Colombia Captures ‘Last of the Castaño Clan’

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Authorities in Colombia have captured the step-sister of notorious fallen paramilitary warlords the Castaños, who is a key backer of the Urabeños and a central figure in the battle to prevent the restitution of stolen lands.

The arrest of Sor Teresa Gomez on October 8 at a farm in western Colombia was announced by President Juan Manuel Santos during a ceremony for victims of the country’s internal armed conflict, reported El Pais.  

Gomez is the step-sister of infamous paramilitary brothers Fidel, Carlos and Vicente Castaño, and is linked to some of their most notorious land seizures.

In recent times, she has orchestrated actions against people trying to reclaim land confiscated from them by paramilitaries, and faces a 40-year prison sentence for ordering the 2007 killing of land rights activist Yolanda Izquierdo in northern Colombia, reported Semana. In April, the authorities identified her as one of eight criminals that most threaten the restitution process.

According to El Tiempo, she was a key financial chief of the country’s current dominant illegal armed group, the Urabeños, and had evaded seven operations to capture her over the past year.

InSight Crime Analysis

Gomez’s extended family, the Castaños, were some of the most prominent figures in the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which waged a ferocious counter-insurgency campaign against Colombia’s left-wing guerrilla groups. As AUC leaders, the brothers were also involved in drug trafficking, illegal land seizures and a litany of horrific human rights violations, often while operating alongside the Colombian military.

The case of Gomez highlights the continuing ties between this now passed generation of Colombian criminals and the new generation of the BACRIM (from Spanish “Bandas Criminales” or “Criminal Bands”) that replaced them. 

While many former AUC figures were instrumental in the formation of the BACRIM, others, like Gomez, have maintained ties but stayed in the background. For these shadowy figures, the BACRIM are a useful tool to protect their interests, and they offer the BACRIM financial support or access to networks and connections in return for the use of their armed wings.

Nowhere has this arrangement been clearer than in the restitution of stolen lands. The BACRIM themselves have shown little interest in accumulating their own lands, but lead the battle against restitution campaigners on behalf of figures such as Gomez.

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