February 3, 2010

III. The Rise and Growth of the Successor Groups

The AUC demobilizations officially ended on August 15, 2006.[64] In their aftermath, scores of successor groups with close ties to the AUC appeared around the country.

The OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (or MAPP), tracking official information from the Colombian police, reported in early 2007 that it had identified “22 units, with the participation of middle-ranking officers—demobilized or not—the recruitment of former combatants... and the control of illicit economic activity.”[65] The MAPP estimated the groups had approximately 3,000 members.[66]

Since then, the groups’ membership and areas of operation have consistently grown. Estimates of the successor groups’ number and membership vary a great deal by source, but in some cases run as high as 10,200.[67] In mid-2008, the MAPP expressed concern “about the continued existence and even increase in these factions, despite actions taken by law enforcement agencies. This shows a significant resistance and revival capacity, with resources making possible ongoing recruitment and the persistence of corruption at the local level.”[68]

The police, who have the most conservative figures, say the total number of groups has dropped, as many have fused or absorbed one another and some have disappeared or been defeated.[69] But their membership and regional presence continues to grow. As of July 2009, the police reported that the groups had 4,037 members, an increase over the 3,760 they said existed a few months before, in February of 2009. They operate in 24 of Colombia’s 32 departments. Police figures also show that between February and July of 2009, the groups increased their areas of operation by 21 municipalities, jumping from 152 to 173.[70]

The Principal Successor Groups

As of mid-2009, police documents stated that eight successor groups were in operation.[71] According to sources in the police and the Office of the Attorney General, four of the groups are significantly stronger and are the main focus of attention of the authorities:[72]

  • Los de Urabá or the Urabeños: This group was formerly run by Daniel Rendón (also known as “Don Mario”), a non-demobilized AUC member who was also the brother of Freddy Rendón Arias (“El Alemán”), the former leader of the “Elmer Cárdenas” Block of the AUC, which supposedly demobilized in 2006.[73] After Don Mario’s arrest in early 2009, the police reported that the group had come under the command of Juan de Dios Usuga David, also known as “Giovanni.”[74] However, in October 2009 the police reported the arrest of another man, Omar Alberto Gómez, known as “El Guajiro,” whom they identified as the group’s leader.[75] According to police documents, this group, which has in the past used other names such as “Heroes de Castaño” (the “Heroes of Castaño,” alluding to disappeared AUC chief Carlos Castaño) and “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia” (Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) has spread its area of operation from the Urabá region of Chocó and Antioquia to nine departments and seventy-nine municipalities. The group is reported to have 1,120 members.[76]
  • The Rastrojos: According to multiple reports received by Human Rights Watch, the Rastrojos were an armed wing of the North of the Valley drug cartel, who have historically been tied to Wilber Varela (also known as “Jabón”), a drug trafficker who was reportedly killed in Venezuela in January 2008.[77] They were believed to have had links to demobilized paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jiménez (also known as “Macaco”).[78] The group attempted to participate in the demobilization process but ultimately was not allowed to do so because the government considered it a criminal organization.[79] Official documents state that the Rastrojos now operate in 10 departments and 50 municipalities, have 1,394 members, and are commanded by Javier Antonio Calle Serna (also known as “El Doctor”).[80]
  • The Paisas: Multiple sources told Human Rights Watch that the Paisas are the heirs of paramilitary leader Don Berna, and are related to his “Envigado Office,” a criminal organization in Medellín. Don Berna is reported to have retained control over these groups from prison. Since his extradition, there have been reports of substantial infighting and possible fracturing of the groups. Official documents state that the Paisas operate in 7 departments and 45 municipalities and have 415 members; their leader is said to be Fabio León Vélez Correa (also known as “Nito”).[81]
  • Ejército Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano, or ERPAC (Colombian Revolutionary Popular Antiterrorist Army): This group is led by Pedro Oliverio Guerrero Castillo, also known as “Cuchillo.” Cuchillo is a long-running paramilitary leader, first operating in the private army of drug-trafficker Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, and then joining the AUC’s Centauros Block. He is reported to have killed the then-leader of the Centauros Block, Miguel Arroyave.[82] He participated in the demobilization process as the leader of the Heroes del Guaviare front of the Centauros Block, but continued his illegal activity. The ERPAC operates mostly on the plains east of Bogotá, in the departments of Meta, Casanare, Vichada, and Guaviare, though police reports state it also has a presence in Arauca and Guainia. Police estimate it has 770 members.[83]

