Foreign Policy Blogs

Columbian Officials Supporting Death Squads, Paramilitary Commanders Say.

Columbian Officials Supporting Death Squads, Paramilitary Commanders Say.Salvatore Mancuso, a top military commander in Columbia testified that the government there was tied to the murder of civilians and cocaine trafficking, stating "paramilitarism was state policy."  According to the Washington Post, 14 members of Columbia's Congress, 7 former lawmakers, the head of the secret police, and many others have been implicated in cooperating with the paramilitary group, United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AUC).  The US State Department designates AUC a terrorist organization.  Many paramilitary commanders and high-ranking officials are testifying under the Justice and Peace law that seeks lenient sentences in exchange for testimonials and disarmament.

Mancuso stated that his operations were financed by local operators from the US based fruit firms, Del Monte and Dole.  In March, the US banana firm, Chiquita Brands International, agreed to pay $25 million after pleading guilty to paying off the paramilitary groups in exchange for protection.   The United States government is backing the current Columbian administration of President Alvaro Uribe by providing billions in aid to disarm the paramilitary groups. 

The AUC began in the late 1990's as a counter-insurgency group fighting against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).  It is estimated AUC forces have killed as many as 10,000 people, including civilians.   According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), "in one 10-month span, the AUC was reportedly responsible for 804 assassinations, 203 kidnappings, and 75 massacres with 507 total victims."  AUC has suggested as much as 70% of their finances derive from cocaine trafficking.

Columbian government officials have also been implicated in a plot to assassinate Venezuelan government officials.  Former Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vincente Rangel said that Juan Manuel Santos, the current Columbian defense minister, was involved in a plan to "unleash destabilizing actions, [and] assassinating government and opposition leaders."  Rangel suspects the Uribe government is plotting to destabilize the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is opposed to the United States. 

Democrats in the US Congress have stated that aid packages and free-trade agreements with Columbia are being held back due to allegations that Uribe's cabinet officials are involved with paramilitary groups, including AUC.




Daniel Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer for United Press International covering Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Levant. He has published works on international and constitutional law pertaining to US terrorism cases and on child soldiers. His first major work, entitled The United States and Israel: The Implications of Alignment, is featured in the text, Strategic Interests in the Middle East: Opposition or Support for US Foreign Policy. He holds a MA in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University, where his focus was international relations theory, international law, and the role of non-state actors.

Areas of Focus:International law; Middle East; Government and Politics; non-state actors