IV. The Successor Groups’ Human Rights and Humanitarian Impact
The successor groups are committing widespread and serious abuses, including massacres, killings, forced disappearances, rape, forced displacement, threats, extortion, kidnappings, and recruitment of children as combatants.
The most common abuses are killings of and threats against civilians, including trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders, and victims of the AUC seeking restitution of land and justice as part of the Justice and Peace Process. They are one of the main actors responsible for the forced displacement of over a quarter of a million Colombians every year.
The MAPP has noted that in several regions people “do not perceive an improvement in their security conditions” as a result of the paramilitary demobilization. Colombians in many different regions told Human Rights Watch that the climate of fear in which they lived had not meaningfully changed as a result of the demobilizations.
The government has occasionally acknowledged this fact, in an indirect manner. For example, in its 2007 report on human rights in Colombia, the Human Rights Observatory of the Vice-President’s Office stated that “[h]istorically the self-defense forces were the principal group responsible for massacres in the country, but with their disappearance... there is an increase in the percentage of cases with no known author... [S]everal of these cases ... are linked to the appearance of new criminal gangs linked to drug trafficking.”
In fact, between 2007 and 2008 the number of yearly massacres in Colombia jumped by 42 percent, to 37 cases (involving 169 victims) from 26 cases (involving 128 victims). According to the Human Rights Observatory, the successor groups were using the massacres “as a means of revenge, to take control of territory, show power, and conduct ‘purges’ within their organizations, all of this directed towards controlling the drug business.”
Violence and Threats against Vulnerable Groups
In every region Human Rights Watch visited, it received numerous reports of threats and killings by the successor groups. Often their targets are human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, and victims of the AUC who seek to claim their rights. Such threats often have a chilling effect on, or otherwise impair, the legitimate work of their targets.
For example, on November 4, 2007, Yolanda Becerra, president of the Popular Women’s Organization (Organización Femenina Popular or OFP) in Barrancabermeja, Santander department, reported being assaulted, beaten, and injured by armed men who broke into her home and told her that she had 48 hours to leave town or they would “finish off her family.” She had previously reported receiving a written death threat from “Black Eagles” and had been labeled an “enemy of the peace process” by a former paramilitary commander. As a result of the threats and attack Yolanda had to move from Barrancabermeja to Bucaramanga, where she continues leading the OFP, but has to take significant security precautions.
A woman who coordinates a group on disappearances said “I live in a high-risk community where we coexist with the paramilitaries. This year people arrived at my house and said that I had to defend ... a demobilized paramilitary who was in jail. They threatened me.”
In the first half of 2008 there was a wave of threats against human rights groups, trade unionists, and others, usually signed by Black Eagles or other successor groups. Several of the threats targeted people associated with a massive march against paramilitary violence and state crimes on March 6, 2008. For example, on March 11, 2008, the “Bogotá Block” of the “Black Eagles” sent one threat in three parts to various organizations and people involved in the march, calling for “death to the leaders of the march, guerrillas, and collaborators,” and declaring various organizations and individuals to be “military objectives.” Another written threat circulated the following day to Semana magazine, the CUT trade union confederation, Peace Brigades International, indigenous groups, and human rights organizations. Signed by the head of the “Central Command of the Rearming Black Eagles,” this threat announced a “total rearming of paramilitary forces” and declared various groups to be military targets. In the week following the march, four trade unionists were killed—some of them were reported to have been organizers of the march in their region. The organization Nuevo Arco Iris, which has been deeply involved in monitoring paramilitary infiltration of the political system, reported a break-in by armed men who stole computer files. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reported that on February 28, 2008, there was a shooting against the house of Luz Adriana González, a member of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and a promoter of the March 6 event in the department of Pereira.
The threats have included international observers and foreign embassies. In March 2008, eight foreign embassies in Bogotá were reported to have received threats signed by the “Black Eagles.” Similarly, in November 2007, a representative of the MAPP was threatened by successor groups operating in Medellín.
In the southern part of Bolivar department, the Peace and Development Program of the Magdalena Medio, as well as various priests and non-governmental organizations and the trade union Fedeagromisbol, reported receiving threats in the first half of 2008 from “members of paramilitary structures that operate freely, publicly, and openly in the South of Bolivar.” Specifically, they had received e-mail threats signed by “Black Eagles, Northern Block of Colombia,” indicating that they were being followed and that the “annihilation plan against [them] could start at any moment.”
Diro César González Tejada, a journalist in Barrancabermeja, Santander, who self-publishes a small local newspaper that reports on violence and human rights abuses in the city, described being displaced for a year after two armed men went looking for him at his house. After returning to Barrancabermeja, he said, “we have been permanently followed by armed men who are recognized paramilitaries.” Diro said that he receives threats at his office and that the successor groups “constantly call my wife, recounting to her where she has traveled and saying ‘we’re going to kill you’... Except for going to the office, I don’t leave my house. I don’t have a social life, I can’t go anywhere without my guards.” Diro said he had been able to protect himself through the support of non-governmental organizations and due to international attention to his case, but state authorities had regularly denied that anything was happening in Barrancabermeja. “If this is my case as a journalist, what can you expect when a peasant makes a complaint?” he said.
In November 2009, several human rights and indigenous groups in Nariño received a written threat signed by the Rastrojos’ “Urban Commandos,” which associated the organizations with left-wing guerrillas and warned their members might be killed.
Raped and Threatened for Helping Victims
“Lucía,” who asked not to be identified by name, described being raped by the Black Eagles in Eastern Antioquia in 2007 to punish her for her work supporting victims:
I was advising a woman [who had been a victim of the AUC]. It was raining and far from the buses so I spent the night. After midnight someone knocked on the door... Five men in hoods calling themselves the Black Eagles broke in and began interrogating me about my work... They told me it was forbidden for me to do that in the municipality. They didn’t want victims to know their rights or report abuses. Before leaving, two of the men abused the woman and me sexually, for a long time.
Lucía got pregnant as a result of the rape, but said she eventually had a miscarriage “from the anger and depression... It’s the most horrible thing that can happen to you because you feel incompetent and completely vulnerable because you can’t do anything.... It’s their way of intimidating people.” When Lucía continued her work, the Black Eagles found her again:
Each time I did less. [But then] a TV promo appeared [featuring some of my work. The next day] four armed men knocked on my door. They put me on their pick-up truck and blindfolded me. I thought I would never return home because there had been a lot of very tough killings, where they were leaving people chopped up... Only a short time before they had killed one of my friends and left her in pieces in a sack... [Another man] said they didn’t know how to talk to me, they asked if I didn’t have a family, and if it hadn’t been enough with the other lesson.... They gave me 15 days to leave the region.
The threats against her family finally forced Lucía to try to report the crimes and leave town, but she faced numerous difficulties in getting assistance:
I went to the National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation but they said they couldn’t do anything and sent me to the Justice and Peace prosecutors. The prosecutor ... said she couldn’t do anything because it happened after the demobilization process. I had to go home. [Later] I went to the Gaula to report it as a kidnapping... When they finally met with me, they laughed and said it was my fault because I knew human rights defenders get killed, and I shouldn’t have continued after the warning.... [Eventually] the Ombudsman’s Office in Medellín took the report and [I got protection as a human rights defender for three months through the Ministry of Interior.] Later, other NGOs and institutions have helped me. The investigation has gone nowhere... I now live in fear, because I don’t know who I can trust...
Lucía had in fact been victimized before, but by FARC guerrillas, who kidnapped her in 1995 and held her for ransom for six months. She was finally released when her family bankrupted itself to pay her ransom.
Trade unionists, who were frequently targeted by the AUC, which stigmatized them as guerrilla fronts, have faced continued threats and violence from successor groups. According to the National Labor School, in 2008 39 trade unionists were killed. Complete numbers for 2009 were not yet available as of this writing, but as of December 7, the National Labor School had registered 36 killings of trade unionists in the year. Due to the widespread impunity in such cases, in most registered cases of anti-union violence the perpetrator remains unknown. However, there are good reasons to believe the successor groups are involved in many of the killings: in 2008 trade unionists reported receiving 498 threats (against 405 union members). Of those, 265 were identified as having come from the successor groups, while 220 came from unidentified actors.
The threats have a chilling effect on union activity. For example, Over Dorado, from the ADIDA teachers’ union based in Medellín, said that in the first nine months of 2008 he had received 20-25 threats over the phone and email. In a recording of one such phone threat, which he played for Human Rights Watch, the perpetrator accused him of being a terrorist and mentioned a failed attack against him. Because of the overwhelming failure to hold perpetrators to account in past cases of anti-union violence, such threats are even more alarming to unionists. Dorado said one of his colleagues, Julio Gómez, a senior member of the union, was killed in 2007. “But they only came to interview me about the case three days ago. He was killed a year ago, and they are only investigating now because of pressure from the gringos... The death of union leaders has affected the organization a lot, because we were strengthening the union and having an effect on national politics.... But the threats have a silencing effect.”
In Cúcuta, representatives of ASINORT, another teacher’s union for the state of Norte de Santander, said that even though there were fewer killings of union members than in the past, “the violence has transformed itself... [T]hey kill a few and threaten the rest. The threat is effective and people are afraid of speaking out.... Among the unionists, fear prevails, [and union activity] is almost underground. We keep the lowest profile we can.”
Local Threats and Killings: a Constant Problem
The successor groups not only target human rights defenders, trade unionists, and journalists, but also ordinary citizens, including peasants, community leaders, small business persons, and simply neighbors who get in the way of the groups’ objectives.
In Cúcuta, sources described how successor groups had circulated flyers ordering curfews in certain neighborhoods, where they were seeking to control lucrative contraband and the drug business. “They control the neighborhoods through social cleansing. The flyers state that after 9 p.m. they can’t go out,” said an international observer in Cúcuta. “People see the drugs ... and behind this, there are other businesses, money-lending, police corruption. They handle the daily problems in the neighborhood.... They recruit young men.”
Some sources said that, before the demobilization, the AUC had taken over the provision of “private security services” in the city, and the successor groups were pursuing the same strategy. “They began to kill the security guards in the communities to replace them with their own cooperatives of security guards and in that way control the community. They killed the security guard in our neighborhood,” said a representative of Fundación Progresar, a human rights organization in Cúcuta. Another resident said “the security committees search people, mistreat them.... They threaten you, they get you with kicks and fists. There are informants about everything that’s going on in the neighborhood. Now we’re afraid to go out at night. The sense of anxiety continues.”
The president of a neighborhood council in Cúcuta described narrowly escaping being killed by unknown assailants who may have belonged to successor groups: “I was afraid of joining the council because my wife had warned me that people who joined were ‘disappeared’ or killed... After the first meeting ... I was walking and young men approached.... The man walking next to me got shot in the shoulder and dropped to the ground. Then they shot me six times.... I don’t understand how I survived because the guy next to me ... died.”
One demobilized man told us that in Puerto Santander (Norte de Santander) “people involved in contraband have to pay the Black Eagles.... They met with the gasoline carriers ... and made a list of the people who buy gasoline... [T]hey’re in drug trafficking too... They take care of coca crops ... and have labs and handle transportation. The police protect them.”
A woman in Medellín said that she had been displaced from Turbo, Antioquia, after receiving threats from a group she identified as the Black Eagles. “They threatened us because we were selling drugs.... I think they are the same paramilitaries but they have changed names. The paramilitaries also used to persecute the people who sold drugs if they didn’t pay them a tax... They have killed dealers and young people... I was directly threatened: two men came on motorcycles and said that those people who sell drugs will be killed.”
Threats and Violence against Victims of the AUC
Victims and relatives of victims of the AUC who have sought to obtain justice for the paramilitaries’ crimes have repeatedly been threatened, attacked, and even killed. Often, they point to successor groups as the sources of the threats.
The most prominent case involves Yolanda Izquierdo, who was shot to death alongside her husband outside their house in Córdoba in January 2007. Izquierdo had been representing families who were seeking the return of thousands of hectares of land under the Justice and Peace Process. She had repeatedly sought protection from the authorities, but her requests had gone unheeded. Police have since arrested Víctor Alonso Rojas (known by his alias as “Jawi”), an alleged member of the “Urabeños” and reported to be former close advisor of AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso, for the killing. Human rights prosecutors have also charged Sor Teresa Gómez, a sister-in-law of AUC leaders Carlos and Vicente Castaño, in connection with the assassination. Gómez is known for controlling extensive tracts of land, reportedly taken from displaced persons by paramilitaries, in the Urabá region.
A victim from the El Salado massacre told Human Rights Watch that she had not told her story to representatives from the Attorney General’s Office because she was afraid she or her children would be attacked if anyone found out what had happened to her: “[in my city] I don’t say I’m from El Salado because I have my kids.... Because [the city I live in] is very dangerous, at 6 p.m. we already have the door closed. I’m calm in the day but not at night because the Black Eagles are there.”
A woman who had filed a complaint about her father’s disappearance described how a successor group forced her to move out of her home in 2006: “The group arrived at my house and threatened us... [T]hey took away my documents. They ... said that if I complained about disappearances or being displaced, they would kill me... [T]here were 35 of them and they were camouflaged.”
Another group of relatives of persons killed in an AUC massacre in Santander said they had been threatened after seeking justice through the Justice and Peace Process, but they were too afraid to disclose details of the threats. Similarly, the family of the members of an investigative commission from the Attorney General’s Office who were “disappeared” or executed by the Northern Block of the AUC have reported being threatened and harassed for seeking the truth about the fate of their loved ones.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2007 the National Police reported 160 death threats against victims claiming their rights and the National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation recorded 13 murders of victims pressing for restitution of their land and other assets.
Juan David Díaz: Threatened for Seeking Justice
Juan David Díaz Chamorro is the son of Eudaldo “Tito” Díaz, who served as mayor of El Roble, Sucre, and was killed in April 2002 by paramilitaries, allegedly operating in collusion with local politicians. At a 2002 regional security meeting with President Uribe, senior officials from the public security forces, and several Sucre regional officials including governor Salvador Arana, Tito had complained that regional politicians were trying to take resources from the El Roble treasury to finance the AUC, and he reported how thousands of people in the department had been killed by the paramilitaries. Juan David claims Tito was later persecuted by paramilitaries and pushed out of office by corrupt officials. In a community council with President Uribe on February 1, 2003, Tito repeated his earlier statements and said he was going to be killed for what he had been reporting.