In addition, the police report having identified the following other groups:

  • Renacer (Rebirth): The police report that this group operates in 11 municipalities of the department of Chocó under the leadership of José María Negrete (also known as “Raúl”), and has 100 members.[84]
  • Nueva Generación (New Generation): Human Rights Watch has received substantial credible information indicating that this group was created by members of the Liberators of the South Block of the AUC almost immediately after its supposed demobilization. The police report that this group operates in three municipalities in the department of Nariño, under the leadership of Omar Grannoble (also known as “El Tigre”) and has 114 members.[85]
  • Los del Magdalena Medio (the ones from the Middle Magdalena region): The police report that this group operates in eight municipalities in four departments and has 80 members. Its leader, according to police documents, is Ovidio Isaza (also known as Roque).[86] Isaza is a former leader of the AUC in the Magdalena Medio region. He is also the son of Ramon Isaza, one of the first and most prominent AUC leaders. After participating in the demobilization process, he never went through the Justice and Peace Process, and was released by authorities due to lack of evidence.[87]
  • The Machos: Like the Rastrojos, this group is reported to be the armed branch of a preexisting drug trafficking cartel. The police reports it operates in two municipalities of the Valle del Cauca department and has 44 members.[88]

Interviews with victims and local authorities around the country suggest that Colombian police figures underestimate the membership and number of the successor groups. In some regions, Human Rights Watch received reports about the existence of groups that the police did not recognize as such. For example, in an interview with Human Rights Watch, a senior member of the police said that the Black Eagles group in Nariño is “more mythical” than real.[89] Yet Human Rights Watch received repeated, consistent statements from people in Nariño about the operation of the Black Eagles, who controlled territory in several areas, threatened civilians, and were apparently engaged in a bloody turf war against the Rastrojos over control of the port city of Tumaco. Less than two months after denying the existence of the Black Eagles in meetings with Human Rights Watch, the police announced the arrest of 36 members of the Black Eagles in Nariño.[90] Similarly, even though the police list ERPAC as having 770 members, news reports cite the army and the investigative arm of the Office of the Attorney General as estimating that it has 1,120 members and is rapidly growing through active recruitment.[91]

What are the Black Eagles?

In many different parts of the country, witnesses that spoke to Human Rights Watch said that the persons who were controlling crime and killing, forcibly displacing, raping, or threatening them, had identified themselves as members of the “Black Eagles.” Often, flyers and written threats against human rights defenders and others are signed by the Black Eagles.

Yet members of the Police told Human Rights Watch that the “Black Eagles” was not a single group, but rather a convenient label that many groups, including local gangs, had appropriated to generate fear in the population.[92]

As described later in this report, in Nariño, Human Rights Watch received consistent reports by several residents and authorities that indicate that the Black Eagles in that region are in fact a single successor group with a high level of coordination, operating in many ways like a former AUC block. In Urabá, Human Rights Watch received reports that the local successor group (there called the Urabeños) at times has called itself the Black Eagles, using the name interchangeably with others. These groups, at least, are not simply local gangs. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch did not receive substantial information indicating that the various groups using the label Black Eagles are a single national group.

Recruitment of New Members

The successor groups have been actively recruiting members, offering very high wages, and sometimes threatening people to get them to join. They often target demobilized persons.

