WikiLeaks is a curious, multilayered beast. On the surface, the diplomatic cables reveal “secrets.” But perhaps more importantly, they give us context and meaning to government policy and, sometimes, folly.
Such is the case with a recent set of United States diplomatic cables concerning the Colombian government’s attempts to talk peace with right-wing paramilitary groups in early part of the 2000s. These cables demonstrate that the Colombian government’s denial that the new criminal groups (or ‘bandas criminales’ – BACRIMs), who emerged following the talks, were direct descendants of the paramilitaries was simply a means of avoiding an increasingly stark reality: that the peace talks had largely failed.
One cable (reproduced below), sent to Washington from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota in November 2006, discusses a meeting between high-level Colombian government and military officials and the Organization of American States’ Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP). The body presented a report on some 22 “criminal structures associated with former demobilized paramilitaries,” which “have survived military and police operations to dismantle them.” According to the cable the report paid particular attention to gangs formed by former mid-level paramilitaries from the AUC’s so-called Northern Bloc, whose organizations, it says, “remain largely intact.”
The report warns of the rise of groups such as the Aguilas Negras and the Rastrojos, which it describes as “cases of rearmament” involving ex-paramilitaries, and says that many of these emerging groups are led by former mid-level paramilitary commanders.
Even as the cable details government measures to combat these gangs, stationing police officers in “demobilized areas” and carrying out operations against the emerging groups, it demonstrates how the authorities’ refusal to acknowledge the links of heredity between the BACRIM and the paramilitaries goes back to the groups’ founding. According to the cable, Colombian General Mario Montoya “stressed that the last paramilitary group demobilized in August , which means [the paramilitary umbrella group known as the] AUC no longer exists. He characterized the task facing security forces as combating ‘criminal gangs or delinquents at the service of narco-traffickers.’”
In this respect, little has changed. The term ‘BACRIM’ itself was coined by the authorities in 2006 in order to discuss the groups without referring to their paramilitary origins. Following the publication of a Human Rights Watch report in Feb 2010, titled “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The new face of violence in Colombia,” the Uribe administration responded, “The government has acknowledged that there is a problem with emerging criminal gangs,” before adding, “We do not believe that this is an extension of paramilitarism […] Paramilitarism in Colombia is extinguished and its leaders are in jail.”
More recently, in February 2011, President Santos restated the line that the BACRIM are no more than drug trafficking gangs, who do not have ties to the paramilitaries.
“Criminal gangs are just that: criminal gangs. They are not illegal armed groups,” the president said.
Under Santos the government has heightened its rhetoric, calling the groups Colombia’s number one enemy, and announcing a new strategy known as D6 to combat them. The U.S. has also stepped into the fray, setting up a unit to prosecute the gangs and indicting leaders such as the Rastrojos’ Diego Perez Henao, alias ‘Diego Rastrojo.’
But despite being a fresh president, only six months into his first term, Santos is in no position to challenge the previous government’s position that the BACRIM are an entirely new phenomenon, without links to the paramilitaries. He was a close ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, serving as his defense minister, and so is closely implicated in the failures of the Uribe-managed demobilization project. The former president staked his reputation on the peace deal that he brokered with the paramilitary gangs, which resulted in 31,000 paramilitary fighters disarming and entering into the government’s peace program in exchange for limited prison sentences.
Violence attributed to paramilitary groups dropped following the peace deal, and many of the high-level leaders were jailed. But, as the cable details, as soon as the demobilization had taken place it was clear that the program had failed to fully dismantle the paramilitaries’ organizational, financial and political networks. The cable quotes a Colombian official as noting that it was difficult to eliminate the militias’ power structures because “they are anchored to the region’s illicit economy and their social control over the population persists.”
Human Rights Watch blames this incomplete disarmament process on the government’s failure to attack the AUC’s criminal networks and finances, allowing the groups to “hide assets, recruit new members and continue operating under new guises.”
The program also failed to demobilize many mid-level commanders, who went on to run the BACRIMs. In the power void that followed the peace negotiations with the government, these lower-level leaders stepped forward to take over. Examples include the Paisas‘ Cesar Augusto Torres Lujan, alias ‘Mono Vides,’ and the Aguilas Negras’ Ospina Villarraga Oscar Mauricio, alias ‘Camilo.’
The cable shows that this issue was already evident in 2006. It quotes the MAPP head as saying that jailed paramilitary leaders told him, “They had not been able to control their former mid-level commanders for some time.”
This fracturing of command, which had begun even before demobilization, contributed to the failure of the process, as the AUC leaders were unable to ensure that their entire organization would surrender and disarm.
To admit that the BACRIMs are direct descendants of the paramilitaries would be to admit these failings in the demobilization program, and call into question the success of the entire Uribe project, which Colombia’s current leaders are still closely linked to.
