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Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces, prison authorities have joined them, while multiple government efforts to reform the system have failed.   

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The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) was a coalition of right-wing death squads that used the conflict to camouflage their illicit economic activities. These included drug trafficking, displacement, kidnapping, and extortion. The AUC once operated in two-thirds of the country with approximately 30,000 soldiers.

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  • Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

    Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces, prison authorities have joined them, while multiple government efforts to reform the system have failed.   

  • Intl Court Condemns Colombia for Bloody 2002 Military Operation

    Paramilitary fighter working with Colombian army troops in Operation Orion, 2002

    An international court's condemnation of the Colombian state's role in an infamous military operation in the city of Medellín speaks to the failings of militarizing the fight against illegal armed groups, particularly in heavily populated urban areas.

  • How Rejected FARC Peace Deal Compares to Earlier Paramilitary Pact

    Colombia's peace agreement was narrowly rejected in a plebiscite

    Following the narrow victory by those who opposed the peace deal between Colombia's government and the FARC rebel group, InSight Crime considers how it compares to the transitional justice agreement struck a decade earlier with right-wing paramilitaries.

  • Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

    By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were either in prison, or had gone over to his rivals, a shadowy paramilitary group that called itself People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar (Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar - PEPES). Leading the hunt against him for the PEPES was one-legged former guerrilla and cartel enforcer Diego Murillo Bejarano, alias "Don Berna." Berna had turned on Escobar after El Patrón killed his boss, Fernando Galeano. As part of the plan to destroy Escobar, he and the PEPES had teamed up with the Colombian police's famed Search Bloc.

  • Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

    Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias 'Jorge 40' (Getty Images)

    Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible 30-year jail sentence for drug trafficking. In his own mind, Tovar was a hero, not a drug trafficker -- a warrior, not a criminal.

  • Court Ruling Stirs Controversy Over Colombia's 'Para-Economy'

    A court ruling that mentioned Postobón sparked controversy.

    A recent ruling by Colombia’s Justice and Peace Court that mentioned Postobón called for employees of the iconic soft drink company to be investigated for possible past collaboration with a paramilitary group but did not explicitly implicate the company itself, court documents show.

  • Colombia Investigates Over 100 Disappearances from Bogotá Prison

    Modelo Prison, Bogota, Colombia

    Prosecutors in Colombia believe over 100 people were murdered, dismembered and disappeared in a Bogotá prison between 1999 and 2001, in a macabre example of how armed groups and drug traffickers turned Colombian prisons into hubs of organized crime.

  • Prosecution Gaffe Absolves Colombia Paramilitary of Drug Trafficking

    Former AUC chief Salvatore Mancuso

    The Colombian Supreme Court has absolved a former paramilitary leader of drug trafficking charges, reigniting doubts about the country's willingness and ability to administer justice to its most renowned war criminals.

  • Surprisingly Light Sentence for Colombia Paramilitary Chief

    One of Colombia's most notorious paramilitary warlords, "Jorge 40," could be free from prison in the United States in just five years following the conclusion of a strange judicial episode that raises yet more questions over the United States role in prosecuting Colombian paramilitaries.

  • Colombia Paramilitary Leader 'El Aleman' Released From Prison

    Freddy Rendon, alias "El Aleman"

    A former Colombian paramilitary leader with extensive links to organized crime has been released from prison, which may have significant consequences for Colombia's underworld and the country's largest drug trafficking group, the Urabeños.

Investigations

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How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

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José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

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Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...