According to one demobilized individual in Sucre, when he demobilized in 2005, his commander told the group that “whoever wanted to turn himself in should do so, but that whoever wants to return, should return” to their area of operation in Antioquia. “They’re there. That’s not over,” he said. In fact, “there are lots of active groups of the same paramilitaries. Even yesterday when I went to school a classmate told me that ‘Cucho’ called him so we would pick up some guys and go out there. They’re paying 500 or more. They’ve approached me several times, old commanders, friends... Lots of guys have gone.”[93]

Another demobilized man said that “there were people who went to the new groups... There are kids who ask me if I’d go again. You’re afraid to talk to anybody. Many have been killed because they’ve spoken about something. The self-defense forces aren’t finished.... There are other people who go too, new people. [The pay] doesn’t drop below half a million pesos. It’s easy to enter, but leaving is difficult.”[94]A local official in Sincelejo told Human Rights Watch that he knew of approximately 14 cases in which demobilized men had been approached by their former commanders to rejoin their groups.[95]

A member of an organization of demobilized paramilitaries in Barrancabermeja said that members of his organization had been murdered. “We’re in a tough moment because we are being threatened by people who want us to return to crime. It hurts because we’ve tried to organize, but we have received threats... [T]here are still criminal groups that see the demobilized as possible recruits and they do it through threats.”[96]

He recounted how, in mid-2008, when a group of demobilized men was attending a psychological support session outdoors as part of the reintegration program, armed men passed by in a motorcycle and shot at them, injuring the psychologist and three of the program participants.[97] A few days later, on August 19, he said he received a call from someone saying he should meet the “new company” at a soccer field. The demobilized man said they threatened his family. He did not go, but was afraid of what would happen.[98]

MAPP officials told Human Rights Watch that they estimated that more than 50 percent of the members of the successor groups were new recruits. Often, the groups use threats and deception to convince new members to join, according to the MAPP.[99] They said some of the strongest recruitment they had documented was taking place in the regions of Urabá, Cesar, La Guajira and the Middle Magdalena, Buenaventura, and the Nariño coast. “There are historic areas for recruitment, that the groups know,” said a MAPP representative.

Often recruits are taken to work in distant regions. For example, in the southern state of Nariño, Human Rights Watch received numerous reports that many members of the group that citizens identify as the Black Eagles had an accent characteristic of people from Antioquia, in the north of the country. Similarly, Human Rights Watch received reports that many young men from the western Urabá region were operating under Cuchillo’s command on the plains states, in the east of Colombia.

One man in the Urabá region of Chocó department described how the Black Eagles had taken 18 young men from Belen de Bajirá. “One was my grandson and he escaped. They took them to Guaviare to join the Black Eagles there. They’re new faces, not from here. And they send the ones from here to other places.”[100]

The groups’ frequent recruitment and movement of men from one part of the country to another suggests a high level of national integration and operation by the groups.

Human Rights Watch also received reports of young men who remained in the demobilization program but were simultaneously working for paramilitary groups. Sources that work with the reintegration program in the department of Norte de Santander said that many participants, especially in the towns of Tibú and Puerto Santander, “continue committing crimes. But we can’t do anything until somebody reports them... [T]he guys are with the police and pass in front of the police, and even the community itself seeks them out [instead of] going to the police to complain... It’s perverse... But there’s a situation of silence... even though it’s a widely known secret [secreto a gritos].”[101] One demobilized man living in Puerto Santander agreed, stating that “the ones in Puerto Santander have a strange monopoly... They go to the training sessions and meetings with the OAS but they’re working with the Black Eagles.”[102]

 

[64] Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” (Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report), p.8.

[65] Organization of American States, “Eighth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” OEA/Ser.G CP/doc. 4176/07, February 14, 2007, http://www.mapp-oea.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=22&Itemid=74 (accessed September 25, 2009), p.3.