C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 010691
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/25/2016
TAGS: KJUS PGOV PINR PREL PTER CO
SUBJECT: CARAMAGNA SAYS PEACE PROCESS RESPONSIBLE FOR
AIRING POLITICAL-PARAMILITARY TIES
Classified By: Political Counselor John S. Creamer
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Sergio Caramagna, Director of the Mission to Support
the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS), told us on November
20 that the peace process with the paramilitaries has helped
expose the ties between the paramilitaries and politicians.
Caramagna was pleased by a recent meeting held with top GOC
civilian and military officials on the need to combat new,
emerging criminal groups. Defense Minister Santos suggested
a monthly meeting to exchange information. Caramagna also
said the MAPP/OAS has unofficial GOC approval to extend its
mandate for three years. End summary.
Caramagna's Reaction to Recent Scandals
2. (C) MAPP/OAS Director Sergio Caramagna told us on
November 20 that politician-paramilitary ties would not have
become a public issue if not for the peace process with the
paramilitaries. He was encouraged by the public exposure of
such links and hoped the truth would continue to emerge. He
said Colombia's judicial system needed more resources to
implement the Justice and Peace law, but stressed that
Colombia was the only country in the world with a plan to
compensate victims and to punish the main perpetrators of
crimes against humanity.
3. (C) Caramagna said when he visited La Ceja two weeks ago,
former paramilitary leaders told him they had not been able
to control their former mid-level commanders for some time.
He noted the former paramilitary leaders were alone and
resentful. Even though they are better off in La Ceja than
they would be in other prison facilities, what was important
was that "they feel imprisoned."
MAPP/OAS and GOC Establish Information Exchange
4. (C) Caramagna was pleased with a November 10 meeting
convoked by Vice President Francisco Santos to exchange
MAPP/OAS and GOC information on rearmament and emerging
criminal groups. Caramagna said the purpose was to offer the
GOC an opportunity to respond to the MAPP/OAS's VIII
Quarterly Report, which focused on the emergence of new
criminal groups. GOC officials in attendance included Vice
President Santos, Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos,
Prosecutor General Mario Iguaran, Peace Commissioner
Restrepo, the chiefs of the branches of the Armed Services,
National Police Director General Jorge Castro, DIJIN Director
General Oscar Naranjo, and Carabineros Director Jorge Gomez.
5. (C) Caramagna said the MAPP/OAS presented its report to
the GOC on 22 criminal structures associated with former
demobilized paramilitaries (please see paragraphs 12 and 13
for information on the groups). Caramagna noted the 22
criminal structures have survived military and police
operations to dismantle them. He gave special attention to
former mid-level paramilitaries from the North Bloc, whose
organizations remain largely intact and are especially strong
in Cesar and southern Magdalena. MAPP/OAS also warned of
cooperation in certain regions between these criminal groups
and elements of the security forces.
6. (C) Defense Minister Santos said the GOC should meet
monthly with the MAPP/OEA to evaluate the situation. Santos
said the GOC should receive the MAPP/OAS quarterly reports
with gratitude rather than resistance, and use them
constructively. Permanent coordination and confidence
building should include constructive criticism. He said he
"perceived government willingness to combat these gangs but
it has not been enough." The Colombian Army Intelligence
motto should not say "God rewards persistence," but rather
"God rewards persistence and efficiency." He also suggested
the information reward system be expanded, not only to cover
leaders such as Vicente Castano and "Los Mellizos," but also
to include former mid-level paramilitary leaders. Lastly, he
recommended that the Administrative Department of Security
(DAS) and the Reinsertion Commissioner's Office attend these
Actions Against Emerging Criminal Gangs
7. (C) In the November 10 meeting, National Police Director
General Castro emphasized the increased police presence in
demobilized areas and the number of operations against
emerging criminal groups. In 2006, the police inaugurated 54
stations in 18 departments to establish GOC control over
areas formerly controlled by the ex-paras. Moreover, the
police established 12 additional stations in areas associated
with new criminal groups. The police have 2,733 new officers
dedicated exclusively to securing areas formerly controlled
by the ex-paras. Castro hoped to add 38 additional stations
by the end of 2006, with 50 more planned for 2007. He said
that in October, the police conducted 15 operations against
these groups and captured 90 people.
8. (C) Military Commander General Mario Montoya stressed
that the last paramilitary group demobilized in August which
means the AUC no longer exists. He characterized the task
facing security forces as combating "criminal gangs or
delinquents at the service of narcotraffickers." Montoya
emphasized the need for the military to occupy strategic
areas previously occupied by the paramilitaries. He said
mobile brigades have been sent to key areas and joint task
forces have been created in the departments of Choco,
Cordoba, Meta, Cauca, Narino, Antioquia Risaralda, and areas
between Valle and Choco.
9. (C) Peace Commissioner Restrepo agreed with the MAPP/OAS
assertion that emerging criminal gangs have been hit. But he
noted they had not been eliminated because "they are anchored
to the region's illicit economy and their social control over
the population persists." Restrepo said the police needed
more resources to fight the groups. He stressed that
corruption within security forces needed to be addressed.
