paramilitaries

Colombia: prosecutor's transfer sparks outcry

A lawyer with Colombian prosecutor's office, the Fiscalía, who specialized in the paramilitary demobilization process, was transferred Jan. 20 after working in the same department in Medellín for more than six years—raising fears that years of insight into the area's paramilitary activities could be lost. According to conflict-monitoring website Verdad Abierta, local magistrates expressed concern over the transfer of Patricia Hernández Zambrano, who was responsible for prosecuting the "Mineros Bloc" of the United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC) in the northeastern department of Antioquia. As Prosecutor 15 for Justice and Peace, Hernández handled all court hearings related to top AUC leaders like "Don Berna" and "Gordo Lindo"—both now in US prisons for drug trafficking.

Colombia: FARC ends unilateral ceasefire

Colombia's FARC rebels on Jan. 20 announced the immediate end of a two-month unilateral ceasefire and renewed their call for a bilateral truce to hold peace talks with the government "in a tranquil environment." The FARC had offered to extend the truce if the Colombian government signed a bilateral ceasefire, but President Juan Manuel Santos rejected that idea from the start. Speaking to press in Havana, the leader of the FARC's negotiating team, "Ivan Márquez," said that "with pain in our hearts we must admit that we return to the time of military warfare that nobody wants." Santos responded at a public event in Padilla, a village in southwestern Cauca department hard hit by fighting: "The armed forces, like our army, air force, navy and police, know exactly what to do come tomorrow."

Colombia: ICC 'false positive' probe advances

On Nov. 15, the International Criminal Court (ICC) gave Colombia a clear warning that the Court expects accountability at the senior level for serious crimes that fall under its jurisdiction, or else it may pursue a formal investigation. The warning came in the first interim examination report ever issued by the Court's Prosecutor Office. Colombia joined the ICC in November 2002 and is one of only eight countries formally under ICC examination. The others are Honduras, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Georgia, Guinea, North Korea and Mali.

Colombia: judge orders return of usurped lands

The Second Civil Court of the Special Circuit for Land Restitution in the northern Colombian town of Carmen de Bolívar issued an historic ruling Oct. 16, ordering the return of 65 hectares to 14 families who had been forced from their lands in the "Massacre of Mampuján," a paramilitary attack carried out on March 11, 2000. The ruling, the first under Colombia's new Land Restitution Law, calls on the government's Victims Reparations Unit to oversee the return of the predios, or private collective land-holdings, to the residents of Mampuján, a caserío (unincorporated hamlet) in María la Baja municipality, Bolívar department. The residents had been forced to flee when the caserío was attacked by the María la Baja Bloc of the United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC). Bloc commander Uber Enrique Banquez Martínez AKA "Juancho Dique" was sentenced to 22 years in prison in July after confessing to massacres in the region. Subsequently, the displaced residents returned to Mampuján from the exile hamlet they had established, "New Mampuján."

Colombia: riot police attack student protesters

In a dawn raid on Oct. 8, the Colombian National Police special Mobile Anti-disturbance Squad (ESMAD) stormed the Technological University of Chocó in the departmental capital of Quibdó, using tear gas to evict students had had been occupying the campus. Several students were injured, and one, Edwin Córdoba, is in critical condition at the city's hospital. Organizers say 12 students were arrested and two have been "disappeared." Students are continuing to demonstrate in front the university. 

'El Loco' Barrera, Colombia's most wanted, busted in Venezuela

Authorities from four countries cooperated in a months-long operation that led to the arrest Sept. 18 of Daniel Barrera AKA "El Loco"—dubbed the "last of the great capos" by Colombia's President Manuel Santos—on a street in San Cristóbal, a town in Venezuela's western Táchira state. Barrera was apprehended while making a call from a phone booth, allegedly after one of his relatives had given up his location. The arrest followed four months of cooperation between Colombia's National Police, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the UK's MI6 and Venezuela's National Anti-Drug Office (ONA). According to Colombia's defense minister, Juan Carlos Pinzón, the kingpin had been in Venezuela for the past eight months and was running his business while moving between several towns near the Colombian border.

Colombia: army general gets 25 years for para collaboration

A retired Colombian army general accused by prosecutors of forming a "macabre alliance" with illegal paramilitary groups was sentenced to 25 years in prison Aug. 24 in connection with the 1997 murder of a peasant leader. The sentencing of former general Rito Alejo del Río Rojas brings closure to a case that has long languished in the Colombian justice system and focuses renewed attention on the collaboration between top military officers and paramilitaries affiliated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Colombia's ex-security chief pleads guilty to para collaboration

Colombia's Prosecutor General said Aug. 28 that judicial authorities are weighing whether to request that the US extradite back a former top-ranking army and National Police officer who one week earlier was arraigned before a federal court in Virginia. Gen. Mauricio Santoyo, security chief to Colombia's then-president Álvaro Uribe from 2002-2006, pleaded guilty to collaborating with the outlawed AUC paramilitary network, while pleading not guilty to drug trafficking charges. Santoyo is accused of providing the AUC with intelligence from wiretaps and other sources about suspected guerilla collaborators.The AUC, officially demobilized in 2006, is considered a terrorist organization by the US. Support of terrorist organizations holds a maximum penalty of 30 years. Santoyo, who arranged his surrender to the DEA in Bogotá in June, will be sentenced in November. He still faces no charges in Colombia.

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