involved in any significant coca, opium poppy, or marijuana cultivation. Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano admitted, however, that his group receives payments -- similar to the taxes levied by the FARC -- from coca growers in southern Colombia to protect them from guerrillas, according to press reporting.

Several paramilitary groups also raise funds through extortion, or by protecting laboratory operations in northern and central Colombia. The Carlos Castano organization, and possibly other paramilitary groups, appear to be directly involved in processing cocaine. At least one of these paramilitary groups appears to be involved in exporting cocaine from Colombia.

On October 3, 2000, in the town of Vijes in the Valle Department, Colombia, members of the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) terrorist organization murdered nine people in a killing spree, including the town's police inspector. The murders began when the terrorists went to the home of Jair Cuetia, who had been the town's police inspector for 13 years, and shot him in the presence of his wife. The terrorists next went to the home of Rosendo Guzman, a 43 year-old farmer, killing him despite his wife's pleas for his life. The armed terrorists painted AUC slogans on the houses they visited. The group was traveling in a Toyota pick up truck, which they had stolen from Victor Rubio, a peasant whom they killed a few hours earlier. At the time the terrorists murdered him, Rubio was in his home eating with his 24-year-old son. The terrorists then traveled to the district of Ocache, and murdered five members of a family. In the living room of the house, the armed gunmen killed Manuel Samboni, a farmer; his sons, Alirio, age 22; Vitelo, 24; Eduardo, 30, and Estevan Diomeli, 28, who was Samboni's son-in-law. During the rampage, women and children who had been locked up in bedrooms escaped through the windows.

Since December 2002, the paramilitary groups under Carlos Castano's influence have adopted a cease-fire and are exploring peace negotiations with Bogota. The AUC generally avoids actions against US personnel or interests.

As of 2003, after the announced cease-fire, the AUC, in accordance to promises made during negotiations with the government, had begun to demobilize some its forces. As of 2006, up to 4000 AUC soldiers had turned in their weapons to government officials and disbanded from the illegal paramilitary group.

While the AUC appeared to be losing power, it has been heavily debated whether they have in fact gained influence and power over the region. The group, which had selected mayoral, governor, and council representatives in regions they had strong influence, claimed in 2006 to have control of 30% of the Colombian Congress. In addition to playing a strong role in Colombian politics, the AUC has threatened to halt the ceasefire and demobilization unless the government adopts amnesty terms acceptable to the paramilitary group’s leaders. A major point of contention was the abolishment of laws allowing AUC members to be extradited and detained in the United States.

As of 2006, it was believed that even after partial demobilization, the AUC still had over 10,000 armed troops under its command.

The government came to terms with AUC in 2003 and over 30,000 combatants were demobilized by 2008. However, as of 2010 the extent of AUC infiltration into Colombia's security forces and other government agencies continued to hurt government credibility. In addition, other paramilitary groups have emerged since 2003. The government considers the recent upsurge in paramilitary violence to be a police/law enforcement issue, not a military/national security issue-a dubious conclusion.




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