Colombia’s defense minister recently said that the criminal groups descended from right-wing paramilitary organizations should expect no formal demobilization process, reigniting a long-simmering debate in the country.
Defense Minister Luis Villegas made the comments about Colombia’s criminal bands — which the government refers to as BACRIM — during an April 13 military ceremony, reported Vanguardia.
“[The BACRIM] are organized crime and that’s how they’ll be treated,” he said. “They’ll be no political deals for big or small groups. There will only be encounters with the armed forces and paying their dues before justice.”
The minister also implied that the government would not create a special legal framework to encourage BACRIM members to disarm, as the government did in 2005 for right-wing paramilitary groups with the Justice and Peace Law. “If [the BACRIM] want to submit themselves to justice, the laws and offices are there to receive them,” he said.
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The demobilization of Colombia’s paramilitary groups in the mid-2000s has come under strong criticism for its shortcomings, so it is no surprise that officials like Villegas are wary of treating the BACRIM similarly to the paramilitaries under Colombian law. Indeed, the BACRIM formed out of remnant paramilitary factions that did not fully disarm.
Nevertheless, there has been previous discussion of offering BACRIM members certain benefits to encourage them to cooperate with police and prosecutors. There has already been one prominent example of a BACRIM surrendering en masse to the government, although the process did not go smoothly.
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The most prominent BACRIM that has been pushing for inclusion in a demobilization process is the Urabeños, currently believed to be the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the country. At the moment, the Urabeños are present in 22 of Colombia’s 32 departments, according to the government.
The Urabeños originally emerged from the remnants of demobilized paramilitary factions in 2008. This helps explain why the group is trying to present itself as a political actor in Colombia’s conflict, and hence worthy of inclusion in a demobilization process. But as Villegas made clear, the government is far from convinced.