Colombia Assassination Raises Fears Paramilitary Release Could End in Violence

The first paramilitary leader to have left prison via Colombia’s transitional justice program has been murdered, a possible foreshadowing of more violence as the new generation of criminal organizations face up to the release of former underworld bosses.

On June 6, two alleged members of an unidentified criminal organization killed Jose de Jesus Perez Jimenez, alias “Sancocho,” in Medellin, reported Spanish news agency EFE.

Perez was a commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a coalition of right-wing paramilitary groups that completed formal demobilization in 2006. Perez was released from prison in July 2014 after serving an eight year sentence as a result of Colombia’s Justice and Peace law, which offered paramilitary leaders reduced sentences in exchange for their demobilization and testimony on the armed conflict.

Police say preliminary investigations into the case indicate Perez was killed out of retaliation for crimes he had committed as a member of the AUC, reported El Colombiano. Authorities have linked Perez to over 200 crimes, including his participation in the massacre of 26 indigenous people in the department of Cauca in 2001, according to El Colombiano.

In addition to Perez, two other individuals were killed during the attack, reported Caracol Radio

InSight Crime Analysis

The prospect of the release of former AUC leaders may well leave their successors — the neo-paramilitary organizations known as the BACRIM (from the Spanish for “criminal bands”) — feeling threatened as the former paramilitary leaders have the potential to upset the status quo in Colombia’s underworld.

Throughout much of Colombia, the underworld is experiencing a period of relative calm, with little competition between different BACRIM and firmly established drug trafficking relationships with insurgent guerrilla groups. But if the ex-paramilitaries released under the Justice and Peace law decide to use their experience and contacts to try and re-establish themselves, they may incite a new wave of violence and rivalry.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of BACRIM

The other major concern for the BACRIM is the Colombian government’s ongoing peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A peace agreement could also seriously upset the status quo in Colombia’s underworld, given the potential criminalization of some FARC fronts in a post-conflict environment. 

However, for the moment the BACRIM are probably benefiting from the added attention security forces have placed on combating the FARC since the guerrilla group officially ended its unilateral ceasefire in late May. The FARC have carried out attacks against the energy sector in several departments since the lifting of the ceasefire, including Norte de Santander, Putumayo, and Valle del Cauca and have once again become the state’s security priority.