Examples should be made of corrupt officials to show that the
government was serious.
MAPP/OAS Plan of Action for 2007-10
10. (C) Caramagna said the GOC has unofficially approved an
extension of the MAPP/OAS mandate for an additional three
years. He talked to Minister of Foreign Affairs Maria
Consuelo Araujo and Peace Commissioner Restrepo, and both
agreed with extending the Mission's mandate beyond its
current January 2007 deadline. The MAPP/OAS is also working
on a new action plan which it plans to present to the Group
of Friends on November 28.
11. (C) The new action plan includes two strategies:
consolidate the work with the AUC, and expand support for any
similar process with the ELN or FARC. The first strategy
includes post-demobilization and reinsertion verification;
Justice and Peace Law monitoring; support for the Reparations
and Reconciliation Commission; and support for local and
civil society initiatives. The second strategy consists of
improving MAPP/OAS's analytical capacity on the armed
conflict and scenarios for a political negotiation;
confidence building efforts; geographical presence in key
territories; and technical support for any future peace
processes. Caramagna said the only international group
prepared to assist in a future peace process with the ELN or
the FARC was the OAS. He said both the European Union and
the United Nations would face political and technical
difficulties in playing such a role.
Information on the 22 Emerging Criminal Groups
12. (C) The MAPP/OAS identified 22 cases of rearmament of
former demobilized paramilitaries. It had verified the
existence of fourteen groups in ten departments and was
examining reports regarding eight more groups. It estimated
there were a total of 3,000 criminal group members, among
them common criminals, narcotraffickers, paramilitaries who
never demobilized, and former demobilized paramilitaries.
The percentage of the former demobilized paramilitaries
participating was still small, but this could change. The
following are the 14 cases of rearmament:
- Guajira Department: three groups called "Aguilas Negras,"
"Aguilas de la Sierra," and "AUC," composed of 160 members,
led by former mid-level paramilitary leaders. The modus
operandi was control of illicit economy -- narcotrafficking
and hydrocarbons contraband.
- Atlantico Department: a 60-member group led by former
mid-level paramilitary leaders; they continue to call
themselves AUC. The modus operandi is control of illicit and
licit economy -- education and healthcare sectors.
- Cesar Department: three groups composed of 400 members led
by former mid-level paramilitary leaders; one group's name is
"Aguilas Negras." The modus operandi is control of illicit
and licit economy -- public works projects.
- North Santander Department: a 300-400 member group led by
former mid-level paramilitary leaders; they continue to call
themselves "Aguilas Negras." The modus operandi is control
of illicit economy -- narcotrafficking, arms trafficking, and
- Bolivar Department: a 50-member group led by former
mid-level paramilitary leaders; their group name is unknown.
The modus operandi is control of coca production, kidnapping,
and selective killings.
- Cordoba Department: a 50-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leader; the group name is "Los
Traquetos." The modus operandi is control of coca production
and control over the population.
- Tolima Department: a 20-member group; the group name is
"Bloque Pijao." The leader is undetermined. The modus
operandi is extortion and kidnapping.
- Casanare Department: a 200-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leader; the group name is
undetermined. The modus operandi is extortion. Military
operations, however, have forced its displacement.
- Caqueta Department: a 50-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leader; the group name is not
determined. The modus operandi is extortion and control over
the population. Military operations on October 21 led to the
death of two members, one of which was the principal
- Narino Department: a 250-300-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leader; the group name is "Nueva
Generacion Colombia" or "Mano Negra." The modus operandi is
control of extortion and control over the population. In
September and October the FARC's 29th Front confronted the
group. These combats led to the displacement of residents in
several administrative units or "corregimientos."
13. The following are eight groups still being identified:
- Cesar Department: a 70-member group led by former mid-level
paramilitary leaders; the group name is not determined. The
modus operandi is extortion and control over the population.
- Magdalena Department: a 150-member group led by former
mid-level paramilitary leaders; the group name is "Mano Negra
and/or Power Rangers." The modus operandi is extortion and
control over the population.
- Sucre Department: a 20-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leader; the group name is "Cartel
Verde" or "Aguilas Negras." The modus operandi is economic
and political control over the population.
- Antioquia Department: a 60-member group led by former
mid-level paramilitary leaders; the group name is not
determined. The modus operandi is control over the
population and the illicit economy.
- Santander Department: a 25-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leaders; the group name is not
determined. The modus operandi is extortion and illicit
- Meta Department: a 200-member group led by a former
mid-level paramilitary leader; the group name is not
determined. The modus operandi illicit crops and
- Narino Department: a 100-member group; group's leader has
not been determined; the group has several names "Nueva
Generacion Colombia," "Mano Negra," "Los Traquetos, and "Los
Rastrojos." The modus operandi is narcotrafficking.
- Putumayo Department: a 350-member group; the group's leader
has not been determined; the group has several names
"Rastrojos," "Cruzados," or "a faction of Sur Putumayo Front
that never demobilized." The modus operandi is