[66] Organization of American States, “Eighth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” p. 6. It specifically noted that it had verified cases of rearmament in the states of La Guajira, Cesar, Atlántico, Norte de Santander, Bolivar, Córdoba, Tolima, Casanare, Caquetá, and Nariño; and it issued “rearmament alerts” for other groups apparently operating in Cesar, Magdalena, Sucre, Santander, Antioquia, Meta, Nariño, and Putumayo. Ibid, pp. 7-11.

In subsequent reports the MAPP has continued to express concern over the activities and growth of these successor groups. Organization of American States, “Tenth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” OEA/Ser.G, CP/doc.4249/07, October 31, 2007, http://www.mapp-oea.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=22&Itemid=74 (accessed September 25, 2009); “Eleventh Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” OEA/Ser.G, CP/doc.4321/08, June 25, 2008, http://www.mapp-oea.org/documentos/informes/Trimestrales%20MAPP/Eleventh_Quarterly_Report.pdf (accessed September 25, 2009); “Twelfth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” OEA/Ser.G, CP/doc.4365/09 corr.1, February 9, 2009, http://www.mapp-oea.org/sites/default/files/images/twelfthquarterlyreport%20mapp.pdf (accessed August 6, 2009).

A few months later, the National Commission on Reparations and Reconciliation issued a report that also warned about the appearance of successor groups, noting that estimates of their members ranged from 3 to 5 thousand, and calling “on society and the government to recognize the severity of this situation which threatens with the possibility of new phenomena of violence in different regions.” National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation of Colombia, Area on Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration, “First Report: Dissidents, Rearmed Persons, and Emerging Groups: Criminal Gangs or a Third Paramilitary Generation?” May 2007, http://www.cnrr.org.co/new/interior_otros/informeDDR.pdf (accessed September 25, 2009), pp. 3, 5.

[67] In a July 2009 interview, MAPP-OAS representatives told Human Rights Watch that they estimated the successor groups had between 7,000 and 8,000 members, of which approximately 4,000 to 4,500 were formerly demobilized paramilitaries. Human Rights Watch interview with MAPP-OAS representatives, Bogotá, July 17, 2009.

The non-governmental organization Nuevo Arco Iris estimated in a December 2008 study that the groups had a presence in 246 municipalities and had a membership of at least 10,200 individuals. Mauricio R. Vidal and Angelica A. Ortíz, “‘Bandas Criminales,’ Seguridad Democrática y Corrupción” (“‘Criminal Gangs,’ Democratic Security and Corruption”), Arcanos Magazine, Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, vol. 11, no. 14, December 2008, p. 45.

The NGO Indepaz reported in December 2008 that there were 53 groups in 31 departments, with a presence in 266 municipalities. Indepaz, “Presencia de Grupos Narco-paramilitares en el 2008” (“Presence of Narco-Paramilitary Groups in 2008”), Punto de Encuentro No. 52, December 2008, p. 48.

[68]Organization of American States, “Eleventh Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” p. 4.

The MAPP reiterated its concern in 2009, noting that it had observed the “capacity of ‘renewal’ that the illegal structures have, especially in connection with their commanders, which constitutes a challenge for authorities not to permit their reorganization or the resurgence of other leaders.” Organization of American States, “Thirteenth Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” [official number not available], October 21, 2009, http://www.mapp-oea.org/documentos/informes/XIII%20INFORME%20MAPP09.pdf (accessed October 30, 2009), p. 8.

[69] For example, police sources told Human Rights Watch that the Rastrojos had absorbed the Black Eagles in the department of Norte de Santander and in the southern region of the department of Bolivar. Similarly, the Alta Guajira group had been absorbed by the Paisas. Human Rights Watch interview with representative of the National Police, Bogotá, July 17, 2009.

[70]Policía Nacional de Colombia, Dirección de Carabineros y Seguridad Rural, Grupo de Seguimiento a Grupos Armados Ilegales, “Comparativo General Bandas Criminales Narcotraficantes,” July 17, 2009; Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009.