Three months later, on April 5, Tito was assassinated. Tito left home saying he was going to attend a political meeting with senior officials, but after the meeting he disappeared. On April 10, Tito’s body was found on the road with signs of torture and multiple bullet wounds. He was in a crucified position, with his mayor’s credentials on his head. In his shoe, the family found a letter from Tito dated April 8 and addressed to “commander Rodrigo” (known as “Cadena,” the local paramilitary chief). In the letter, Tito begged for a meeting with him and asked that Cadena spare his family.
“The disappointing thing is that all the politicians my father had denounced were rewarded. One of the men he accused was named military attaché in France.... Another was named ambassador to Chile.... No one is paying for their crimes,” said Juan David. President Uribe appointed the former governor of Sucre, Salvador Arana, ambassador to Chile shortly after the murder.
The day of his father’s murder, Juan David received threats from people who said he had 24 hours to leave Sucre. He left for two years, but returned and began working with the Movement of Victims of State Crimes. Since then, he has been engaged in a persistent and frustrating struggle to bring his father’s killers to justice. He has repeatedly received threats.
They have tried to kill me in the street. They have threatened me and persecuted me, and told me to leave the department or the same thing that happened to my father would happen to me for continuing to denounce the paramilitaries and working for justice. But I won’t leave Sucre because I have to lift the flag that my father tried to lift and was destroyed.
Juan David says that 11 witnesses in the case have been assassinated, there have been attempts on the lives of two others, one has disappeared, and others have been threatened. In a recent message, Juan David said that “the threats against me and my family have increased, in the form of pamphlets, emails, and an attempt on my life that they tried to carry out on March 27, [2009,] all this to keep us from continuing to press for our right to justice.” Juan David believes that the men who tried to kill him in March were members of the Paisas. A recent threat arrived by e-mail, in October of 2009, and it warned that if Arana was convicted Juan David’s family would die.
Nonetheless, six years after the murder, the Colombian Supreme Court has convicted Arana of collaborating with paramilitaries and of involvement in the murder of Tito Díaz, and has sentenced him to 40 years in prison. According to Juan David, other officials and paramilitaries who may have been involved in the killing have yet to be tried.
Paramilitary groups are considered to have been responsible for more displacement than any other single actor in Colombia—37 percent according to a recent study done as part of the Colombian Constitutional Court’s monitoring of the plight of displaced persons.
The demobilization process did not result in a significant and sustained decline in displacement, as one might have expected. On the contrary, according to Social Action, in the years following the demobilization, internal displacement rates went up in Colombia.
According to official figures, after dropping to 228,828 in 2004, the number of newly displaced persons went up each year until it hit 327,624 in 2007. The official 2008 numbers are a little lower, at 300,693, but still substantially higher than at the start of the demobilization process. 
A prominent organization monitoring displacement in Colombia, CODHES (Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento), reports different numbers, finding that around 380,863 people were displaced in 2008—a 24.47 percent increase over its number (305,966) for 2007.
In statements to human rights groups in mid-2009, the director of Social Action highlighted the fact that Social Action’s numbers for 2009 so far appeared to reflect a significant drop in displacement for the year: as of September 30, it had registered 86,397 new cases for 2009. Nonetheless, as of this writing it is too early to determine whether the 2009 numbers, once fully tallied, will show a drop in internal displacement.
The head of Social Action told Human Rights Watch that the reasons for the rise in displacement, at least between 2006 and 2007, might have included the victims’ “perception of violence” where there was no real threat, and “processes of manual eradication of coca crops, which led the [armed] groups to put pressure on the civilian population, as well as territorial disputes [among armed groups].”
CODHES, meanwhile, attributes the increase in displacement through 2008 to many factors, but highlights in particular the growth of the successor groups.
Whether or not the successor groups are the main cause of the rise in displacement after 2004, it is clear that they are a significant factor causing displacement. Human Rights Watch received many reports of displacement by successor groups, usually due to threats. One woman described her experience in the south of Cesar department:
I left because of a group called the Black Eagles. My two 11-year-olds and another young boy had disappeared a week before. I looked for them... Then a group appeared from the Black Eagles.... The group said “you have to leave now or we will kill you.” My two kids were later found alive in Cúcuta and are under government care... The day before the disappearance, the boys had told me they had seen some men on a road dressed strangely and in black, but they didn’t say anything. I guess that they had my boys but turned them in because they were too young to be of use. The other kid is still missing.... The people who asked us to leave the town were dressed in black camouflage... Previously we had already been displaced by paramilitaries.... They told me that if I continued to walk around with papers saying I was displaced, they would kill me. I’m tired of moving around all the time without peace.
Another woman who had been displaced by the same group said:
[W]e were displaced from Puerto Rico by a group called the Black Eagles. They said we had to collaborate with them or they would kill us. The previous day they had already displaced people from nearby. They arrived on August 30, ... Men arrived at my house with large guns, camouflaged, and in black. Ten men arrived. I’m a single mother and was very afraid, and I ran with my girl. I thought they would kill me if I stayed. I was terrified.... I think they wanted the land and wanted me to collaborate, to work with them... There are few police or military there, and one doesn’t file complaints because of the fear. I left the farm and walked for nearly three days until I arrived here.
In fact, much of the displacement is occurring in regions where successor groups are active. CODHES says there were 82 cases of group displacement in 2008; the most affected departments were Nariño and Chocó, where the successor groups are very active.
According to the annual report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 66.5 percent of the displaced persons to whom the ICRC provided assistance in 2008 had been displaced because of death threats. Another 10.9 percent were displaced because of threats of forced recruitment into armed groups.
In each of the four regions that we examined in detail for this report, we found that successor groups had de facto control over territory, towns, and neighborhoods, and committed frequent and serious abuses against civilians by such groups. Our findings are described, by region, below.
Successor Groups in Medellín
“The dog that once bit us is now showing its fangs.”
—Local official in Medellín
In Medellín, it is clear that the demobilization process was incomplete, and that many persons who supposedly demobilized—including the head of the main paramilitary group in Medellín, Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, known as “Don Berna”—continued controlling criminal activity in the city.
Yet for years, the Colombian media, national and local authorities, and officials in the United States regularly cited Medellín as an exemplary city when it came to paramilitary demobilization and violence reduction. In fact, between 2006 and 2008 the city became a favorite stop for U.S. congressional delegations arranged by the Office of the US Trade Representative and Commerce Department to promote a free trade deal with Colombia.
Indeed, Medellín had experienced a significant decline in homicides between 2002 and 2007.Yet as explained in the following sections, the decline was largely attributable to the fact that Don Berna held a monopoly over crime in the city, and was no longer engaged in turf wars with other groups. But members of his group—including supposedly demobilized individuals—continued killing community leaders and threatening and extorting residents.
As Don Berna’s group has splintered due to infighting, and as its control has been challenged by other successor groups coming into the city from outside, Medellín is once again experiencing a rapid rise in violence. Between 2008 and 2009, the homicide rate has more than doubled, rising to 1,717 killings in the first ten months of the year (a rate of 74.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants). Internal displacement within the city has also more than doubled in the last year. In a few cases, prosecutors in Medellín have attempted to investigate the groups, but those investigations have been hampered by numerous difficulties, including the lack of adequate protection for witnesses. In addition, there have been serious allegations about toleration and, in one case, links between some of these groups and certain state agents, including the former chief prosecutor of Medellín, who is now under criminal investigation.
In a September 2008 interview, the current mayor, Alonso Salazar, said that the city was in a situation of “tension” and facing serious challenges, as it was difficult to “maintain governability with a phenomenon as destabilizing as drug trafficking.” Part of the problem, he recognized, was that sectors of the paramilitary groups, including parts of their leadership, had continued engaging in criminal activity.
An Imposed Peace
The apparent peace that Medellín experienced for a few years was in part the result of Don Berna’s monopoly of crime in the city. In fact, homicides started dropping in Medellín well before the demobilization of the Cacique Nutibara Block in late 2003. The rate nearly halved between 2002 and 2003. The drop appears to have been closely linked to the defeat of the Metro Block of the AUC by Don Berna’s Cacique Nutibara Block, as well as the expulsion of guerrilla units from the city by the Colombian military and the paramilitaries.By the time of the demobilization of 2,033 persons said to be members of the Granada Heroes (Heroes de Granada) Block in August 2005, the largest single demobilization in Medellín, homicides were already hitting record lows. One low-level demobilized paramilitary told us, “when we demobilized, we had already won, everything was already under control.”
Human Rights Watch heard similar comments from leaders of the Democracy Corporation (Corporación Democracia), an organization of demobilized members of the Cacique Nutibara and Granada Heroes Blocks through which the city regularly coordinated its interaction with demobilized paramilitaries. Democracy Corporation leaders said it was their “natural leader,” Don Berna, who brought peace to Medellín after his group had “regulated” all the different gangs and armed actors in the city, getting them to “stop killing each other.” In fact, they said that the Democracy Corporation had continued to report to Don Berna while he was in prison awaiting sentencing benefits under the Justice and Peace Law.
“In the city there was a winner who now exerts hegemony,” said one official from the Permanent Human Rights Unit of Medellín’s Personeríain 2007. “In the comunas [neighborhoods on the hillsides of Medellín] and neighboring townships there is one actor who has ... the capacity to impose his rules by coercion. It’s threats, extortion... Sometimes they appear as an armed actor, others as a social actor. They combine forms of activity.”
Former Mayor Fajardo also recognized in a September 2007 interview that paramilitaries retained power in Medellín after demobilization, though he said his administration tried to break that power through investment in reintegration:
There was a very powerful man with a group. We started to change that power. For the majority, they start to have a relationship with the city, psychologists, social workers... They start to distance themselves from the group... There are some who are cheating ... about 10 percent... They still have that power.... They’re probably charging [illegal] taxes... [But] many of the kids don’t want that to happen ... they cooperate with information.
But while reintegration efforts in Medellín may have helped a number of young men who participated in the demobilization ceremonies (whether or not they were actually paramilitaries), many Medellín residents continued to perceive paramilitaries or persons linked to them as a very real threat. For example, one woman, who had in the past been a local community leader in the Comuna 13 neighborhood and had been forcibly displaced by paramilitaries in 2002, said she remained displaced because of the paramilitaries’ continued control: “the paramilitaries are still around there.... They’re still saying that if people return they will be killed.”
These fears were well grounded. Despite the horrific record of violence in Medellín during the Cacique Nutibara’s takeover of the city, only 23 members of the Cacique Nutibara Block are on the list of paramilitaries who applied for benefits under the Justice and Peace Law. Of the 2,033 members of the Heroes de Granada Block officially said to have demobilized, only 75 applied for Justice and Peace Law benefits. Thus, the persons responsible for much of the massive violence that Medellín experienced until 2002 (and after) were not held accountable as part of the demobilization process.
Immediately after the Cacique Nutibara demobilization, experts reported that Don Berna continued to control crime in the city—to such a degree that when he was arrested for the alleged murder of a congressman, local transportation ground to a halt for several hours.
Close associates of Don Berna are suspected of having taken over the day-to-day operations of what is known as the Envigado Office—an organization that provides assassination and enforcement services to organized crime in Medellín, and which the government had claimed was demobilizing as part of the Heroes de Granada Block. “In one way or another, the paramilitary chiefs of Antioquia retain power,” said the newspaper El Espectador in February of 2007. “And in this scenario, the majority of roads lead you to a single person: Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, commonly known as ... Don Berna.”
Successor groups have continued exerting control over many neighborhoods in Medellín after the demobilization. This control has been expressed in killings and threats against community leaders, extortion of local businesses, the “punishment” through beatings of those who do not comply, and a monopoly over crime in the neighborhood.
In some neighborhoods the local “coordinators” of demobilized paramilitaries—who are themselves often demobilized local commanders—did not limit themselves to coordinating activities related to demobilization, but rather continued acting as local authorities, whose orders are backed by force. One demobilized man said that the coordinators viewed it as part of their job to “punish” the demobilized and to “kick them around a bit if they don’t pay attention.”This form of enforcement also applied to “other persons in the community.”The same individual said that there were groups in his neighborhood that included demobilized individuals and that “still [went] to extort people.”
Another demobilized man said that “if someone does something bad, like stealing ... the [coordinators] scold him and if it happens a lot, they might take stronger measures like hitting him, kicking him... In the neighborhood everyone has to go in the same direction.”
One now deceased community leader, Alexander Pulgarín, told Human Rights Watch in 2007 that a member of the Democracy Corporation, Antonio López, also known as “Job,” had ordered killings of coordinators in his neighborhood who didn’t “copy him”—that is, who did not follow orders. He said each time a new coordinator arrived the Democracy Corporation member would intimidate or buy him off. “Immediately, a dead king is a replaced king,”he said. “This is peace with a gun to your throat, and whoever steps out of the corral, loses.”
At the time, Pulgarín had been running for the community action council, and he said Job had pressed him to be “their councilman.” According to Pulgarín, “he said ‘we want you to be with us... I will give you a car, bodyguards, and three million [pesos] a month... I will give you a logistical structure.’” When Pulgarín refused, he said he began receiving threats.
Another person who does extensive community work in the Comuna 8 neighborhood agreed with Pulgarín’s general account, describing in mid-2008 how the neighborhood had come under the control of Job and another member of the Democracy Corporation, John William López, known as “Memín.” Both men, he said, had been managing all organized crime in the neighborhood. In some sectors of the neighborhood, he said, armed men were engaging in extortion. “They continue with intimidation and punishments ... saying that snitches deserve to be disemboweled.”
Memín in fact won election as the president of the community action council of Villatina. In July 2008, Job was assassinated in an upscale restaurant in the Las Palmas district, on the road from Rionegro airport into Medellín. And in March 2009, Memín was convicted of forced displacement, voter constrainment, and conspiracy. Four witnesses were assassinated during the trial, in which Memín also accused Mayor Alonso Salazar of accepting paramilitary support in his run for office (Salazar has denied the allegations). Later in the year, Alexander Pulgarín, who had also testified against Memín, was also assassinated.
Human Rights Watch received multiple reports of local successor groups’ extortion of local businesses and residents, displacement of those who did not follow their orders, recruitment of children, and rape, in addition to drug trafficking and other organized criminal activity. “They’re grabbing kids who are eight or nine years old... If the kids don’t get involved, they threaten them,” one community leader in Comuna 13 said. “They’re still charging vacunas [taxes], threatening people who don’t do what they say ... beating them in front of everybody.”
