Colombian Paramilitary Leaders Face Decades in US Prison

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Colombian former paramilitary leaders Salvatore Mancuso and “Jorge 40” are facing long sentences after being convicted on US drug trafficking charges. However, the cocaine trafficking networks they once controlled are alive and well under the management of a new generation of criminal groups.

Documents obtained from the prosecution by Colombian media reveal that Salvatore Mancuso faces a likely sentence of 21 years in federal prison, while Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias “Jorge 40,” faces up to 30 years, reported El Colombiano. The sentences will be announced on June 30.

Mancuso’s sentence included a 35 percent reduction for his cooperation with US justice, but his lawyers strongly criticized the court for refusing a petition to reduce the paramilitary’s sentence based on his cooperation with Colombian justice, reported El Tiempo.

Both men held high-ranking positions in the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The two were extradited to the United States in 2008 along with 12 other paramilitary leaders suspected of cocaine trafficking. The abrupt extraditions of the 14 came amid mounting accusations about the AUC’s connections to high-level politicians, leading to questions about whether then-President Alvaro Uribe had the leaders extradited in an effort to silence them about their links with Colombia’s political elites.

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The prison time Mancuso and Jorge 40 face in the United States stems only from convictions for drug trafficking, despite the fact that both men were responsible for murder and displacement on a large scale in their home country. Mancuso faces additional charges in Colombian courts for “crimes against humanity” allegedly committed during his time as a paramilitary leader, including torture and enforced disappearances.

It is unclear if Mancuso will be returned to Colombia to face these charges, in part because of security concerns regarding retaliation against former AUC commanders. The recent assassination of a former AUC leader just days after he was released from prison highlights this threat. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The impending sentencing will be a victory for the US Justice Department, but underscores important concerns about the dubious effectiveness of extraditing paramilitary leaders-turned-drug traffickers. The readiness of US prosecutors to negotiate plea bargains, the possibility of early release, and better prison conditions have led to a situation in which extradition to the United States is now the preferred option for some convicted Colombian druglords.

It is important to note that despite these high-profile convictions, the drug trafficking networks once under the incarcerated AUC leaders’ control are still in use. As the AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006, many of their criminal operations were simply handed on to a new generation of decentralized criminal networks known as the BACRIM (from the Spanish words for “criminal bands”). Much of Mancuso’s former territory is now thought to be under the control of the Urabeños, Colombia’s biggest criminal network, while Jorge 40’s is disputed between the Urabeños and the rival Oficina del Caribe.

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