In a mid-2008 report the MAPP also described the existence of a “critically affected corridor which starts in Urabá and runs eastward through the southern part of Córdoba, Bajo Cauca, the south of Bolivar, Barrancabermeja and several villages, and the southern part of Ocana, in the municipality of Norte de Santander.” Organization of American States, “Eleventh Quarterly Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia,” p. 4.

[71]Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009, Conclusions.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with representative of the Colombian National Police, Bogotá, July 17, 2009. Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of the Office of the Attorney General, Bogotá, July 22, 2009.

[73] “Elmer Cárdenas Block Demobilized,” Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia news release, August 15, 2006, http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/noticias/2006/agosto/agosto_15_06.htm (accessed September 25, 2009).

[74] Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009.

[75]“Cae Comandante de las Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia,” El Espectador, October 26, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/articulo168683-cae-comandante-de-autodefensas-gaitanistas-de-colombia (accessed November 5, 2009).

[76] The departments are: Chocó, Antioquia, Córdoba, Magdalena, La Guajira, Sucre, Cesar, Bolívar and Nariño. Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009.

[77] Chris Kraul, “Colombian drug lord shot dead,” Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2008, http://articles.latimes.com/2008/feb/02/world/fg-narco2 (accessed September 25, 2009).

[78] International Crisis Group, Colombia’s Successor groups, Latin America Report no. 20, May 10, 2007, pp. 12-13.

[79] “Rastrojos without law” (“Rastrojos sin ley”), Semana, May 30, 2009, http://foros.semana.com/noticias-nacion/rastrojos-ley/124547.aspx (accessed September 25, 2009).

[80]Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009, Conclusions.The departments are Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, Antioquia, Cesar, Bolívar, Santander, and Caquetá.

[81]Ibid.

[82] VerdadAbierta.com, “Cuchillo, Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero,” http://www.verdadabierta.com/web3/victimarios/los-jefes/670-perfil-pedro-oliveiro-guerrero-alias-cuchillo (accessed August 6, 2009).

[83]Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009, Conclusions.

[84]Ibid.

[85]Ibid.

[86]Ibid.

[87]Gloria Castrillón, “The End of Ramón Isaza’s Bloody Saga” (“El Fin de la Sangrienta Saga de Ramón Isaza,”), El Espectador, May 17, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/judicial/articuloimpreso-el-fin-de-sangrienta-saga-de-ramon-isaza (accessed August 7, 2009).

[88]Memorandum from Mesa Técnica de Conteo Bandas Criminales No. 9, Bogotá, June 29, 2009, Conclusions.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with source in the National Police, Bogotá, July 2009.

[90] “National Police captured nine heads of the Black Eagles” (“Policía Nacional capturó a nueve cabecillas de las Águilas Negras”), Ministry of Defense, Republic of Colombia news release, September 8, 2009, http://www.mindefensa.gov.co/index.php?page=181&id=9417&PHPSESSID=cfe57542771465e06ac9c79c65f436d9 (accessed September 25, 2009).

[91]“‘Cuchillo’ ya tiene más de 1.100 paramilitares y ‘Martín Llanos’ reorganizó sus autodefensas,” El Tiempo, Sept. 20, 2009.

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with senior official of the National Police, July 17, 2009.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with former member of the Minero Block of the AUC, Sincelejo (Sucre), February 25, 2008.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview with former member of the Central Bolivar Block of the AUC, Sincelejo (Sucre), February 25, 2008.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with local official in Sincelejo, Sucre, February 26, 2008.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized AUC member, Barrancabermeja, September 5, 2008.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with MAPP/OAS officials, Bogotá, July 17, 2009.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with man from Curbaradó region, Chocó, May 30, 2009.

[101] Human Rights Watch interviews with persons working with reintegration program in Norte de Santander, Cúcuta, September 2, 2008.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized man from Puerto Santander, Cúcuta, September 2, 2008.