The groups have engaged in assassinations and threats, often targeting community leaders. In one case, the Personería’s Permanent Human Rights Unit reported that “the president of a community action council was forced to resign due to pressure from a well known demobilized individual.” Elsewhere, the unit reported that “in one of the community action councils (JACs) they replaced the whole council with people who did their bidding.”
“We’re afraid,” said a group of community leaders from the Northeast Zone of Medellín in 2008. “We don’t know how it’s going to blow up.... The ones who move the strings ... find their instrument [in] the local gangs but the ones who move this war are external actors.”
In August 2006, assassins killed Haider Ramírez, a popular community leader from Comuna 13. A few months later, the Early Warning System of the Ombudsman’s Office prepared a “Risk Report” about Comuna 13. The risk report warned about the threat posed by the existence of “armed groups derived from the demobilized of the Cacique Nutibara and Héroes de Granada Blocks, as well as the Black Eagles emerging criminal groups.” It noted the risk that the groups could commit homicides, force people from their homes, use threats and force to recruit new members, and generate terror in the civilian population. It said the murder of Haider Ramírez was “a premeditated act designed to create blanket fear in the area, especially in this year of municipal and regional elections, and [it represented] the elimination of ... social leaders who refuse to participate in the established order.”
But the mayor’s office rejected the risk report, stating in its April 10, 2007, response that “in Comuna 13 there is no armed conflict; there are criminal gangs who are responsible for the majority of the crimes committed there. These groups are not part of any military structure, because in Comuna 13 there is no organized presence of guerrillas or paramilitaries.”
Two weeks later, on April 23, 2007, Judith Vergara, a 33-year-old community leader from the El Pesebre neighborhood in Comuna XIII, and a mother of four, was shot to death by an unidentified assailant while riding on a bus from her neighborhood to work. According to Luis Fernando Quijano, who worked closely with her, Judith, and one other member of her group had been detained and threatened by paramilitaries in July of 2005. Quijano says that Judith had been planning to run for higher political office, but that a few days before her death she had told him she was afraid of doing so because of the problems she had had with the paramilitaries in her part of town.
According to a representative from the Ombudsman’s Office, “the two killings [Vergara’s and Ramirez’s] were linked... [T]hey had both had problems with the demobilized.”
Mery del Socorro Naranjo and María del Socorro Mosquera, who held local office in Comuna 13, said they had come under pressure from persons linked to paramilitaries to approve projects, using resources from local budgets, that favored the paramilitaries.
Another community leader from the Northeast Zone of Medellín said she had to give up her political work due to the pressure from the successor groups: “They threatened me and told me I had to leave the council. The pain it gives me is that they barred me from doing public service for a long time.” She also said the groups pressed the community to vote for their candidates for the community action council: “During the election they go door to door, to the most vulnerable people ... and tell them they have to vote for this list.”
“The idea is to take control of local budgets through the neighborhood action councils,” said an official from the Medellín Personería’s Human Rights Unit, “they also infiltrate local educational institutions, pressuring school officials to give them contracts.”
Representatives of CEDECIS, an organization working on education in poor areas of Medellín, told Human Rights Watch that in July of 2007 members of the Democracy Corporation appeared at one of CEDECIS’ schools. They said the men pressured school officials to send students to downtown Medellín the following week so they could participate in a celebration on the streets honoring “Don Berna” when he was taken to the city to give his “confession” to prosecutors.Previously, when paramilitary commander “El Alemán” had been in Medellín for his confession, hundreds of people had “taken over the streets” to cheer for him in front of the Prosecutors’ Offices. “They asked the director how many busloads he could fill [with students],” said the CEDECIS representatives. “When the director refused, they began making threats, saying that the school was worthless [and] that it has never supported them.”
Shortly afterwards, the CEDECIS officials issued a press release about what had happened, which they believe resulted in city officials preventing the Democracy Corporation from holding a large event for “Don Berna’s” confession as originally planned. The Democracy Corporation responded with a press release stating that “it had never had to force any person to attend the events expressing solidarity with [Don Berna],” that allegations that they had been pressing persons to attend the events were false, and that those who made them were “unscrupulous, ill-meaning persons who are against the peace process.” CEDECIS officials say the school director received several more threats in later weeks.
Threats by groups or persons who appear to be linked to paramilitaries also targeted the Medellín Personería’s Human Rights Unit. In one situation two staff members who were carrying out fieldwork in Comuna 1 had to seek police protection when a motorcyclist started following them around; on another occasion, a member of the Democracy Corporation publicly accused the unit of being a “guerrilla front.”
The Youth Network of Medellín, a group of people under age 27 committed to non-violence, said that they had received threats after holding a concert outside the Democracy Corporation Offices. “A few hours after the concert, someone stabbed and killed a young guy at a nearby park... Two weeks later ... threats arrived by email telling us never to do the concert again. A list appeared with eight people from our organization. The people on the list were followed and photographed.... A month later a threat arrived at a ... newspaper that we worked with. The [new] emails were similar to the threats we had received except that the authors identified themselves as anti-guerrilla groups and not the Black Eagles.” The youth organization continues doing its work, “but there is still a lot of fear.”
In December of 2007, MAPP officials reported that a representative in the MAPP local office in Medellín had received a serious death threat. A motorcyclist had entered the office and said that the local office director should no longer show up there or she would be killed.
In recent years, the power of Don Berna’s criminal structures has been challenged by other successor groups and by infighting within the Envigado Office.
Two of Don Berna’s alleged associates, Gustavo Upegui and Daniel Alberto Mejía (a.k.a. “Danielito”), were killed in what appears to have been a power struggle within the organization. Colombian National Police Chief General Oscar Naranjo stated in 2007 that the vice-president of the Democracy Corporation, Carlos Mario Aguilar, known by the alias “Rogelio,” had become the new head of the Envigado Office.
“There are structures that at first ‘copied’ [followed the orders of] Berna but due to the disappearances of Danielito and Upegui, new power structures are starting to appear to seek their own benefit,” said one official from the Ombudsman’s Office in Medellín, in late 2007. “Rogelio has some control... [S]ome say that he’s working without Berna, others that they’re together.” In a February 2008 interview, General Naranjo said that “[s]ince about eight months ago we noticed an effort from Urabá to get to Medellín through a group of assassins to force the submission of the Envigado Office,” which had resulted in killings. Naranjo asserted that the Envigado Office appeared to have withdrawn and fractured, while other groups were restructuring.
In May 2008 the Colombian government extradited Don Berna to the United States. “From then on, everything changed,” said General Roberto León Riaño, then director of the Carabineers unit of the police. He explained that a confrontation broke out between Don Mario (of Urabá) and Rogelio. A couple of months later, Rogelio, who was once an investigator for the Office of the Attorney General, is reported to have turned himself in to US authorities.
Since then, the Medellín groups have seen a succession of leaders—several of whom are supposedly demobilized paramilitaries, and some of whom have been arrested or killed.
For example, police arrested John William López Echevarría (also known as “Memín”), a supposedly demobilized member of the Cacique Nutibara block with whom Human Rights Watch had met at the offices of the Democracy Corporation in mid-2007. As previously explained, Memín was convicted of forced displacement, interfering with electoral processes by force (voter constrainment), and conspiracy (the charge usually applied to paramilitaries) in Comuna 8.
Human Rights Watch had previously received reports that Memín was the right-hand man of Antonio López (known as “Job”), a senior Cacique Nutibara leader and Democracy Corporation member who worked closely with Don Berna. In mid-2008 a major scandal erupted when Semana magazine reported about Job’s meeting with senior advisors to President Uribe at the presidential palace, during which Job offered them material to smear Supreme Court assistant justice Iván Velásquez. Job was assassinated a few weeks later.
The infighting and fracturing of the Medellín groups have been accompanied by rapidly rising violence in Medellín. In the first 10 months of 2009 there were 1,717 homicides, according to the Medellín Instituto de Medicina Legal (Forensic Medicine Institute). That is more than a 100 percent increase over the 830 cases in the same period in 2008. 
Many of the victims are supposedly demobilized paramilitaries. According to the Medellín Personería’s Human Rights Unit, 71 demobilized paramilitaries were killed in Medellín in 2008. Another 125 were killed through November 17, 2009.
The number of persons who are becoming newly displaced within the city has also climbed. The Medellín Personería’s Human Rights Unit reports that in the first 10 months of 2009 it received reports of the displacement of 2,103 persons within the city of Medellín alone—nearly tripling the number of reports the Personería had received the previous year.
The Personería told Human Rights Watch that, in their statements, the people who were forced from their homes in the first half of 2009 identified the following as perpetrators: paramilitary groups, 32 percent of the cases; gang members, 29 percent of the cases; unidentified armed groups, 24 percent of the cases; and demobilized persons, 10 percent of the cases. Only four percent attributed their displacement to common crime, one percent to guerrillas, and one percent to the army. In their statements victims point out that there is no real difference among many of these groups, due to the similarity in their behavior and the fact that their members move easily from one group to another. The Personería noted that many of the victims spoke of the “boss” who ran things in the neighborhood, and said there were similarities in the patterns of control and enforcement, suggesting the existence of broader hierarchical networks. The victims repeatedly reported that the groups were exerting social control, engaging in social cleansing, recruiting young men and children, and engaging in extortion and threats.
Displacement from the Pablo Escobar Neighborhood
Between late 2008 and July 2009, more than 40 residents of the Pablo Escobar neighborhood (a small area covering only a few blocks) of Medellín became displaced as a result of threats and killings by a group run by former members of the AUC’s Cacique Nutibara and Heroes de Granada Blocks. Human Rights Watch interviewed many of the displaced community members, who described strict and violent control of their activities by the group, which they believed had links to the Envigado Office.
One woman described how the group killed her son in May 2009: “When the war among the demobilized began, the gangs in Medellín were left without a law or leader, and in November 2008 they began to kill boys they weren’t allowed to kill before... On February 28, we received a threat, and [my son] got us a house so we could hide in another neighborhood.” But the group tracked them down at their new home. “They were waiting for him on the patio. They killed him. I ran out in the middle of the shooting, they shot at me and at my little girl. I recognized one of the boys from the neighborhood,” she said. She said the group had become angry at them because she had started testifying about a crime she had witnessed. “If you stay you’re with them, and if you leave you’re an enemy because you’re a witness,” said another family member. “It’s not fair that everybody pretends to be blind [to the crimes that are committed],” added the mother. “The gang has said that nobody can leave the neighborhood or they’ll chop them up... No authorities have responded and [the gang] was acting freely, and I said no more.”
Several young men from the community said that they had received threats from the group stating that the men should either join them or leave. “In Medellín all the neighborhoods are hot. We have no security,” said one.
“They’ve killed a lot of people, you see them beating people to death. They make the prettiest girls, who are 12 or 13 years old, be theirs. And if the girls don’t accept, they rape and kill them,” said another. Several community members described cases of young girls who had been raped, usually in a place they called the “escuelita,” an abandoned school. “Every Saturday they party and whatever girl they grab goes there. It’s a small hell there. They torture people,” said another man.
Another woman described how her son had been killed and dismembered on April 17, 2009. “He said he was going to have lunch with me ... but he didn’t arrive.... The police called me to recognize the body.... They pulled a sack out of the trunk of the car [with his body in it].” Her son had been a taxi driver, and she thinks he was killed by the group because he wouldn’t work with them. “I started receiving threats, asking ‘How long are you staying, or are you going to go out like your son?’”
According to several residents, members of the local police tolerate the groups. “The police are afraid of them, and since they get paid off, even though [police personnel] have been changed five times, it’s always the same,” said one community member. The group also manages the drug business in the neighborhood and forces taxi drivers to carry drugs for them, several community members told us. Some residents said that in recent months, the group had started working for a new leader, known as “Chaparro,” who originally was part of the Envigado Office and who they claimed now controls several groups in the Comuna 9 area of Medellín. “We can no longer live in Medellín. They have tentacles everywhere,” said one resident.
The displaced people from the Pablo Escobar neighborhood had no place to go. The human rights personero of Medellín helped make arrangements so they could stay at a municipal shelter for displaced persons. However, many expressed dissatisfaction because they could not work while staying at the shelter, lest they be identified and killed. One displaced man, Esneider Camilo Higuita, who decided to abandon the shelter was later assassinated in the Pablo Escobar neighborhood, on September 12, 2009.
The persons at the shelter have faced uncertainty about their living situation. The prosecutor handling the investigation of the group’s abuses has repeatedly asked the Office of the Attorney General’s witness protection program to offer them protection, and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the office supporting those requests. But as of this writing the office had only approved protection requests for two community members. Meanwhile, Medellín municipal authorities claim that they are not responsible for protecting the community, because the displaced residents belong in the witness protection program. The city continues to allow them to remain at the shelter, but says that it is running out of resources.
The investigation of the abuses in the Pablo Escobar neighborhood is being handled by a specialized prosecutor, who forms part of a group in the Attorney General’s Office charged with investigating successor groups. In October 2009, the prosecutor obtained the arrest of 18 men whom the community had identified as members of the gang responsible for abuses. However, three other men against whom arrest warrants are pending remain at large.
Successor Groups in the Urabá Region
The region around the Gulf of Urabá, which includes portions of the departments of Chocó and Antioquia, has historically suffered some of the worst atrocities in Colombia’s internal armed conflict. During the late 1990s, paramilitaries took over much of the region, operating with the toleration and even collusion of sectors of the 17th Brigade of the Army, including, according to multiple sources, General Rito Alejo del Rio. Military and paramilitary operations in the region led to massive displacement of civilians, including many Afro-Colombians who abandoned their traditional lands.
The region is a strategic corridor for the movement of drugs and weapons because it is on the Pacific coast. It also has fertile land that was historically used to grow bananas. After the displacement of civilians, private companies and landowners—some with allegedly close links to the AUC—took over wide swaths of traditional Afro-Colombian land. They planted African palm, which produces profitable palm oil, and have also sought to exploit the land for lumber.
