Colombia Law Letting Crime Groups Surrender May Be Too Little Too Late

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A new law in Colombia allowing for the collective surrender of criminal groups may have little success, since the country’s fragmented underworld doesn’t incentivize crime bosses to rally their people to give up their freedom.

The law, which was approved by Congress on June 20, allows criminal organizations to collectively turn themselves in to authorities in exchange for a 50 percent reduction in their sentences. The legislation is expected to be signed into law by President Juan Manuel Santos, who has expressed his support for it.

To benefit, an armed group would have to give the state a list of its members, including evidence against them; divulge its assets, which could then be seized; and reveal whether there are minors within its ranks. The group would also have to provide details on its criminal operations, including drug routes and cases of corruption, and members must recognize their victims and provide a plan for making reparations to them.

The law states that one or more “meeting zones” will be created, where group members will gather and remain until the end of the judicial proceedings. Their prosecution will largely follow ordinary criminal law, but will be expedited. Also, the government will establish “special confinement conditions” for subjects, although it is unclear what these will be.

Under no condition will those who surrender be immune from extradition. And if a person is found guilty of a new or unreported criminal act in the five years following their initial sentence, they will lose their 50 percent reduction. A reintegration program will be set in motion for those submitting to the law.

InSight Crime Analysis

The law seems to be aimed at the Urabeños, whose top leader, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” offered to surrender his group to the government last year.

(Video recording of Urabeños Commander-in-chief Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” August 2017. Courtesy of El Colombiano)

However, Otoniel is at the helm of an increasingly fragmented organization, and it is unlikely that his “troops” — often youths with little if any contact with the leadership — would follow him should he turn himself in. In effect, the law would not offer them many real benefits, as the ordinary criminal system already offers a 50 percent sentence reduction in return for cooperation.

So who would this law benefit? Otoniel, for one, has the biggest search bloc in Colombian history at his heels, and the law could save him from suffering the same fate as much of his inner circle.

SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile

The law, which is closely related to the recent peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), could also be a late accomplishment for Santos’ presidency, now in its final days. And if successful, it provides the state with a much-needed framework for a complex process that has resulted in disastrous “disarmaments” of illicit armed groups in the past.

Nevertheless, if top members of the Urabeños do use this law to surrender, it could accelerate the splintering of the group into breakaway cells. Without direction, these factions will likely seek independent and perhaps violent control over the Urabeños’ territories.

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