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06BOGOTA407 2006-01-18 19:54:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bogota
Cable title:  

ASSESSING THE PARAMILITARY PHENOMENON AFTER

Tags:   KJUS PGOV PREL PTER CO 
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FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1333
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6473
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 7039
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ JAN LIMA 3114
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 8673
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 3714
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL 3406
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 000407 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/18/2015
TAGS: KJUS PGOV PREL PTER CO
SUBJECT: ASSESSING THE PARAMILITARY PHENOMENON AFTER
DEMOBILIZATIONS

REF: A. BOGOTA 00405

B. BOGOTA 05619

C. BOGOTA 11742

D. BOGOTA 6162

Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood.
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) This is the first in a series of cables focusing on
the paramilitary phenomenon in the latter stages of
demobilization. Poloffs have discussed with Colombian
politicians, academics, and social leaders in Bogota,
Medellin and Barranquilla how paramilitaries will evolve as
their ranks shrink. Assessments vary widely. To date, over
14,000 of the estimated 25,000 paramilitaries have
demobilized. Most of the AUC's centralized military
structure has been dismantled and nearly all the top
paramilitary chiefs have stepped down. (See ref A for
detailed breakdown). The benefits to the country are
obvious. The homicide rate hit an 18-year low in 2005.
While most demobilized paramilitaries have returned to their
communities, a minority remain involved in criminal activity
or may be attempting to influence politics. This minority,
concentrated in northern departments, roughly consists of
those that: never demobilized; regrouped to form criminal
gangs; or joined the ranks of new or existing criminal
organizations to fill the vacuum left by demobilized blocs.
Moreover, some argue that demobilization has enabled
paramilitary leaders to transition from illegal combatants to
legal citizens, giving them greater latitude to participate
in local and national politics, including upcoming
Congressional elections. The most effective remedy remains
rigorous reinsertion and verification programs to fully
integrate these individuals into society and ensure the
dismantlement of these illegal criminal structures. End
Summary.



--------------------------



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22,000 ILLEGAL ARMED COMBATANTS HAVE DEMOBILIZED SINCE 2002


--------------------------



--------------------------





2. (C) President Uribe's success in demobilizing over 22,000
illegal combatants is a significant accomplishment. Since
the GOC and the United Self Defense Forces (AUC) signed the
Agreement of Santa fe de Ralito in July 2003, over 14,000 of
the estimated 25,000 paramilitaries have demobilized (the
estimate of the total number of paramilitaries has increased
because the original number did not include the AUC's urban
militia and support networks). In addition to the
dismantlement of most of the AUC's centralized military
structure, nearly all of the top paramilitary chiefs have
stepped down, such as Vicente Castano; Salvatore Mancuso;
Ivan Roberto Duque, AKA "Ernesto Baez;" Diego Murillo AKA
"Don Berna;" and Carlos Mario Jimenez, AKA "Macaco."



3. (C) According to Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo,
the groups expected to demobilize before mid-February 2006
are the Central Bolivar Bloc (BCB) with 3,000 members, the
Mineros Bloc with 2,000 members (already underway), the
Self-Defense Mid-Magdalena Bloc with 650, and the Elmer
Cardenas Bloc with 500 members. Restrepo was less hopeful
about the demobilization of the Northern Bloc, lead by "Jorge
40"; regional pressures and the security situation could
delay matters. In addition, over 8,000 illegal armed
combatants have deserted since August 2002. About half are
from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). See
ref A for complete breakdown of the GOC's collective (group)
demobilization efforts as of December 23, 2005 and of the
individual deserter program.



4. (U) The benefits from removing 22,000 from the battlefield
are clear. According to data from the Security and Democracy
Foundation, the homicide rate for every 100,000 people was 38

in 2005, down from 44 and 52 in 2004 and 2003, respectively.
In its report on security in 2005, the foundation pointed out
that the government's democratic security policy is providing
results and that the policy includes "the demobilization of
paramilitary groups, whose cease-fire led to a decrease in
the homicides committed by these groups." The bottom line is
that violence has decreased significantly in the country.
The homicide rate is at the lowest level in 18 years. Other
violence indicators also show significant downward trends --
kidnappings (down 39%), massacre victims (down 62%), and
terror attacks (down 42%).



--------------------------


PARAMILITARIES PRIOR TO DEMOBILIZING


--------------------------





5. (C) Understanding the original composition of the
paramilitary structures helps envision how they will evolve
post-demobilization. Most analysts agree that the
paramilitaries can be broken down into three groups:

-- a. The "ideologues," or those who banded together to fight
the guerrillas;

-- b. Private security forces that became organized crime
networks; and

-- c. Narco-traffickers that became paramilitaries to
"legitimize" their criminal enterprises.