Starting in the mid-1990s, the Urabá region of Chocó came under the control of the AUC’s Elmer Cárdenas Block, under the command of Freddy Rendón (also known as “El Alemán”). As described by the investigative news website VerdadAbierta.com, which has conducted extensive research on paramilitaries’ history:
[El Alemán’s] men killed and displaced hundreds of indigenous people and Afro-Colombians who refused to sell their lands for palm cultivation. The communities of Curvaradó, Cacarica and Domingodó, speak of at least 22,000 hectares that men from the Elmer Cárdenas block took from them. The area of Belen de Bajirá in Mutatá also has thousands of hectares planted with palm, which are also said to have been taken by the Elmer Cárdenas Block, and by Vicente Castaño, after they forced hundreds of peasants to turn over their territory. Yet all these takings have been presented by “El Alemán” and the men in his block as a social project ... that is designed to generate productive enterprises in remote areas. In reality, it’s part of a strategy of repopulation and territorial control that has as its axis a lumber and palm agroindustry that was designed by Vicente Castaño.
In recent years, some of the displaced persons have sought to return and reclaim their lands, in some cases by creating “humanitarian zones”—de facto small communities where they have settled, on or near the land they used to farm.
In 2006 the Elmer Cárdenas Block supposedly demobilized. However, almost immediately a new group run by El Alemán’s brother, Daniel Rendón (“Don Mario”), who had also supposedly demobilized, started operating in the region and engaging in behavior very similar to that of the Elmer Cárdenas Block.
Continued Control and Abuses
Don Mario presented himself as the true heir to Carlos Castaño, a prominent former AUC leader (reportedly killed by his brother Vicente Castaño) who frequently portrayed the paramilitaries as engaged in an ideological fight against the guerrillas, and was responsible for horrific atrocities. Don Mario’s group used different names, including “Heroes de Castaño” (“Castaño’s Heroes”); “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia” (Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia); and Black Eagles. The police call them “the ones from Urabá,” while others call them the “Urabeños.” In 2007 and 2008 the group appeared to grow rapidly and there were reports that it had started to have a presence in Medellín, where it was challenging Don Berna’s groups.
In April 2009, the police arrested Don Mario. But others took over control of his organization.
Human Rights Watch visited two humanitarian zones—areas where displaced persons have settled, and which they claim as the territory that was taken from them—in Urabá, both along the Curvaradó river in the state of Chocó, and spoke with persons from other parts of Urabá who traveled to meet with us. Residents described a situation of constant threats by local armed groups, who residents believed to be serving the interests of some of the businesses and landowners who wanted to keep the Afro-Colombians from seeking recovery of their land.
Police sources we spoke with recognize that the successor groups in the Urabá region are closely involved in the palm business, and could be considered “private armies,” one of the officials noting that this phenomenon could also be seen elsewhere in the country, such as in the plains states.
Generally, residents said the groups operating in the region identified themselves as the “Black Eagles” and were part of the structure that was previously managed by Don Mario.
“They have a very fierce control. In Brisas, Pavarandó, Curvaradó, Mutatá, wherever you go, they have control,” said one resident. Residents described multiple checkpoints by the successor groups all over the region. “There’s a mobile checkpoint before leaving Mutatá to join the central road, where they impose a tax [vacuna] on all vehicles with loads,” said another. In addition to extorting such payments from community members and local businesses, most residents believe that the groups are making money through palm plantations and drug trafficking. “The guys take care of the palm crops. They’re part of the same structure [that existed before],” said a former national official who used to work in the area.
One humanitarian zone that has been especially victimized recently is Caño Manso, along the Curvaradó river. On October 14, 2008, community members claim, the Black Eagles assassinated community leader Gualberto Hoyos of Caño Manso. “They killed him one block from the Caño Manso school,” said a resident, who charged that the Black Eagles were working closely with local businessmen and landowners. According to the Inter-American Commission, “after the killing, the aggressors took the community’s cell phones to leave them incommunicado. The police only arrived at the location five hours after the events, and the army arrived seven hours after [the killing].”
During a Human Rights Watch visit to the Curvaradó region on May 30, 2009, residents reported that there was a conflict between residents of the Caño Manso humanitarian zone and the administrator of the land for one of the persons who took it over, backed by the army. “The administrator said that we had to leave the humanitarian zone whether we wanted to or not. One of our friends was threatened. The army was present, they saw [men] cut the fence [that the displaced community had built to mark their territory] around the Caño Manso humanitarian zone,” said one resident. Another added that “we’re worried because we’re getting threats from the Black Eagles. There were two men from the Black Eagles there... They took video and photos... The ones who took the fence down work for the businessmen.”
Threatened and Kidnapped for Defending the Community
Yimmy Armando Jansasoy, a young member of the Justice and Peace Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission, a non-governmental organization that works closely with the Afro-Colombian communities along the Curvaradó river, was forced to flee the region after being threatened and kidnapped by the “Black Eagles” in 2008. While in hiding, he told us his story:
Starting on August 24 we began to receive threats from the Black Eagles... The whole team at Curvaradó, eight human rights defenders, received threats that ordered us to leave the zone to stay alive.... In that area there are many interests... We help communities defend what is theirs through their ancestry.
[The threats] really affected our organization’s activities.... On September 3, I left to make some rounds and was abducted by four armed men. They put me in a truck, face down, with my hands tied behind my back. They intimidated me with a gun. They ordered me to give information about my co-workers and their families... I thought they were going to kill me because the threats had been serious. They said that by working for the organization, all I was asking for was death... [But they eventually released me.]
From that moment, I had to abandon the territory... On September 6 I received more threats on my cell phone. My colleague also received a threat on the same day... We understood that we were dealing with a big structure.
We saw that the groups act with impunity, and that’s what hurts. We saw that the human rights organizations are in danger because it is a big and strong structure... They are paramilitaries. They demobilized, but the demobilization was a worldwide publicity act. In reality, groups kept the same structure. They keep killing and exploiting the communities. They continue their presence within the community. The state does nothing to end these structures. The paramilitaries are hidden in their activities. They can’t be as visible as in the late [1990s], but the control continues. They assassinate community leaders, those who speak, they exploit the communities that work, the person that works. They exercise control over the territory with the justification that they are against the guerrillas, but they really are treating the communities as guerrillas, communities who have nothing to do with the national conflict... They do it to control territory, obtain wealth, and impose their agribusiness. They want to achieve a high economic level, but at the expense of blood, and the lives of communities. They terrorize communities so that they abandon their lands... The demobilization may have made the paramilitaries less visible, but paramilitary and military control under the same structure has continued.”
Successor Groups in Meta
The states stretching east of Bogotá to the Venezuelan border—Meta, Vichada, Casanare, and Guaviare—and known collectively as “los llanos” or the plains, were among the worst hit by AUC violence. The territory has always been valuable for cultivation of coca as well as for moving drugs across the border, and also for the cultivation of biofuels, rubber, lumber, and natural resources, including oil and mining.
The plains states also present a clear example of continuation between the former AUC paramilitaries and their successor groups. The most active group there now, the ERPAC, is a large faction of the Centauros Block of the AUC, which remained active under the command of Pedro Oliverio Guerrero (Cuchillo), despite his supposed demobilization.
The FARC has maintained a presence in the region for years, and the plains—especially Meta—have a significant military presence.
In the early part of this decade, the plains became the stage for infighting among different paramilitary groups, which were each seeking control over territory. On one hand, the Autodefensas Campesinas del Casanare engaged in a bloody struggle against the Centauros Block of the AUC (under the control of Miguel Arroyave) in 2003-2004. The Centauros Block prevailed, and its leader, Miguel Arroyave, participated in demobilization negotiations in Ralito until he was assassinated in 2004, as a result of an internal struggle within the Centauros Block. That block was divided into two factions: the Héroes del Llano (Heroes of the Plains), led by Jesús María Pirabán (Pirata), and the Héroes del Guaviare (Heroes of Guaviare), led by Pedro Oliverio Guerrero (Cuchillo). Officials claim that Cuchillo was responsible for Arroyave’s death. Both Cuchillo and Pirata entered the demobilization process, but Cuchillo never turned himself in.
The Rise of ERPAC or the “Cuchillos”
Starting in 2007 a fight broke out over control of the plains between Cuchillo’s group and still active factions of other groups from the region. A risk report from the Early Warning System of the Ombudsman’s Office warned, in November 2007, that:
The non-demobilized Guaviare Block [a faction of the Centauros Block of the AUC]..., under the command of Pedro Oliverio Guarrero (“Cuchillo”) has constituted the group of the “Cuchillos," which has gradually been consolidating its control in Meta, Vichada, and Guaviare in the confrontation it is carrying out against the paramilitary group of the so-called “Paisas” or “Macacos.” As the group of the “Cuchillos” advances, it is also strengthening its presence in areas disputed with the FARC, stimulated by the resources of coca and by the forced taking of vast extensions of land..., they are establishing themselves violently on communities considered supportive of the guerrillas, a counterinsurgency strategy that accentuates the brutality of the human rights violations.
Cuchillo’s people prevailed around October of 2007, and his group took control over much of the region, though Human Rights Watch received reports that other smaller groups operate there as well. Another actor operating in the region is the drug trafficker known as El Loco Barrera, who several sources—including the police—said was operating with Cuchillo.
Government officials, nonprofit organization leaders, and church and community leaders repeatedly told Human Rights Watch that Cuchillo moves freely throughout the plains, despite the strong presence of the military. While the police report that ERPAC has 770 troops under its command, the news media has reported that the National Intelligence Service (the DAS) and the Office of the Attorney General’s Criminal Investigator Unit (the CTI) put the number at more than 1,200; other sources estimate it reaches as high as 2,500-3,000. According to the regional ombudsman, in March 2009:
This territory is dominated by Cuchillo, who is in a process of expansion, taking the south of state and moving to Guaviare and Vichada. His presence is similar to that of the paramilitaries... He has a clear presence in Puerto Lleras, Puerto Rico, and Vistahermosa, with control over people. There’s no question it’s Cuchillo... It has a counterinsurgent element. There are confrontations between paramilitaries and guerrillas between Mapiripán and Puerto Gaitan. They have more than 1,000 members.
He added that Cuchillo is actively recruiting troops, including minors, in cities. “He’s offering 800,000 to 1 million pesos ... especially in Villavicencio.”
Abuses against Civilians and Counterinsurgency Activity
Human Rights Watch visited sectors of Meta, including Puerto Rico, Vistahermosa, Granada, and the capital, Villavicencio. Puerto Rico and Vistahermosa have a strong presence of the Colombian army, with checkpoints along the roads and large military bases. Yet Human Rights Watch received multiple reports of successor groups, apparently under Cuchillo’s command, operating in the area, threatening and killing civilians. In the municipality of Vistahermosa, in particular, residents consistently reported that men calling themselves the “Black Eagles,” who said they worked for Cuchillo, were operating in the region and threatening civilians. In an October 2008 follow-up note to its risk report, the EWS warned of:
the consolidation of the expansion project of the paramilitary group known as the “Cuchillos” ... in a strategy that has focused on cutting the territorial, economic, and transit circuit considered strategic by the FARC fronts that maintain influence in rural areas of Puerto Rico and Vistahermosa, with the similar objective of controlling zones of coca production and trade. This has been reflected in a spiral of violence against the civilian population including threats, selective killings, forced displacement, recruitment or illicit use of children and adolescents, and intimidation and terror, especially against the leaders of the community action councils and peasant associations which are declared as military objectives by this armed group.
A state official in Vistahermosa said that Cuchillo’s people had begun entering the area in significant numbers in October 2008.
Vistahermosa residents consistently said that there was a group that answered to Cuchillo in the region, that it was threatening and killing people, and that its members often accused residents of being guerrillas, or spoke of their pursuit of guerrillas.
For example, residents of the town of Santo Domingo, near Vistahermosa, Meta, said that members of successor groups who sometimes called themselves Black Eagles, but who worked for Cuchillo, had arrived in their town in late 2008. The members had forced coca growers to sell to them, and were also threatening people, forcing the community to feed them and killing people. According to one community member: “it’s over control of territory. They’re from the south of Bolivar [department] ... and they say they work for Cuchillo. They dress in black. The army is there but does nothing.”
Another resident said “there’s a lot of paramilitarism there ... They’re constantly rotating—15 to 20 of them.” The man had previously left the neighboring town of El Tigre because armed men came in one night and took people. “This is counterinsurgency: they said it there—that everything that smells like a guerrilla collaborator, they will kill. They say it in front of the people.... Those communities had been managed by guerrillas for many years.”
Similarly, in Balconcitos, another small town in Vistahermosa, a woman said:
We lived under the pressure of the guerrillas [and] then the army came. [It left] and then the paramilitaries arrived in November 2008... When the paramilitaries arrived in November they said they were self-defense forces. They entered houses by force and said people had to let them stay.... Eight people were displaced. [The paramilitaries] didn’t do much. They would arrive and ask how many guerrilla troops had been there, what they were doing. They left on December 22 and the army arrived on the 24th. We didn’t tell the army... They say they’re with the army and their boss will know if someone talks about them... It’s the law of silence.
Another woman who lived in Balconcitos said she had left “because the paramilitaries arrived and put two people in each house. They held meetings... The ones in Balconcitos said they were paramilitaries who worked for Cuchillo. That’s why many people left. A neighbor told us about a list that we were on, so we left.”
“Cuchillo’s men came through the community. They call themselves the Black Eagles,” said a woman who had been displaced from La Cooperativa, Vistahermosa. “They said that anything that smells like guerrillas should leave the region. People were afraid and started abandoning town. There were lots of threats from Cuchillo’s men, against the Community Action Council and others.” The woman said she had left because she had heard that she was on a list that Cuchillo’s people had put together of 50 targets for assassination in Piñalito, Santo Domingo, la Cooperativa, El Tigre, Puerto Toledo, and Villa La Paz.
In Caño Amarillo, a resident said that successor groups had come into town and were extorting people: “A lot of unknown people arrive ... and they don’t come to work. They arrive more when public security forces are near. A few days ago four armed guys arrived in Caño Amarillo, and the security forces were near... They’re doing ‘cleansing’ of guerrilla redoubts. Last year there were threats against people who were accused of collaborating with guerrillas.”
A resident of Mata de Bambú, Vistahermosa, said the groups called themselves Black Eagles and were uniformed. “They go in groups of 150 or so and camp in the mountains.... They asked us if we had seen the guerrillas.”
On the basis of risk reports by the Ombudsman’s Office, an early warning was issued to cover the municipalities of Vistahermosa, Puerto Lleras, and Puerto Rico. But an official said that the warning was later lifted because “the Ministry of Defense complained ... and the departmental government opposed it. There was a meeting of the Interinstitutional Committee of Early Warnings where they decided to eliminate the warning, but it wasn’t because of lack of evidence.”
