Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Handover of the Paramilitary Terrorists in Colombia Could Be a Milestone
Colombian president Alvaro Uribe's decision to extradite 13 leaders of the paramilitary, terrorist-designated United Self Defense Forces (AUC) to the United States could be a milestone in Colombia's efforts to erradicate terrorism from all sides of the political spectrum.

Uribe's own past ties to paramilitary organizations, the political influence wielded by the groups and the alleged direct participation in the groups by his cousin and close adviser Mario Uribe, now jailed, have seriously undermined his government's credibility in the international arena, even as his administration successfully tackled the Marxist FARC forces.

Perhaps this is a sign that the AUC leaders, despite their political and military patrons, will finally face justice in the same way the FARC is pursued.

The AUC, along with the FARC, was designated a terrorist entity by the US in 2001, a designation shared by the EU and other groups.

"Among those extradited were Salvatore Mancuso, Rodrigo Tovar, Diego Fernando Murillo, Hernán Giraldo and Ramiro Vanoy. Along with others, they have been accused of ordering the slayings of thousands of people over a generation, from poor peasants to leftist politicians, journalists to union activists."

That encapsulates one of the great tragedies of Colombia-the political violence has been endemic for generations. This group of paramilitary leaders, responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, as well as the export of tons of cocaine, reaches back decades in its criminal activity.

While I have spent much time on the FARC and its alliance with Venezuela (Hugo Chavez) and potential alliance because of that tie, to Iran, the AUC has been an equally destructive force inside Colombia.

While not posing the national security threat to the United States nor possessing the same explicitly anti-American agenda the FARC does, the AUC has been a larger drug trafficking force and wreaked havoc for years on the civilian population.

I was among the first to write about the alliance between the paramilitary organizations and the Ochoa clan after Pablo Escobar was arrested in 1989, and I tracked the bloody trajectory of brothers Fidel and Carlos Castaño as they formed the AUC.

The initial impetus for the formation of these groups was to protect the landlords who help property in areas where the FARC was active and often kidnapped the property owners. By the mid-1980s, many of the largest property holders were drug kingpins like Pablo Escobar, Gonzalo Rodriquez Gacha, Carlos Lehder etc., and the paramilitary forces became their muscle. With the influx of drug money came a tremendous increase in the groups' armed capabilities.

When the cartel kingpins died, the paramilitary groups simply took over the trafficking routes, and, by the mid-1990s the war with the FARC had far more to do with the dispute over drug issues than ideology.

Like many wars that are more about money than ideology, several of the paramilitary and FARC fronts cut deals on side. Uribe was far more generous in his dealings with the AUC than with the FARC, offering essentially amnesty to the worst human rights offenders in exchange for the demobilization of their forces and cooperation with judicial investigations.

That didn't go so well, as the AUC leaders failed to comply with their part of the bargain. Many of the AUC members continued to traffic and kill, as Uribe himself was forced to acknowledge.

"The country has been generous with them, but the government cannot tolerate their return to crime, their failure to truly and efficiently collaborate with justice," Uribe said in a nationally televised speech.

There are legitimate human rights concerns that those extradited for drug trafficking charges will not have to account for their mass murders. That is a concern that should be addressed through information sharing and joint working groups.

But it is surely better to have the worst leaders of a terrorist/criminal organization standing trial far from home and separated from their ability to continue to operate, than it is to let them live in impunity.

Uribe has now begun in ernest to dismantle the FARC and decapitate the AUC. That is no small feat.

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