6. (C) This division explains how some paramilitaries, once
demobilized, have an easier time integrating back into
society, while others will probably continue participating in
illegal activities. Colombian National Police Intelligence
(DIPOL) analysts who have followed the paramilitary
phenomenon for over a decade estimated that seven to eight
percent of the total demobilized combatants, some 2,000 of
25,000 fighters, are likely to continue their illegal
activities. This estimate is based in part on DIPOL's
current figures, which show that 247 former paramilitaries
have been arrested for committing crimes after demobilizing;
129 have been murdered and 27 have been wounded while
participating in criminal activities; and over 1,000 still
participate in illicit activities who have managed to escape
capture.



--------------------------


PARAMILITARIES AT PRESENT


--------------------------





7. (C) Most demobilized paramilitaries have dismantled their
organizational structures and the majority have returned to
their places of origin, according to the Organization of
American States (OAS) Verification Mission in Colombia report
(please treat as close hold since the report has not yet been
made public). However, OAS officials have expressed concern
about the following post-demobilization phenomena:

-- a. the regrouping of demobilized combatants into criminal
gangs that seek control over communities and illicit economic
activity;

-- b. groups that have not demobilized; and

-- c. the appearance of new armed players and/or the
strengthening of those already in existence in zones
abandoned by demobilized groups.

a. REGROUPING OF DEMOBILIZED GROUPS
(C) According to the OAS Verification Mission report, in
regions where guerrilla influence is minimal and the control
of government authorities has not yet taken hold, individual
demobilized mid-level paramilitary leaders are reasserting
their presence. In these places, paramilitary sub-groups (of
approximately 5 to 30 members) are moving into criminal
activities, such as extortion, drugs, intimidation, and
"social cleansing," previously run by active paramilitary

blocs. These paramilitary sub-groups though significantly
smaller than the larger paramilitary structures are found in
the municipality of Palmito, Sucre Department (under the
influence of the former Heroes Montes de Maria Bloc); the
municipality of Montelibano, Cordoba Department (under the
influence of the former Sin and San Jorge Blocs); Puerto
Gaitan, Meta Department (under the influence of the former
Self Defense Peasants of Meta and Vichada); Buenaventura,
Valle de Cauca Department (under the influence of the former
Calima Bloc); and in Tumaco, Narino Department (under the
influence of the former Libertadores del Sur Bloc.)

b. GROUPS THAT HAVE NOT DEMOBILIZED
(C) These groups are sub-units of demobilized blocs that
refused to demobilize and continue to carry out criminal
activities in their zones of influence. For example, in
Tierralta, Cordoba Department, following the demobilization
of the Heroes de Tolova Bloc, a faction known as the
"Traquetos" continues operating in the area. This group
protects illegal cultivation and controls the coca paste
trade in the zone. In Puerto Gaitan, Meta Department, a
self-defense group of the Vichada Front of the Central
Bolivar Bloc (BCB) did not demobilize and now fights over
extortion opportunities and control of illicit cultivation in
that sector. In Sucre Department, a group under the command
of Rodrigo Mercado alias "Rodrigo Cadena," Golfo de
Morrosquillo Front, never demobilized. DIPOL analysts expect
that some blocs, such as the Self-Defense Groups of
Campesinos del Casanare, Heroes del Llano, and Heroes del
Guaviare, will never demobilize, and will have to be dealt
with by police or military action.

c. APPEARANCE OF OLD/NEW ARMED PLAYERS IN ZONES ABANDONED BY
DEMOBILIZED GROUPS
(C) The OAS Mission has observed cases of criminals
establishing themselves in areas once ruled by paramilitaries
and recruiting new combatants, especially in places where a
vibrant illegal economy already exists. For example, OAS
officials have been advised of drug trafficking groups
forming in the north of Valle del Cauca and Choco
Departments. Diego Montoya and Wilber Varela, the main
cartel leaders, are acquiring weapons and recruiting
combatants among the demobilized and civilian populations.
In Narino Department, a group known as the "Mano Negra"
(Black Hand) or "Aguilas Negras" (Black Eagles) operates
where the Libertadores del Sur Bloc used to reign and is
trying to gain a monopoly over the purchase of coca. A
similar phenomenon is evident in Norte de Santander
Department, where a group that calls itself "Aguilas Azules"
(Blue Eagles) pressures the demobilized of the former
Catatumbo Bloc who reside in the zone, with the result that
some demobilized have been assassinated or displaced. These
new criminal groups also will have to be dealt with through
police or military action.