Successor Groups in Nariño
The southwestern border state of Nariño is suffering from widespread violence that is taking a heavy human rights and humanitarian toll. FARC and ELN guerrillas, the army and navy, and successor groups to the paramilitaries are all active, as are various drug-trafficking groups. In 2008, according to the national Human Rights Observatory, there were 723 homicides in the state and 23,604 persons were displaced. While these official numbers are among the highest in the country, the real numbers are likely much higher. According to local officials and international observers, the numbers of homicides and displaced persons are dramatically underreported, due to difficulties accessing the region, citizens’ fear of reporting abuses, and reports that armed actors often seek to hide bodies by dismembering them, burying them in common graves, or throwing them in rivers.
Nariño is a primarily rural, agricultural state, flanked by a long coastline to the west and the Andes mountain range along the east. Its location and geographic conditions make it a strategic corridor for the transportation of drugs, with transport routes running both out to its seaports and through poorly controlled border crossings with Ecuador. Coca is also cultivated in the state, and substantial aerial fumigation has been conducted with Plan Colombia funds provided by the United States. It has large indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, which have been severely affected by the violence. Nariño is also a resource-rich region, with substantial fertile land with potential for cultivation of industrial crops like African palm, as well as for mining in the mountains.
Demobilization of the Liberators of the South Paramilitary Block
The main paramilitary group that operated in Nariño was the Liberators of the South Block (Bloque Libertadores del Sur or BLS), which was part of the larger Central Bolivar Block (Bloque Central Bolivar or BCB). The BCB operated in many regions around the country under the command of Carlos Mario Jiménez Naranjo (“Macaco”). The brothers Rodrigo Pérez Alzate (“Julián Bolívar”) and Guillermo Pérez Alzate (“Pablo Sevillano”) were also important commanders of the BLS and BCB.
According to one demobilized BLS commander, the BLS first entered Nariño with the support of the Boyacá Battalion of the army in 2002, and the BLS conducted joint operations with the battalion.
The BLS was heavily involved in the drug trade in Nariño. News reports cite one witness—a retired army lieutenant who claims to have worked closely with the BLS and BCB leadership for several years—who stated that the BLS had even conducted drug-related business with fronts of the FARC and ELN guerrillas in 2004 and 2005. He claimed that as much as US$17 million was arriving in the region every week for coca purchases, and that BLS commanders ordered three massacres in the port town of Llorente in connection with coca.
The BLS formally demobilized on July 30, 2005; 689 individuals participated in the demobilization ceremonies. But several sources reported to Human Rights Watch that the BLS engaged in fraud during the demobilizations, inflating their ranks so as to allow portions of the paramilitary networks to remain intact. Local authorities said that for two or three months before the demobilization, paramilitaries were recruiting young men to participate in the ceremonies. Authorities heard reports from citizens who said they saw buses full of young men arriving in the area to have their hair cut and put on uniforms like the paramilitaries. “Not all the paramilitaries demobilized, and not all those who demobilized were paramilitaries,” said one local official. The same official described how, a few weeks before the demobilizations, he ran into a group of young men in a rural area who told him that they had received an offer to enter the process so they could receive the government stipend available to demobilized paramilitaries (the minimum wage for 18 months). An official at the local reference center for paramilitaries acknowledged that “some of the [demobilized] could be civilians who snuck in.”
The Rise of Successor Groups
Since the BLS demobilization, Nariño has been plagued by violence from groups that operate in a manner similar to that of the AUC, by recruiting, threatening, raping, and killing civilians, engaging in drug trafficking, and competing with each other and the guerrillas over territory. Initially, the most prominent of these was the New Generation Organization (which has also gone by the acronym ACNG—Autodefensas Campesinas Nueva Generación or Peasant Self Defense Forces of the New Generation, and is now simply known as New Generation or NG). Subsequently, the Rastrojos group gained increasing strength, and Human Rights Watch received numerous reports of the presence of a group known as the Black Eagles.
The groups are concentrated in three principal zones: NG has its largest presence in the mountains. The Rastrojos and Black Eagles operate along the Pacific coastline (and are reportedly fighting for control of the port city of Tumaco) and are increasingly appearing in the Andean region, along the Tumaco-Pasto highway, and in the municipality of Barbacoas.
An official from the local reference center for demobilized persons said he heard “lots of complaints that the [demobilized persons] are being recruited by the same guys. Some say they’re in touch with groups that remain active.... They’re trying to recruit persons with experience.” The official said the reference center tries to keep track of them, but “we don’t know if at night they’re doing things” with the armed groups.
The Ombudsman’s Office, in a risk report about Nariño issued in 2007, described the case of a demobilized young man from the BLS who had moved to the state of Córdoba. In April 2007 the young man sought help from officials in Nariño, telling them that he had accepted an offer from one of his former commanders to work on a logging project in Nariño earlier that year. According to the report, he was instead being recruited again into an armed group with counterinsurgency aims:
When he arrived to the rural area of Iscuandé [on the northern coast of Nariño], he found nearly 200 persons there, 90 of them demobilized persons who, he said “were also brought through deception, as possible workers on the supposed logging project, without adequate weapons, which would soon arrive so the whole group would be armed.” These persons are being recruited for a second time to form a new paramilitary group, to reenter the coastal area of the Pacific to combat insurgents and their supposed social base; as well as to eventually joint the paramilitary group that is currently carrying out armed actions in the mountains of the state.
The young man managed to escape and authorities helped him leave the state.
All the successor groups are engaging in activities that have an impact on the civilian population, including targeted killings of civilians, threats, extortion, and forced displacement.
Several civil society groups, political leaders, and human rights activists in Nariño, including the Tumaco Social Pastoral, the Permanent Human Rights Committee, Avre, International Organization on Migration, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and others, have received email threats purporting to come from the New Generation paramilitaries. Threats were distributed in March and July 2007, and then again in early 2008, in connection with the march against paramilitary violence that was being organized for March 6, 2008. Another group calling itself the “Legion of the South Block of the AUC” has distributed an open letter to the population of Nariño, claiming that it is the true heir to the AUC, and announcing that it would begin to carry out actions in Nariño against guerrillas and criminal gangs.
Nariño governor Antonio Navarro commented that “if they are not paramilitaries, they are very similar to these groups.”
Successor groups in the Andean Region of Nariño
After the BLS demobilization, reports began to emerge of successor groups operating in several municipalities in the Andean mountains of Nariño.
In February 2007 the Organization of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process (MAPP) reported that New Generation (NG) was believed to have around 300 men operating in the region, and had solidified control of communities in the municipalities of Los Andes, Policarpa, Cumbitara, El Rosario, and Leiva. The report noted that in rural areas the group wore camouflaged uniforms and bracelets with their insignia, and patrolled carrying long arms. The group was controlling the civilian population through checkpoints on highways, and was engaging in operations directed at civilians, including “extortion, selective murders, rape, and threats.” The group had also engaged in combat against the FARC’s 29th Front, which had resulted in massive displacement of civilians.
A report by the Ombudsman’s Office shortly afterwards noted that in addition to selective killings, disappearances, extortion, recruitment of minors, and forced displacement, NG could be using antipersonnel landmines. The report described the violent entry of NG in the municipality of Policarpa in 2006, “announcing their intention to take over some sectors, without regard for the costs that that would entail, where the point is to position themselves strategically, blocking movements of the FARC, which operates in the municipality.” In the same region, the report says, NG raped several women, abused sex workers, and generated massive displacement of civilians.
“They tortured the prostitutes for five days and raped them,” an international observer said. “We saw two bodies in the lower Patía river at the time, and heard of many more.”
“In August 2006 the paramilitaries killed my son in Policarpa. They said he was a guerrilla... They tortured him, tied him up, ... and shot him three times in the head in front of everybody,” said one woman. “They said they would kill me, so I left.... They kill a lot of people.”
In the neighboring municipality of Cumbitara, a local official said, the entry of NG resulted in many killings and forced displacement. “There were 180 families in Sánchez in mid-2006.... By August 2007 there were about 20 families,” said the local official, who visited the area. “It’s rumored that if you drained the Patía river, you would find thousands of bodies.”
One man who was displaced from Sánchez in 2006 said: “The paramilitaries killed my boss and everyone who worked with him in October 2006.... They were 18 men and the paramilitaries killed all of them until they reached the boss and killed him.” The man said that at the time there had been frequent combat between paramilitaries and guerrillas that had resulted in many deaths. “On the Patía river it made you sad to see how many bodies were going down the river. But now they’ve found another way to hide the bodies. They open their stomachs and put stones inside. It’s impossible to count how many people disappeared there in the last two years.”
A September 2007 report by investigators for the Office of the Attorney General, which Human Rights Watch viewed, listed the NG’s leader at the time as Guillermo Pérez Alzate (also known as Pablo Sevillano), the head of the BLS who supposedly demobilized and was later extradited to the United States. The report noted that NG arose immediately after the demobilization of the BLS. It also states that the group at some point split in two in an internal dispute. One of the sub-groups managed municipalities in the northern part of the Nariño mountains, and was led by a commander, Jhon Jairo García, known by his alias as “Nene.” Nene had been a BLS member but did not demobilize. His group was reported as having been organized into five counterguerrilla squads of 30 men each, who wore camouflage and uniforms and carried AK-47s, as well as 11 other squads of 12 men each. The other group, led by “El Rolo” had a presence in southern municipalities like Pasto and Ipiales. According to the same document, NG had 50 minors in its ranks, ranging in age from 14 to 17 years. The group financed itself by extorting the population and managing the coca business. The report also states that the NG was responsible for homicides, disappearances, forced displacement, and extortion.
Various sources told Human Rights Watch that in 2006 and 2007, sectors of the Colombian army, particularly the Boyacá Battalion (the same battalion that allegedly helped the BLS enter the state in 2002) appeared to be tolerating NG. But in 2008 the 19th Mobile Brigade of the army entered the region and began to confront NG, and police officers killed Nene. According to the Nariño Secretary of Government, Fabio Trujillo, the regional government had called on public security forces to carry out actions against NG, especially after a massacre in Leiva in late 2007.
NG is reported to have been significantly weakened, though in mid-2009
sources living in the region said that NG remained active in the mountains, with a new commander known as “El Tigre” and with about 200 men operating between the municipalities of Cumbitara and Policarpa.
Rastrojos and Black Eagles
As NG has become weaker, the Rastrojos group (which reportedly is allied with factions of the ELN guerrillas) and the Black Eagles have increased their presence in the mountains.
According to a recent report by the Early Warning System of the Ombudsman’s Office, “in January 2009, the ‘Black Eagles’ and the ‘New Generation Self Defense Forces,’ the latter of which has been decimated by the blows from the Public Security Forces, joined efforts to contain the violent entry of the Rastrojos, which had established agreements with the ELN guerrillas to combat the FARC, in the northern zone of the western cordillera of Nariño.”The report notes that in their effort to control territory and populations, the groups were “occupying the homes of residents and demanding ... services ... and the establishment of armed powers ... resulting in a series of mechanisms of psychological and physical violence against the civilian population, consisting of threats, extortion, extortive kidnappings, killings, disappearances, and displacements.”
Nariño Secretary of Government Fabio Trujillo agrees that the Black Eagles seem to have joined forces with NG, and that the Rastrojos are allied with the ELN. Similarly, an international observer said that “it’s clear that the Black Eagles are fighting the Rastrojos.” He estimated that today, between the two groups, there are easily 600 men around Policarpa. “All the groups are exerting strong pressure on the region controlled by the guerrillas—the Patía, El Charco. The army and navy are there. There are attacks between the guerrillas and these paras.”
The police in Nariño, however, spoke only of Rastrojos and NG, claiming that the Black Eagles there were really just NG using the name of Black Eagles.
One young woman from Madrigal described the tight control of her town by the Black Eagles, under the command of a man known as “Araña”:
[T]he Black Eagles operate openly in town. The Rastrojos are on the mountain. People say the guerrillas are on the other side of town. The Black Eagles have always been around but on June 1, they started to come into town. They used to come and take things from the town but now they live in the homes in town. After that, they began to kill boys who were 15 or 16... They charged taxes in the stores. I knew one of the boys they killed. They’re proposing that the young men go with them. One of my friends is going. At 6 p.m., everything closes and they go around in cars... They threaten the girls and propose that they go as prostitutes for them. In Madrigal, three girls went, and they killed one of them [in the neighboring town of Santa Cruz]... The other two have disappeared.... The police are with Araña, they know the situation.
A man from Santa Cruz had a similar account:
In Madrigal, ... the Black Eagles interrogate us, with the police 20 meters away... you can’t trust the army or police because they’re practically with the guys. In Santa Cruz, there don’t appear to be Black Eagles, because they’re in Madrigal and Bajo Cumbitara...
In Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa we have the Rastrojos. They arrived in March or April. They arrived ... in camouflaged uniform. They’re a lot, 100, 150, 300—they’ve grown a lot. They’re in the town of Santa Rosa and then go into the countryside. They’re in Santa Cruz a couple of days at a time and then leave. They come in and tax the businessmen. It appears that they sometimes confront guerrillas and other times the Black Eagles and New Generation. They identify themselves as Rastrojos... They’ve done two meetings with the community in Santa Cruz and say that they’re Rastrojos. They set schedules...
Before the Rastrojos, we had NG. The army attacked NG about a year ago...The army stayed three weeks. They left, and a few days later the Rastrojos entered Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz. The NG did too, but as Black Eagles.... The Rastrojos do checkpoints in Santa Cruz.... The Black Eagles and Rastrojos are fighting over territory.
Successor Groups along the Junín-Barbacoas Road
Several sources describe the presence of an armed group, believed to be Rastrojos, on the road from Junín (located alongside the Tumaco-Pasto highway) to Barbacoas, where as of July 2008 they were said to have had a checkpoint. According to several sources, the group not only stopped vehicles, but also kidnapped civilians at the checkpoint. “The army is in Buenavista, and the Rastrojos are five to ten kilometers away. Officially, the army can’t confront them because they are the police’s responsibility. They’re not the government’s military objective,” said one international observer.
