Gang of Former Colombian Paramilitaries Begins to Surrender to Law Enforcement
By Dialogo December 27, 2011
Around 425 members of a Colombian criminal gang, made up in part of former paramilitaries, began to turn themselves in to law enforcement officials in Villavicencio (in southeastern Colombia) on Thursday, as part of a process of “surrender,” spokespersons for the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced.
“At this time, 36 individuals have arrived from Vichada (a department on the border with Venezuela). We’re expecting two other groups with around 82 individuals,” Carmen González, the national director of the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI) of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, told reporters.
Eberto López, alias ‘Caracho,’ one of the two leaders of the Anti-subversive Popular Revolutionary Army of Colombia (Erpac), as this criminal gang calls itself, is believed to be a member of one of these groups.
The official spoke at the exit from the facilities of the Las Malocas recreational center, located near Villavicencio (100 km southeast of Bogotá), where the authorities are receiving the Erpac members.
González explained that this is an act of “surrender to law enforcement” by the members of this criminal gang employed by drug traffickers, one which does not imply any promises by President Juan Manuel Santos’s administration.
The CTI director also indicated that the remaining Erpac members, who offered to turn themselves in to the authorities and who have been operating in the department of Guaviare (in southeastern Colombia), will arrive in Villavicencio, the capital of the department of Meta, on Friday.
On another subject, she indicated that in two locations that she did not specify, the criminals turned over to the Public Prosecutor’s Office 47 rifles, 53,000 cartridges of ammunition, and a machine gun. She also specified that among the illegal group’s 425 members, 4 are women, and whether there are any juveniles is unknown.
Meanwhile, the coordinator of the Criminal Gang Unit of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Luis González, revealed that this illegal group’s process of disarmament and surrender to law enforcement “began a month ago with the sending of a letter, signed by the organization’s leaders, in which they expressed these intentions.”
The arrival of the Erpac members in Villavicencio also attracted family members of people who have disappeared in the country’s south and southeast, with the idea that some of their relatives might be among the group that surrendered to law enforcement.
One of these was Hercilia Gallo, who told AFP that she hoped to find her son. According to the woman, her 18-year-old son disappeared in November 2010, in the town of Acacias (Meta).
“My heart as a mother tells me that I can find him here,” said Gallo, one of many women gathered on the outskirts of Las Malocas.
Erpac is one of around a dozen criminal gangs active in Colombia, made up in part of former paramilitaries who did not participate in the demobilization process negotiated by the United Self-Defense Units of Colombia (AUC, an extreme right-wing group) and carried out between 2003 and 2006.
These gangs devote themselves to drug trafficking, among other crimes, and according to the police, they constitute the greatest threat to public order in Colombia.
Ariel Ávila, a researcher with the Nuevo Arco Iris corporation and a specialist in the country’s armed conflict, indicated that the surrender of these fighters is probably related to the domination of the eastern Llanos region (in eastern Colombia) by another criminal organization, led by the drug trafficker Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco Barrera” [“Crazy Barrera”].
This group is believed to have left the members of Erpac without protection following the death of their highest-ranking leader, alias “Cuchillo” [“Knife”], who was killed by the police in December 2010.
According to Ávila, the group’s surrender is a consequence of its marginalization by “El Loco Barrera,” who is allied to another powerful criminal gang active in Colombia, “Los Rastrojos” [“The Stubble”].
“They were left unprotected because ‘El Loco Barrera’ stopped paying the ‘double payroll’ to members of government forces” who turned a blind eye to their activities, the researcher, who is conducting a study of the criminal gangs in this region, explained.
This would be the first surrender of this size since the large-scale demobilizations of paramilitary militias that took place in the context of negotiations between Álvaro Uribe’s administration (2002-2010) and the AUC.