--------------------------


FUTURE PARAMILITARY INFLUENCE UNAVOIDABLE?


--------------------------





8. (C) The strength of paramilitary organizations in the past
was based on the demands for security from citizens in areas
with a weak government presence. This still resonates with
the Colombian public. According to the most recent
Cid-Gallup poll, the AUC has a 13 percent favorable rating
(one in 8 Colombians), versus 5 percent for the FARC, and 2
percent for the ELN. This suggests there are significant
challenges to completely eliminating paramilitary influence
in these areas. According to Semana Magazine security editor
Marta Ruiz, who has written about these issues for several
years, as long as the State fails to improve its local
institutions, in particular law enforcement and courts, the
demand for do-it-yourself justice will continue. Researcher
Gustavo Duncan argues that Colombian citizens' need for
"mafia-like security organizations" undermines the State. He
noted a dichotomy between urban demands for democratic
principles and modern capitalism, and rural demands for the
responsiveness to immediate security and economic needs that

criminal organizations are better positioned to provide. For
example, there have been several instances of local
communities blocking paramilitary demobilizations because
they were afraid the FARC would return. Some analysts warn
that most communities prefer AUC over FARC presence since the
guerrillas are a violent indoctrinating force while the AUC
is seen as a corrupt political machine that brought a measure
of stability and dispute resolution.



9. (C) The demobilization process has allowed paramilitaries,
particularly among the leadership, to change their status
from illegal combatants to legal citizens, potentially giving
them greater latitude to participate openly in local and
national politics. This in turn, could improve their ability
to protect criminal activity, according to some analysts.
Ideas for Peace Foundation President Camilo Gonzalez Pozo has
stated that the paramilitaries' economic power permitted them
in the past years to better position themselves politically,
which will allow them in the coming years to protect their
financial and legal interests. Gonzalez described the
paramilitaries as essentially "well-oiled mafias" whose main
objective was to achieve a monopoly over a set of profitable
economic activities, such as wholesale food markets,
racketeering, drug trafficking, and eventually significant
political power at the local and national level.



10. (C) AUC leader, AKA "Ernesto Baez," in an El Tiempo
article in July 2005 claimed that for several years, the
paramilitaries have intervened in politics, penetrated local
and regional political processes, and built political
structures. Columnist and paramilitary analyst Claudia
Lopez, who has written extensively on paramilitary political
influence on the Atlantic Coast, agreed. Lopez showed that
since 1997 the paramilitaries have tried to gain influence at
all levels of government to legalize their status. She
explained that in the last national and local elections, the
paramilitaries, strategy was to buy support by backing
politicians who were likely to win and willing to represent
their needs. This strategy of supporting any politician --
notwithstanding their party association -- allowed them to
further spread their influence. In an interview with Semana
Magazine in June 2005, paramilitary leader Vicente Castano
said that 35 percent of the National Congress consists of
paramilitary "friends," and that "by the next election, (the
paramilitaries) will have increased that percentage" (see ref
B and C). This figure may be fact or boast. Senator and
pre-presidential Polo Democratico candidate Antonio Navarro
Wolf has suggested that only seven senators solidly support
the paramilitaries with others occasionally supportive or
intimidated to be supportive. (Navarro Wolf himself has been
accused of accepting campaign contributions from
narco-traffickers so he is not a disinterested observer.)
The involvement of paramilitary supporters in the elections,
and intimidation of candidates and voters by the paramilitary
themselves, is a hot topic, with both Liberal and centrist
parties acting to distance themselves from paramilitary
influence (septel).



--------------------------


A SNAPSHOT OF PARAMILITARY INFLUENCE


--------------------------



MEDELLIN



11. (C) Poloff visited Medellin in mid-December and met with
several leading figures to discuss the local influence of
former paramilitaries (see ref D). According to Mayor Sergio
Fajardo, the structure of the urban-armed conflict in the
city is complex and involves guerrillas and paramilitaries as
well as youth gangs and bands of common criminals regulated
by these IAGs. He explained that in the 1980s, Medellin
became synonymous with the cocaine trade, and the city had
the highest per capita murder rate in the world. However,
homicide rates have fallen significantly in recent years in
large part because of the handling of the reinsertion of the
868 demobilized paramilitaries from the Cacique Nutibara
Bloc. An OAS Mission report in early 2005 noted that the

city's improving homicide rate is directly related to the
lower rates of violence found in areas where many demobilized
live. Medellin's reinsertion and reintegration model, one of
the best in the country, entails close monitoring of the
demobilized, psychological assistance, orientation and
training, and a monthly subsidy, higher than the national
program. Medellin's program funding takes up 0.34 percent of
the total municipal budget and has strong political backing.
It remains to be seen if the national program, which is
responsible for demobilizing over 14,000 combatants, will
have the same success as the local program.