Fabio Trujillo, the Nariño secretary of government, recognized that an armed group had been stopping buses on the Junín-Barbacoas highway and forcing people off—even committing selective killings in some cases. He also recognized that the groups were carrying out a census of populations in some towns, so they could keep track of who came in and who left, and in that manner maintain control over territory.
Yet Nariño Police Chief Col. William Montezuma, said that “it’s a lie” that there are any checkpoints on the Junín-Barbacoas road, or that groups there had killed or detained people. He also said he had not heard of any census of the population: “It’s possible that the illegal armed groups have committed violations... but I don’t know of any formal reports.”
Successor Groups on the Pacific Coast
There is a significant presence of Black Eagles, Rastrojos, and other groups along the coast. As of mid-July 2009, the Nariño police said there had been 154 killings in the municipality of Tumaco in 2009—an increase over the 132 recorded in the first seven months of 2007. Residents of Tumaco, as well as international observers and national and regional authorities, including Fabio Trujillo, said that Rastrojos and Black Eagles are engaged in a major battle over control of Tumaco.
A representative of persons displaced from the coast of Nariño told us that the groups in the rural area of Tumaco are killing not only each other but also civilians who refuse to sell them coca, and that civilians recognize some of the members of the successor groups as former BLS members and commanders.
The groups have threatened and attacked human rights defenders in the area. For example, the organization Caritas reported on the killing, presumably by members of these groups, of Felipe Landazury, a member of a local community council who also worked for the Caritas Diocese in Tumaco helping displaced persons:
Armed men attacked Candelilla del Mar and captured Mr. Landazury. After two hours, the dead body of the Caritas worker was found with three gun wounds to the head. The armed men rounded up the local community and threatened them, accusing them of passing on information to the Colombian army and guerrillas about their activities in the area... The murder of Mr. Landazury comes in the context of death threats to Caritas staff and people who work with them, such as school teachers.
A May 2007 report by the Ombudsman’s Office had described the increasing presence of successor groups in the municipalities of El Charco, La Tola, Iscuandé, and Olaya Herrera, on the Pacific coast. Generally, these had been areas with a FARC and ELN presence, but the report stated that ACNG, Black Eagles, and Rastrojos were increasingly making an appearance in these areas, particularly in the municipal capitals, where they were seeking to influence local decisionmaking. In 2008, Human Rights Watch received reports that armed group members had been seen wearing bracelets labeled ACN, for “Autodefensas Campesinas de Nariño,” in Satinga. “They ordered that every boat going to Satinga had to stop in Pital for verification and to see if they’d let it through,” a community leader said.
A woman from Satinga described ongoing harassment and attacks by the successor groups:
We see them coming, they talk to people, they ask for the vacuna (tax) and if there is cattle or a chicken, they take it. They kill people from the community when they don’t pay... It’s very high ... in a very poor area. People don’t have money to pay the vacuna. They have to leave, become displaced in Cali, Buenaventura, Tumaco... They fight the guerrillas: we hear the combats and [see] the dead. There are explosions. It’s not the army or infantry... They’re like criminals but they confront the guerrillas. They’re dressed the same as the army but have insignia on their shoulders or backs and six months or a year ago they wore a bracelet for the AUC. The AUC has turned itself in, but in the center of the country—not in the coast. One part turns itself in but the rest continues. Things change very little. The reality one lives is very different from how the government paints it.
A person who works in the municipalities of Satinga, Olaya Herrera, and Mosquera said:
The violence continues but on a lesser scale, people disappear and a few days later the bodies come down the river. They use many young people to deliver the drugs and receive money and when they return they kill them so they don’t have to pay. In some cases they’ve threatened members of community councils, especially to start taking over the territory. It’s a force of para-narcos or narcos defended by paras.... In some communities it has generated displacement.
Between June and July of 2008, more than two hundred families in three communities in Satinga (San José La Turbia, Herradura, and Gómez Jurado) became displaced after the killings of two young men and the forced disappearance of a third at the hands of ACN. “They tied people up, pushed them onto the floor, pulled people out and killed them in front of others... Nobody knows why. They were poor people.”One source said 118 families from San José La Turbia, 53 from la Herradura, and 40 from Gómez Jurado were displaced. “They entered the urban area of Satinga... They emptied houses, turned over each room. They put graffiti on the houses, which said ACN—Autodefensas Campesinas de Nariño.”
A community leader from the region described the events:
They called a meeting of the community [in the town], accusing them of assisting the guerrillas. They took one guy who didn’t appear again. The second night they took another one to the water and they killed him. Later they killed another on the street in front of the community. They were uniformed, with uniforms of the marine infantry but wearing ACN bracelets.... People say they were about 48-50 in a boat.... On the field the night of the killing there were 80 families.... After the first night they collected all the weapons in the community and said that nobody should inform the marine infantry because they were already informed.
The community leader said that it’s generally believed that the group is from outside the region. Members of the community, he said, were very worried because there had been no investigation and nobody had been held accountable. “We feel we have to leave our territory, with the violence, fear... In Satinga every night there are two, three, four dead. Nobody says anything. It’s a way to finish us off quietly. We’re letting ourselves die off. For God’s sake, we can’t keep letting ourselves be killed in this way.”
Another source said the groups “fill people with fear... They take the homes of displaced people. They exert control; they know about the movements of boats and drug trafficking. Some are counterguerrilla and others defend drug trafficking. The counterguerrillas point to the civilian population, or attack young people who look like guerrillas.”
According to the community leader:
In Mosquera and Satinga they talk about Black Eagles and ACN but to us they’re paras—it’s the same barbarity, brutality, violence, weapons, uniform of the marines. In town they’re dressed as civilians but further up they’re uniformed or wearing black. They have checkpoints leaving Olaya Herrera and above... They supposedly kill collaborators of guerrillas to create terror. The thing in San José was imposed terror, a killing in front of the community... Lots of bodies come down the Sanguianga river and nobody picks them up. ACN sustains itself on the narcos but it’s a way to control the territory.
The Killings in El Roble
On September 15, 2008, armed men arrived in the small town of El Roble, on the outskirts of Tumaco, threw a grenade outside a house on the edge of town, broke into it, and shot at the inhabitants. Two men and an elderly woman were killed, and a baby was injured. Human Rights Watch was in another part of Tumaco at the time and in the following days interviewed survivors and local authorities, including the police, observed the bodies of the victims at the Tumaco cemetery, and attended a community meeting at El Roble.
Community members and others said the killers were members of an unknown group, possibly the Rastrojos, whom they described as “paramilitaries.” According to several witnesses, two days before the killings, on September 13, 2008, there had been a community meeting at which members of the community had complained of the pressure they were under from the FARC and the Rastrojos. That evening, four men, believed to be Rastrojos, had an argument with a man from El Roble. The argument had ended with the man from El Roble shooting at and wounding one of the Rastrojos. The community, in fear that the men would come back to seek revenge, asked the public security forces to come in to provide protection. Local civilian authorities told Human Rights Watch that the army went to the town for a couple of hours, but then left. The killings on September 15 were believed to have been committed by the same men who had come into the town on September 13.
One neighbor of the victims described her experience:
My father was out and I was at home with my brother when we heard a grenade shot almost in front of our house. Then we heard shots and a woman calling for help. I thought it was my aunt. I had my child in my arms and tried to escape... I ran into a wire that tore into me and I wanted to scream.... They shot a child and a woman who had nothing to do with it... My child who was in my arms said let’s run, they’re going to kill us... I told him not to cry.”
According to another woman from the town:
The three people they killed were good neighbors... The [killers] were paras. They had entered the town before and the town had a meeting telling them they couldn’t enter or stay there. The paras took weapons from people in town and went around as civilians. The town is strong and when they heard shots they went to look for paras but by then the paras had left... The army didn’t protect the village. When the police arrived ... the paras had left.
At the entrance to the hospital where the baby was being treated after the shooting, we spoke with a friend of the family that was attacked. She told us that “the people who died were the great-grandmother, her son, and another neighbor. The [survivors] had to go to the hospital in a canoe because they were afraid of going over land.” She added: “I feel impotent. People can’t do anything in cases like this. People who never bothered anyone, who were completely innocent, have to pay.”
When Human Rights Watch went to the city morgue to find the bodies of the victims on September 17, 2008, it discovered that the police had left the bodies unattended outside of the morgue in the Tumaco cemetery, loosely wrapped in plastic bags. The bodies were surrounded by curious residents of Tumaco who would occasionally lift the plastic to look at the corpses. Officials from the Instituto de Medicina Legal, who would normally be in charge of conducting autopsies in such cases, told Human Rights Watch they did not even know the bodies were there, and in any case could not do anything about them because the police had not given them the appropriate paperwork to preserve the chain of custody (even though the chain of custody had already been broken when the police abandoned the bodies). When Human Rights Watch asked the police why they had left the bodies there unattended, they were unable to give an explanation.
On September 18, 2008, the mayor of Tumaco, as well as representatives from the navy, attended a community meeting in El Roble. Human Rights Watch observed as several community leaders complained about the killings and asked the authorities to provide them with better security: “We’re not violent; we’re working people who want a society without violence,” said one. The mayor of Tumaco told those in attendance that their basic problem was that there were people in the community who were growing coca. The community leaders said that many of them had ceased growing coca, and that in any case, they needed protection because the armed groups—both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries’ successors—were pressing them to grow the crop. “We demand immediate assistance because people are being displaced. We’re ready to abandon a crop that is not our work and because we know it brings us problems,” said one leader. 
 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.
 Presidential Program on Human Rights, Colombian Human Rights Observatory, “Indicators on Human Rights and IHL Colombia,” Year 2007, http://www.derechoshumanos.gov.co/observatorio_de_DDHH/documentos/Indicadores/obs_indicadores_dic2007.pdf (accessed November 9, 2009), p. 9.
 Presidential Program on Human Rights, Colombian Human Rights Observatory, “Indicators on Human Rights and IHL Colombia”, Year 2008, http://www.derechoshumanos.gov.co/observatorio_de_DDHH/documentos/Indicadores/obs_indicadores_dic2008_090330.pdf (accessed November 9, 2009), pp. 23-28.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Yolanda Becerra, director of the Organización Femenina Popular (Women’s Popular Organization), Bucaramanga September 6, 2008; Women’s Popular Organization, “Acción Urgente: Incursión de hombres armadas en vivienda de Yolanda Becerra e intimidación a Jacqueline Rojas” (“Urgent Action: Armed Men enter the home of Yolanda Becerra Vega and Threaten Her, Jackeline Rojas is Intimidated”), November 4, 2007, http://colombia.indymedia.org/news/2007/11/74541.php (accessed September 25, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch interview with victim of threats, Barrancabermeja, September 4, 2008.
 Threat sent by email by “Black Eagles” to various groups, March 11, 2008.
 Threat signed by the “Central Command of the Rearming Black Eagles” to various groups, March 12, 2008.
 Simon Romero, “Union Killings Peril Trade Pact with Colombia,” The New York Times, April 14, 2008.
 “Preocupación por amenazas y asesinatos de defensores de derechos humanos” (“Concern over Threats and Killings of Human Rights Defenders”), Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia press release, March 13, 2008, http://www.hchr.org.co/publico/comunicados/2008/comunicados2008.php3?cod=8&cat=73 (accessed April 30, 2008); Letter from 24 international non-governmental organizations to President Uribe, March 25, 2008, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/03/26/colomb18349.htm#ft1.
 “Ocho embajadas denuncian amenazas de Águilas Negras” (“Eight Embassies Report Threats from Black Eagles”), El Espectador (Bogotá), March 5, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/articulo-ocho-embajadas-denuncian-amenazas-de-aguilas-negras (accessed March 8, 2008). The embassies in question represented the governments of Sweden, Spain, Canada, Norway, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina.
 “Fue amenazada de muerte miembro de Misión de la OEA que verifica desmovilización de los ‘paras’” (“Member of the OAS mission verifying the demobilization of the ‘paras’ received a death threat”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), December 11, 2007, http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-3855351 (accessed September 25, 2009); “Death Threat Against OAS Representative,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 12, 2007, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/12/colomb17548.htm.
 “Persecution in the South of Bolivar,” Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolívar and others press release, April 14, 2008, http://fedeagromisbol.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=45 (accessed September 25, 2009). This “escalation in violence” prompted a statement from several UN experts in which they expressed their deep concern over the “the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders in recent months, in particular the killings, harassment and intimidation of civil society activists, trade-union leaders and lawyers representing victims.” “‘End Violence Against Defenders in Colombia’ the call of UN experts,” United Nations Office at Geneva press release, April 30, 2008, http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/3594FDD2EB3D23FFC125743B00576A22?opendocument (accessed September 25, 2009). The experts were the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston; and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Diro César González Tejada, Barrancabermeja, September 4 , 2008.
 The threat, which Human Rights Watch viewed, stated: “After a long and exhaustive intelligence process that included following and interception of communications, among other activities, of several organizations in Nariño that supposedly defend human rights, the Urban Comandos of the Rastrojos have reached the following conclusions: (1) to call on all these organizations to set aside the subversive archaic discourse in favor of the rights and ideologies of the narcoterrorists of the FARC and ELN… or we will go beyond threats; (2) declare as military objectives [several human rights and Awa indigenous groups]; (3) Immediately suspend the brainwashing campaign in which these groups are engaged… We can’t be held responsible for what may happen to the leaders of those organizations if they enter our territory.”
 Human Rights Watch interview with “Lucía” (name changed at the request of the source), March 14, 2009.
 National Labor School, “Chart on Violations against Life, Liberty and Wellbeing against Trade Unionists: Killings, Threats and Disappearances by Perpetrator, 2002-2009,” sent by email from National Labor School to Human Rights Watch, August 26, 2009; E-mail from José Luciano Sanin, director of the National Labor School, to Human Rights Watch, December 7, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Over Dorado Cardona, Medellín, September 12, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representative of the Asociación de Institutores Nortesantandereanos (ASINORT), Cúcuta, September 2, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Cúcuta, September 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representative of Fundacion Progresar, Cúcuta, September 1, 2008.
 Human rights Watch interview with Cúcuta resident, Cúcuta, September 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with President of a Junta de Acción Comunal in Cúcuta, September 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized individual, Cúcuta, September 2, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with displaced woman, Medellín, September 11, 2008.
