While peace talks with the two largest guerrilla groups in Colombia are moving forward, another security threat is looming on the horizon. If the peace talks conclude successfully, Colombia will still have to address the threat posed by violent paramilitary groups. Our understanding of this threat, though, is incomplete: the phenomenon is growing, it goes well beyond the so-called “criminal bands” that exist today, and it is fueled by unpunished corruption. We need to understand paramilitarism in its current form in order to help Colombia dismantle it.
The problem is becoming more and more urgent. In recent weeks, paramilitary groups have initiated a new wave of violence that showcases their strength in both urban and rural areas. On March 28, the “Black Eagles” neo-paramilitary group issued a threat targeting reporters, educators, social activists, members of leftist organizations, Afro-Colombian, and indigenous groups in Cauca province. The “Black Eagles” openly declared these organizations, as well as their individual members and their relatives, to be military targets.
Then, on March 31, a neo-paramilitary group known as the “Urabeños,” or Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces, ordered a so-called “armed strike” in northern Colombia and the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, shutting down all commercial activity..
On May 10, WOLA held a forum to discuss the need to redouble efforts to combat and understand paramilitary organizations, the complexities behind their existence, and the importance of dismantling them in order to ensure a lasting peace in Colombia.
Deputy Director, Fundación Paz y Reconciliación
President, Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos
Co-director, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission of Justice and Peace
Director of the Open Society Program on Independent Journalism.
Senior Associate for the Andes, WOLA