12. (C) Former Mayor Luis Perez (and likely mayoral candidate
in 2009) took a different view, explaining that violence has
gone down in Medellin because the AUC controls "everything"
unlike before, when the AUC was fighting with guerrillas.
Perez argued that demobilized paramilitary chiefs such as
"Don Berna" did not fully-demobilize their military
structures and still wield significant power in Medellin. He
claimed that the AUC has a stranglehold on public
transportation, health services, the lottery, and barter-type
stores. Labor leaders Carlos Julio Diaz and Jorge Luis Soto
pointed to a recent National Administration Department of
Statistics of Colombia study that showed residents of
Medellin feel more secure today than ever before, but are the
most "extorted" in the country. The 2005 annual report from
the office of Medellin's human rights ombudsman, noted that
paramilitary groups are exerting new authority in some
neighborhoods of the city and some demobilized combatants
charge "protection taxes." According to a Semana Magazine
article in April 2005, the decline in homicides in Medellin
is troubling because it may not be in response to a
legitimate State restoring peaceful coexistence among the
citizenry, but rather a parallel "State" that undermines and
weakens democratic institutions.

BARRANQUILLA



13. (C) During a December visit to Barranquilla, poloff met
with government officials, private sector representatives,
and labor union members. According to the Interior Secretary
for Atlantico Department, Augusto Garcia, Barranquilla is an
important strategic location for criminal groups because it
is an industrial city with a maritime port close to the
Magdalena River, a corridor utilized by drug traffickers and
the AUC to move coca and weapons. Garcia said Barranquilla,
unlike Cali and Medellin, was not the headquarters of any
major cartel but used by drug trafficking groups from other
parts of the country. However, what some small cartels
existed were displaced by the AUC's North Bloc. Garcia,
nevertheless, argued that AUC control in the area is minimal
compared to other departments on the Atlantic Coast, such as
Cordoba, Magdalena, and Sucre.



14. (C) According to the President of Barranquilla's private
sector association, Arturo Sarabia, many "Barranquilleros"
perceive there are ongoing turf battles among "paracos"
(paramilitary-narcos), criminals, and gang members who try to
pass themselves off as AUC. Sarabia said the AUC's purpose
has been to control spaces in the city to operate their
illegal businesses. He added that the AUC had some
participation in local power, evidenced by the fact that they
diverted resources from the health sector and they had a high
participation in gambling, especially in the lottery.



15. (C) The President of Central Labor Union (CUT) Jesus
Tovar said the situation in Barranquilla will continue to be
"serious" because no one expects the AUC to stop targeting
sectors such as unionists, teachers and students. Tovar
claimed that corruption and AUC influence in local politics
is growing. He added that labor activists continue to
receive threats and intimidation because they have denounced
this situation.



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COMMENT


--------------------------






16. (C) We are still at the beginning of this process, and
also at the beginning of the 2006 Congressional and
Presidential campaigns. Several political leaders are trying
to ensure their candidate lists remain paramilitary-free.
Liberal party leader and former president Cesar Gaviria is
convinced that the evolution of the paramilitaries is headed
in a dangerous direction with the end result being criminal
organizations on the scale of the Cali cartel of the 1980s
(septel). Others believe he is exaggerating the issue for
campaign purposes, and that the Liberal Party has few other
issues to challenge President Uribe's strong standing in the
polls. The most effective way for the GOC to confront the
post-paramilitary period is to ensure that as many
demobilized as possible are discouraged from returning to
illegal activities. But this requires resources to train and
resocialize the ex-paramilitaries. Resources are needed in
amounts well beyond the Colombian government's ability.
Therefore, international assistance is critical at this time.
Without such assistance the Colombian nightmare of
narco-terrorism could be made many years longer. To achieve
this in a country where parallel criminal structures have
operated for decades, effective reinsertion and verification
programs for demobilized combatants are also essential.
Inadequate leadership and coordination among GOC institutions
is delaying this process, which could undermine the
significance of the GOC's successful efforts since 2002 to
remove illegal actors from the battlefield.
WOOD