“Tras la muerte de Yolanda Izquierdo, gobierno intenta frenar cacería a víctimas de los paramilitares” (“After the Death of Yolanda Izquierdo, the Government Tries to Stem the Hunt Against Victims of Paramilitaries”), Semana (Bogotá), February 2, 2007; “Cae presunto asesino de la líder de desplazados de Córdoba, Yolanda Izquierdo” (“Alleged assasin of leader of displaced persons in Córdoba, Yolanda Izierdo, falls”), El Tiempo (Bogotá) August 15, 2009, http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/caribe/ARTICULO-WEB-PLANTILLA_NOTA_INTERIOR-5859587.html; “Policía captura a ex jefe paramilitar acusado de matar a líder campesina,”EFE, August 15, 2009.
 “Acusan a representante de Fundación creada por Castaño de crimen de mujer líder de desplazados” (“Representative of Foundation Created by the Castaños charged with killing of woman leader of the displaced”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), February 2, 2007, http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-3422979 (accessed September 27, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch interview with victim from El Salado massacre, Barranquilla, October 1, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with displaced person, Barrancabermeja, September 5, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with group of relatives of massacre victims, department of Santander, September 5, 2008.
 VerdadAbierta.com, “Por Buscar la Verdad, Victimas de Valledupar Sufren Nuevos Riesgos,” September 25, 2009, http://www.verdadabierta.com/web31/justicia-y-paz/1699-victimas-amenazadas-en-valledupar (accessed September 30, 2009).
 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, “Report on the situation of human rights in Colombia 2007,” A/HRC/7/39, February 28, 2008, http://www.hchr.org.co/documentoseinformes/informes/altocomisionado/2007/Report%20High%20Commissioner%20English%20ADVANCE%20EDITION.htm#_ftnref37 (accessed April 30, 2008), para. 50.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Juan David Díaz, Sincelejo, Sucre, February 23, 2008.
 Email communication from Juan David Díaz to Human Rights Watch, September 19, 2009; Daniel Coronell, “La Mano Negra” (“The Black Hand”), Semana (Bogotá), January 19, 2009, http://www.semana.com/noticias-opinion/mano-negra/119733.aspx (Accessed September 27, 2009);VerdadAbierta.com, “La lista de posibles testigos silenciados en el caso Arana” (“List of possible witnesses silenced in the Arana case”), February 23, 2009, http://www.verdadabierta.com/web3/parapolitica/922-la-lista-de-los-testigos-silenciados-en-el-caso-arana (accessed September 27, 2009).
 Email communication from Juan David Díaz to Human Rights Watch and others, August 15, 2009.
 Email communication from Juan David Díaz to Human Rights Watch, December 29, 2009.
”Condenan a 40 años de cárcel a Salvador Arana,” El Espectador, December 3, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/articulo175577-condenan-40-anos-de-carcel-salvador-arana (accessed December 31, 2009).
Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública Sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado, “Proceso Nacional de Verificación de los Derechos de la Población Desplazadas: Primer Informe a la Corte Constitucional,” January 28, 2008, pp. 31-32. The same report notes that there is a discrepancy between this survey and data collected in the official information system about displaced persons, which attributes only 11.3 percent of cases of displacement to paramilitaries. The report notes that the reports of displacement caused by paramilitaries in the official information system have been dropping “probably because, among other factors, of the difficulties that have arisen in the process of registration…due to the paramilitary demobilization process…[because] as has been reported by many organizations… some Territorial Units (TUs) of Acción Social began to systematically refuse to register persons and homes who reported that paramilitaries were responsible for their displacement. According to the reports about the situation, the TUs were operating on the assumption that the paramilitaries, having demobilized, could not be accused of having caused the displacement.” Ibid.
 Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation, Sole Registry of the Displaced Population, General Charts of the Displaced population, cutoff date of November 30, 2009, http://www.accionsocial.gov.co/Estadisticas/publicacion%20noviembre%20de%202009.htm (accessed December 29, 2009).
 CODHES, “Codhes Informs: Emerging Victims, Displacement, Human Rights and Armed Conflict in 2008,” p. 3.
 Statements by Diego Molano, director of Social Action, at a meeting with US-based human rights groups at the Colombian Embassy in the United States, Washington, DC, November 6, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with displaced person, Barrancabermeja shelter, September 5, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with second displaced person, Barrancabermeja shelter, September 5, 2008.
CODHES, “Codhes Informs: Emerging Victims, Displacement, Human Rights and Armed Conflict in 2008,” p. 3.
 International Committee of the Red Cross, “ICRC Annual Report 2008: Colombia,” May 27, 2009, p. 15.
 Octavio Pineda, “Avanza en Medellín Reinsercion de ‘Paras’” (“Reintegration of Paramilitaries Advances in Medellín”), Reforma (Mexico City), September 25, 2006; María Peña, “Alcalde Fajardo Vende en Washington el ‘Milagro’ de Medellín” (“Mayor Fajardo Sells ‘Miracle’ of Medellín in Washington”), EFE, July 10, 2007.
 Juan Forero, “In Colombia, a Washington Sales Pitch: Bush Administration Leads U.S. Lawmakers on Visit Aimed at Free Trade Pact,” The Washington Post, October 19, 2007; Peter Cohn, “Medellín's Darkest Days Are Gone As House Members Visit,” Congress Daily/A.M., April 9, 2008.
 The most dramatic drop happened between 2002 and 2003, when it fell from a rate of 184 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants to 98.2 per 100,000. The homicide rate continued dropping for several years, until it hit a low of 28.6 per 100,000 in 2007. Secretariat of the Municipal Government of Medellín, Common Homicides in Medellín 1989-2006. The city government claimed that the reduction in violence was a result of its policies, which included investing substantial resources in a reintegration program for demobilized individuals, and the creation of a project to provide psycho-social and legal assistance to victims. Office of the Mayor of Medellín, Peace and Reconciliation Program, Sistematización del Programa Paz y Reconciliación: Modelo de Intervención Regreso a la Legalidad (Sistematization of the Peace and Reconciliation Program: Return to Legality Intervention), (Medellín: Office of the Mayor of Medellín, 2007), pp. 22-67.
Sergio Fajardo, who served as mayor from 2003 to 2007, also received much praise for investing city resources in schools, libraries, and parks in a strategy that city officials claimed had moved citizens “from fear to hope.” María Peña, “Alcalde Fajardo Vende en Washington el ‘Milagro’ de Medellín,” EFE.
 Personeria of Medellín, Executive Human Rights Report for 2009, p. 6, http://www.personeriamedellin.gov.co/modules/publicaciones/item.php?itemid=56 (accessed December 23, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Alonso Salazar, Mayor of Medellín, Medellín, September 11, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch, Colombia – Smoke and Mirrors: Colombia’s Demobilization of Paramilitary Groups, p.40.
 Both the Cacique Nutibara and Heroes de Granada paramilitary Blocks were commanded by Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, also known by his aliases of “Don Berna” or “Adolfo Paz.” The Office of Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace has listed final official numbers of demobilized individuals for each paramilitary Block. Office of the High Commissioner for Peace of Colombia, “Proceso de Paz con las Autodefensas: Informe Ejecutivo” (Peace Process with the Self-Defense Forces: Executive Report).
 Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized paramilitary, (name and details withheld by Human Rights Watch), Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fabio Acevedo and Jovani Marin, Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with officials from the Permanent Human Rights Unit of the Personería of Medellín, Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with then-Medellín Mayor Sergio Fajardo, Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with former community leader, December 3, 2007.
 Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, “Postulados a la Ley 975/2005” (“Applicants to Law 975 of 2005”), online database, http://www.fiscalia.gov.co/justiciapaz/Documentos/Postulados975.pdf (accessed October 15, 2009).
 “Hijo de Orlando Benítez está decepcionado porque justicia absolvió a ‘don Berna’” (“Son of Orlando Benítez is disappointed by ‘Don Berna’s’ acquittal”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), June 15, 2007, http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/juicio_paras/home/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR-3596406.html (accessed January 9, 2008); “Se normaliza el sistema de tranporte de Medellín” ((“Medellín’s transportation system returns to normal”), Caracol News (Bogotá), May 26, 2005, http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/174875.asp?id=174875 (accessed January 9, 2008).
 “La infiltración ‘para’ en la Fiscalía de Medellín” (“Paramilitary infiltration in the Medellín Attorney General’s Office”), El Espectador (Bogotá), April 28, 2007, http://www.elespectador.com/elespectador/Secciones/Detalles.aspx?idNoticia=8972&idSeccion=22 (accessed January 9, 2008).
“The Paramilitary Rebirth in Antioquia,” El Espectador (Bogotá), February 24, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized individual in Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with demobilized individual in Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Pulgarín, September 29, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with community member of Comuna 8, Medellín, July 21, 2008.
 Mary Luz Avendaño, “Bajo Protección Testigos del Caso de Alias Memín” (“Witnesses in Case of Alias Memin Under Protection”), El Espectador (Bogotá), December 4, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/nacional/articuloimpreso96387-bajo-proteccion-testigos-de-proceso-de-alias-memin (accessed August 18, 2008).
 “Asesinado jefe desmovilizado de las AUC” (“Demobilized boss of the AUC assassinated”), Semana (Bogotá), July 28, 2008, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=114017 (accessed September 28, 2009).
 Paula López, “Condenado ‘Memin’ a 22 años” (“‘Menim’ sentenced to 22 years”), El Colombiano (Medellín), March 14, 2009, http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/C/condenado_memin_a_22_anos/condenado_memin_a_22_anos.asp (accessed August 18, 2009).
 Mary Luz Avendaño, “Bajo Protección Testigos del Caso de Alias Memín” (“Witnesses in Case of Alias Memin Under Protection”), El Espectador (Bogotá), December 4, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/nacional/articuloimpreso96387-bajo-proteccion-testigos-de-proceso-de-alias-memin (accessed August 18, 2008); Paula López, “Condenado ‘Memin’ a 22 años” (“‘Menim’ sentenced to 22 years”), El Colombiano (Medellín), March 14, 2009, http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/C/condenado_memin_a_22_anos/condenado_memin_a_22_anos.asp (accessed August 18, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch news release, “Colombia: Protect Witnesses in Paramilitary Cases,” December 23, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/12/23/colombia-protect-witnesses-paramilitary-cases (accessed December 23, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sister Rosa Cadavid, Comuna 13, Medellín, July 21, 2008.
 Permanent Human Rights Unit of Medellín’s Personería, “Situación de los Derechos Humanos en Medellín durante el año 2007” (“Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the City of Medellín in 2007”), July 8, 2009, http://www.personeriamedellin.gov.co/modules/publicaciones/item.php?itemid=52 (accessed September 28, 2009), p. 45.
 Human Rights Watch interview with community leaders of the Zona Nororiental de Medellín, Medellín, September 12, 2008.
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo numero 009-07” (“Risk Report No. 009-07”), March 21, 2007.
 Office of the Mayor of Medellín, Secretary of Government, “La comuna 13 de Medellín: Del miedo a la esperanza, observaciones al informe de riesgo No 009 de 2007” (“Comuna 13 of Medellín: From Fear to Hope—Comments on Risk Report No. 009 of 2007”), March 30, 2007.
“El asesinato de Judith Vergara siembra la zozobra en la comuna 13 de Medellín” (“The killing of Judith Vergara creates anxiety in Comuna 13 in Medellín”), Semana (Bogotá), April 25, 2007, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=102596 (accessed January 10, 2008); Glemis Mogollon Vergara, “La comuna 13 pierde otra líder a manos de violentos” (“Comuna 13 loses another leader at the hands of the violent ones”), El Colombiano (Medellín), July 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Fernando Quijano, Medellín, November 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with official from the Medellín Office of the Ombudsman, Medellín, November 27, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Mery del Socorro Naranjo and María del Socorro Mosquera, Medellín, November 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with community leader, Nororiental Zone, Medellín, September 12, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with official from Permanent Human Rights Unit of Medellín’s Personería, Medellín, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with CEDECIS representatives, Medellín, September 27, 2007.
“Victimas del BCB Perdieron Espacio para Mostrar su Tragedia” (“Victims of the BCB Lost Space to Show their Tragedy”), Instituto Popular de Capacitación (IPC) Press Agency, June 13, 2007, http://www.semana.com/noticias-on-line/victimas-del-bcb-perdieron-espacio-para-mostrar-su-tragedia/104391.aspx (accessed September 28, 2009); Human Rights Watch interview with Gustavo Villegas, Secretary of Government of Medellín, Medellín, September 28, 2007.
Something similar happened during the confession of “Macaco,” according to one official from the Inspector General’s Office. “Because the plaza was closed, the supporters of Macaco went to another plaza across the street. They came on a bus and... supposedly received 100,000 pesos each.” Human Rights Watch interview with official of the Inspector General’s Office, Medellín, September 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with CEDECIS representatives, Medellín, September 27, 2007.
 Ibid.; “CEDECIS denuncia amenazas y cohersión por parte de paramilitares a los alumnos del colegio CEPEDRO” (“CEDECIS denounces threats and coercion against students of the high school by paramilitaries”), CEDECIS press release, July 13, 2007, http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/cedecis.html (accessed September 28, 2009).
 Corporación Democracia press release, undated, http://corporaciondemocracia.org/comunicados.php?idb=66 (accessed January 10, 2008).
 Permanent Human Rights Unit of Medellín’s Personería, “Situación de los Derechos Humanos en Medellín durante el año 2007” (“Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the City of Medellín in 2007”), p. 58.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of the Red Juvenil de Medellín, Medellín, September 11, 2009.
“Fue amenazada de muerte miembro de Misión de la OEA que verifica desmovilización de los ‘paras’” (“Member of the OAS mission verifying the demobilization of the ‘paras’ received a death threat”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), December 12, 2007.
 Ibid.; “OEA denuncia amenazas a coordinadora de oficina de misión en Medellín” (“OAS denounces tretas against coordinator of office in Medellín”), Agencia EFE, December 12, 2007, http://terranoticias.terra.es/articulo/html/av22119703.htm (accessed September 28, 2009); “Death Threat Against OAS Representative,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 12, 2007, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/12/12/colomb17548.htm.
 “Ex agente del CTI concentra el poder máximo de la organización criminal ‘Oficina de Envigado’” (“Former CTI agent concentrates maximum power in the ‘Envigado Office’ Criminal Organization”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), September 10, 2007, http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-3715805 (accessed September 28, 2009).
Similar information was also reported by the Popular Institute of Capacitation (Instituto Popular de Capacitacion or IPC), an organization in Medellín that does research on the city. According to IPC reports, for several months there was a “high intensity war” between the Envigado Office and Varela, “who is seeking to take over control of Medellín, from where he hopes to feed his private armies and control much of the illicit business surrounding the production, commercialization and export of cocaine.” The IPC reported several examples of killings between the two groups, including the death of Fray Martin Zapata Castaño, a demobilized member of the Heroes de Granada Block who served as the “social coordinator” of the Democracy Corporation in Comuna 1, in apparent retaliation for his alleged involvement in an execution. “Cartel del Norte del Valle, tras la hegemonia armada en Medellín” (“Norte del Valle Cartel, Behind Armed Hegemony in Medellín”), IPC Press Agency, November 29, 2007, http://www.ipc.org.co/page/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1130&Itemid=368 (accessed September 28, 2009); Chris Kraul, “Colombian drug lord shot dead,” Los Angeles Times.
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo numero 009-07” (“Risk Report No. 009-07”), March 21, 2007.
 Naranjo stated that “Rogelio” had “direct control of the organization that belonged to Don Berna,” and that he was “linked to three groups: the Office of Envigado, La Union, and La Calatrava. And his area of activity is running hit men, extortion, and collecting debts.” Aguilar denied the charges and claimed that Naranjo’s statements and the transfer of “Don Berna” to another prison were an effort to “leave the [demobilization] process headless.” “Rogelio niega ser jefe de banda” (“Rogelio denies being head of gang”), El Colombiano (Medellín), September 4, 2007; “The Reshaping of the Envigado Office,” El Espectador (Bogotá), August 4, 2007, http://www.elespectador.com/elespectador/Secciones/Detalles.aspx?idNoticia=13430&idSeccion=22 (accessed January 10, 2008). Gustavo Villegas, then Medellín’s Secretary of Government, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors had not issued an arrest warrant for “Rogelio,” and that the City would “work with the demobilized until it was told that there was an arrest warrant for them.” In any case, Villegas also noted, it was not the city but rather the national government that “at the demobilization signed a document recognizing the Democracy Corporation as the organization representing the demobilized.” Human Rights Watch interview with Gustavo Villegas, September 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representative of the Ombudsman’s Office in Medellín (Defensoría del Pueblo) who requested anonymity, Medellín, November 27, 2007.
 “Envigado Office is looking for a boss to survive: General Naranjo,” IPC Press Agency, February 15, 2008, http://www.ipc.org.co/page/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1151&Itemid=368 (accessed April 30, 2008).
 Human Rights Watch interview with General Roberto León Riaño, Director of Carabineers, Colombian National Police, Bogotá, July 16, 2008.
VerdadAbierta.com, “‘Rogelio,’ Carlos Mario Aguilar,” http://www.verdadabierta.com/web3/victimarios/los-jefes/668-perfil-carlos-mario-aguilar-alias-rogelio (accessed September 21, 2009).
 Paula López, “Condenado ‘Memín’ a 22 años” (“‘Menim’ sentenced to 22 years”), El Colombiano (Medellín), March 14, 2009, http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/C/condenado_memin_a_22_anos/condenado_memin_a_22_anos.asp (accessed November 5, 2009); Mary Luz Avendaño, “Bajo Proteccion Testigos del Caso de Alias Memín” (“Under Protection Witnesses in Case of Alias Memin”), El Espectador (Bogotá), December 4, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/impreso/nacional/articuloimpreso96387-bajo-proteccion-testigos-de-proceso-de-alias-memin (accessed November 5, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip?, pp. 122-125.
Personería of Medellín, Executive Human Rights Report for 2009, http://www.personeriamedellin.gov.co/modules/publicaciones/item.php?itemid=56 (accessed December 23, 2009), p. 6.
 Ibid., p. 8.
 Ibid., p. 18.
 Information provided to Human Rights Watch via email from representatives of the Permanent Human Rights Unit of the Personería, August 10, 2009.
Juan Guarnizo Alvarez, “Están desterrados dentro de su propia ciudad,” El Colombiano (Medellín), July 12, 2009, http://www.elcolombiano.com/BancoConocimiento/E/estan_desterrados_dentro_de_su_propia_ciudad/estan_desterrados_dentro_de_su_propia_ciudad.asp (accessed September 28, 2009).
 HRW interview with first woman from Pablo Escobar neighborhood, Medellín, June 2, 2009.
 HRW interview with second woman from Pablo Escobar neighborhood, Medellín, June 2, 2009.
 HRW interview with first woman from Pablo Escobar neighborhood, June 2, 2009.
 HRW interviews with displaced residents of Pablo Escobar neighborhood, Medellín, June 2, 2009.
 HRW interview with first woman from Pablo Escobar neighborhood, June 2, 2009.
 HRW interviews with displaced residents of Pablo Escobar neighborhood, Medellín, June 2, 2009.
 Email communication from Luz Patricia Correa Madrigal, General Manager for Attention to Forced Displacement of the City of Medellín, to Human Rights Watch, September 23, 2009.
 Letter from José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director, Human Rights Watch to the Office of the Attorney General’s Witness Protection Program, June 19, 2009. The Attorney General responded, stating that it was reviewing the requests, noting that a number of requirements must be met for a witness to enter the witness protection program, and pointing out that even if a request were denied, citizens have a right to general protection from the State, which is ordinarily the Police’s duty to provide “as has happened so far in the shelter offered to them.” Letter from Attorney General Mario Iguarán to José Miguel Vivanco, June 30, 2009.
 Email communication from Luz Patricia Correa Madrigal to Human Rights Watch, September 23, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Grip, pp. 45-47; “Colombia: US Congress Should Maintain Hold on Military Aid,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 17, 2007, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2007/10/17/colombia-us-congress-should-maintain-hold-military-aid; “Colombia: Prosecution Problems Persist,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 10, 2004, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2004/03/10/colombia-prosecution-problems-persist.
 In a 2005 interview with Semana, paramilitary chief Vicente Castaño acknowledged that the paramilitaries encouraged the cultivation of African palm in Urabá: “In Urabá we have palm crops. I myself got the businessmen to invest in those projects,” he said. “Habla Vicente Castaño” (“Vicente Castaño speaks”), Semana (Bogotá), June 5, 2005, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?IdArt=87628 (accessed April 30, 2008).
 VerdadAbierta.com, “El Bloque Elmer Cárdenas,” http://www.verdadabierta.com/web3/victimarios/los-bloques/416-bloque-elmer-cardenas-de-uraba-, undated (accessed September 28, 2009).
 “Con perros, capturan a ‘Don Mario,’” El Tiempo (Bogotá), April 16, 2009, http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-3401494 (accessed October 2, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch interview with National Police, Bogotá, July 17, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with man from Curvaradó region, Chocó, May 30, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with former national official who worked in the Urabá region, Bogotá, July 16, 2009.
Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Caño Manso, Andalucía (Curvaradó), May 31, 2009; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “Informe sobre la visita al terreno en relación con las medidas provisioniales ordenadas a favor de los miembros de los miembros de las comunidades constituidas por el consejo comunitario del jiguamiandó y las familias del Curbaradó, municipio de Carmen del Darién, departamento del Chocó, República de Colombia,” February 20, 2009, http://www.cidh.org/countryrep/MPColombia2.20.09.sp.htm (accessed September 14, 2009),para. 37.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “Informe sobre la visita al terreno en relación con las medidas provisioniales ordenadas a favor de los miembros de los miembros de las comunidades constituidas por el consejo comunitario del jiguamiandó y las familias del Curvaradó, municipio de Carmen del Darién, departamento del Chocó, República de Colombia,” February 20, 2009, http://www.cidh.org/countryrep/MPColombia2.20.09.sp.htm (accessed September 14, 2009),para. 37.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Caño Manso, Andalucía (Curvaradó), May 31, 2009.
 Yimmy’s case is also briefly described in the US Department of State, “Memorandum of Justification Concerning Human Rights Conditions with Respect to Assistance for Colombia’s Armed Forces,” September 8, 2009, p. 75.
 Human Rights Watch interview with former national official who worked in the plains, Bogotá, March 9, 2009.
 “Las dudas del Presidente,” Semana (Bogotá), November 6, 2008, http://www.semana.com/noticias-problemas-sociales/dinero-rapido-facil-embolatado/noticias-conflicto-armado/dudas-del-presidente/117414.aspx (accessed October 2, 2009).
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo numero 032-07AI” (“Risk Report No. 032-07AI”),November 17, 2007, pp. 5-6.
 Human Rights Watch interview with senior official in the National Police, July 17, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with former national official who worked in the plains, Bogotá, March 9, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with regional ombudsman, Villavicencio, Meta, March 13, 2009.
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, Nota de Seguimiento No. 032-08: Primera Nota al Informe de Riesgo No. 032-07 A.I. del 16 de Noviembre de 2007 (“Follow-up Note No. 032-08: First Note to Risk Report No. 032-07 of November 16, 2007”), October 3, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with the personero of Vistahermosa, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Vistahermosa, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Vistahermosa, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Vistahermosa, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, Meta March 12, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Vistahermosa, Vistahermosa, Meta, March 11, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Vistahermosa, Puerto Rico, Meta, March 12, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with national official, Villavicencio, Meta, March 13, 2009.
 Presidential Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Program Human Rights Observatory, Presidency of the Republic of Colombia, “Indicadores sobre derechos humanos y DIH Colombia Año 2008” (“Indicators on Human Rights and IHL Colombia: Year 2008”), December 2008, http://www.derechoshumanos.gov.co/observatorio_de_DDHH/documentos/Indicadores/obs_indicadores_dic2008_090330.pdf (accessed September 21, 2009).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with local authorities and international observers, Nariño, Colombia, February 27-29, 2008; Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 004-07” (“Risk Report No 004-07”), March 2, 2007; Human Rights Watch interview with Fabio Trujillo, Secretary of Government of Nariño, Pasto, July 21, 2009.
 VerdadAbierta.com, “Los Nexos Militares del Bloque Libertadores del Sur” (“The military links of the Liberators of the South Block”), December 17, 2008, http://www.verdadabierta.com/web3/nunca-mas/80-versiones-seccion/640-los-nexos-militares-del-bloque-libertadores-del-sur (accessed October 5, 2009).
 “El Nuevo ‘ventilador’ para” (“The New ‘Ventilator’ of the Paras”), Semana. In May 2005, 15 tons of cocaine were found on boats in Tumaco marked with symbols of both the FARC andparamilitaries. “Nariño, puerto de coca en el Pacífico” (“Nariño, coca port in the Pacific”), El Tiempo (Bogotá), http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-1676593 (accessed October 2, 2009).
 “El Nuevo ‘ventilador’ para” (“The New ‘Ventilator’ of the Paras”), Semana. The witness speaks of “between 10,000 million and 35,000 million pesos.” Calculated at an approximate exchange rate of 2,000 pesos to the dollar, approximately 17 million dollars could be at play.
 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. 42.
 Human Rights Watch interview with local official, Pasto, Nariño, February 28, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with official at Nariño reference center, February 28, 2008.
 Shortly after the demobilizations ended a variety of successor groups appeared, using the names “Men in Black,” “Black Hand,” “New Generation Organization (NGO), and “Rastrojos”; Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 016-07 (Nariño)” (“Risk Report No 016-07 (Nariño)”), June 29, 2007. However, Men in Black and Black Hand appear to have faded, changed names, or joined other groups.
 Human Rights Watch interview with official at reference center, Pasto, Nariño, February 28, 2008.
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 010-07” (“Risk Report No 010-07”), May 23, 2007.
Human Rights Watch interview with Antonio Navarro, Governor of Nariño, Pasto, February 28, 2008.
 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.3; International Crisis Group,“Colombia’s New Armed Groups,” Latin America Report no. 20, May 10, 2007, pp. 12-13.
 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,” pp. 9-10.
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 004-07” (“Risk Report No 004-07”), May 23, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Pasto, Nariño, February 28, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with victim, Pasto, Nariño, February 27, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with local official, Pasto, Nariño, February 27, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with victim, Pasto, Nariño, February 27, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fabio Trujillo, July 21, 2009.
 Office of the Ombudsman of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Nota de Seguimiento No. 003-09—Primera Nota sobre Informe de Riesgo No. 024-08-A.I. de 31 de octubre, 2008” (“Follow-up Note No. 003-09—First Note on Risk Report No. 024-08-A.I. of October 31, 2008”), March 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fabio Trujillo, July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Pasto (Nariño), July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Col. William Montezuma, chief of police of Nariño, Pasto (Nariño), July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with former resident of Madrigal, Pasto (Nariño), July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Santa Cruz, Pasto (Nariño), July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with indigenous groups, local authorities and international observers, Pasto (Nariño), July 20-21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Pasto (Nariño), July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fabio Trujillo, July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Nariño Police Chief, Col. William Montezuma, Pasto (Nariño), July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fabio Trujillo, July 21, 2009.
 Human Rights Watch interview with representative of displaced persons from the coast, Pasto, February 28, 2008.
 “Caritas mourns murdered Colombian colleague,” Caritas press release, July 1, 2008, http://www.caritas.org/newsroom/PressRelease01_07_08.html (accessed July 10, 2008); “Asesinado Felipe Landázur, de la Junta de Consejos Comunitarios del bajo Mira, Tumaco,” Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia press release, June 25, 2008, http://www.redcolombia.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=202&Itemid=59 (accessed October 4, 2009).
 Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Colombia, Early Warning System, “Informe de Riesgo No. 010-07 (Nariño)” (“Risk Report No 010-07 (Nariño)”), May 23, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with community members, Tumaco (Nariño), September 15, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with community leader, Tumaco (Nariño), September 15, 2008Ibid.
Human Rights Watch interview with woman from Satinga, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008,
 Human Rights Watch interview with person who requested anonymity, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch Interview with woman from Satinga who requested anonymity, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch Interview with person who requested anonymity, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with man from Santinga who requested anonymity, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with person from the Nariño coast who requested anonymity, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with displaced resident of El Roble, Tumaco, (Nariño), September 18, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with relative of El Roble residents, Tumaco, (Nariño), September 18, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with friend of victims in El Roble killings, Tumaco, (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with officials from the Forensic Medicine Institute, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with officials from the SIJIN, Tumaco (Nariño), September 17, 2008.
 Statements by local officials at community meeting in El Roble, Tumaco (Nariño), September 18, 2008.