The United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) (Colombia)

Country: Colombia
Details of Formation: In the early 1990s, paramilitary groups began to unify. In 1994, Carlos Castaño created the Córdoba and Urabá Peasant Self-Defence Forces (the so-called ACCU). He expanded rapidly and gained influence within the paramilitaries. In April 1997 the ACCU met with delegations of paramilitary groups operating independently nationwide and the AUC emerged as a new umbrella organisation (Internatioal Crisis Group). It included PGMs such as Muerte a Secuestradores (Human Rights Watch), informal paramilitary groups and members of high-rank drug cartels. A news source reports that 150 groups attended the AUC founding conference.
Details of Termination: From 2003 to 2006 the AUC engaged in demobilisation as part of a peace agreement with the Uribe government. Paramilitaries were taken into government-run social reintegration programs. AUC demobilization officially ended on 15 August 2006 (Human Rights Watch). A news source from 17 June 2006 says that the AUC were already totally demobilized. Activities did not cease entirely and in the following years there were many reports of successor groups, either as a result of incomplete demobilization processes or as newly emerging groups. Although these groups resemble the AUC in regard to operations, membership and equipment, they are not linked to the national government anymore (Human Rights Watch). There are still links to be found between those groups and local politicians and security forces (Human Rights Watch) but the government now increasingly condemns such links and prosecutes acts performed by the new generation of paramilitaries (International Crisis Group).
Purpose: The main purpose of the AUC was counterinsurgency, by combating guerilla groups and protecting the economic interests of its sponsors against the guerilla. They fulfilled this purpose as they directly attacked FARC members and suspected guerilla supporters (Stanford). The military allegedly used the AUC to delegate them the task of murdering peasants and labor union leaders, as well as others suspected of supporting the guerilla (Wikipedia).
Organisation: The AUC intimidated and controlled some local candidates and thereby got hold on public funds (International Crisis Group). In the para-politics scandal evidence surged 11,000 governors, congressmen, lawmakers and other public officials had pacted with the AUC in return for protection against guerrillas (Stanford). The AUC also had very close connections to the military and was sometimes called the military’s sixth division (the armed forces only had 5 official divisions) (Wikipedia). Until 2004, the AUC leader was the well-known paramilitary Carlos Castaño. In 2004, he was murdered by the AUC’s head of security after he was increasingly perceived as risk by AUC members. His brother, Vicente Castaño became the new leader (Stanford). The AUC was financed by landowners and companies who paid them in return for protection; the AUC also relied heavily on drug trade for finances (Wikipedia). They received nearly $1.7million between 1997-2004 from the Chiquita Brands company (International Crisis Group). A news source reports that the AUC’s cooptation of elites went so far as that they had helped elect the 2002 government and that around 70 congressmen won their seats because of AUC support.
Weapons and Training: AUC members were equipped with small arms. The Chiquita company allegedly smuggled weapons for the AUC including some 3,400 AK-47 rifles and 4 million round of ammunition. Other weapons of the AUC included assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and rocket (Wikipedia). A news source says that the paramilitary groups had helicopters and small planes to reinforce them in battles.
Size: PGM size estimations differ widely. Upon foundation in April 1997, the AUC had nearly 4,000 combatants. Membership increased steadily over time; they had around 6,800 in May 1998 and 8,000 by 2000. In 2002, there were some 12,000 combatants (International Crisis Group). Wikipedia reports that the AUC had about 20,000 members. News sources usually estimate a number close to 8,000 in 2000; Stanford estimates for 2000 more than 30,000 members. News sources estimate that in 2001 the group had 10,560 fighters and by 2003 more than 13,000 members. Another news source reports that by 2006 around 32,000 paramilitaries had demobilized.
Reason for Membership: AUC members were able to seize prized farmland and engage heavily in cocaine-trafficking.
Treatment of Civilians: The AUC was responsible for thousands of murders of suspected guerilla sympathizers and also engaged in numerous kidnappings. They targeted left wing activists, indigenous persons, trade unionists, human rights advocates, religious leaders and rural, as well as members of the Patriotic Union party founded by the FARC. The AUC committed displacements, kidnappings, extortion, massacres, killings and torture (Stanford), as well as rape and forced disappearances (Wikipedia). The government overlooked many of the AUC’s routine executions and ignored some of their attacks, while acting immediately and forcefully if a similar attack had been conducted by guerilla (Stanford). There is a reported case of the AUC beating their victims with rifle butts (Amnesty International 1999).
Other Information: The AUC was made up of around 10 regional blocks of self defence groups, including the Self Defence Force of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU) and the Camila Front, and was further divided in smaller branches like the Bloque Cacique Nutibara, the Centauros Bloc, the Heroes de Llano or the Bloque Central Bolvar, all in all around 37 sub-groups. While the AUC began as counterinsurgency group, it increasingly evolved into a drug federation (International Crisis Group). In 2001, they became designated as terror organization in the United States (Wikipedia).
References: Amnesty International. 1999. “Further information on EXTRA 169/99 (AMR 23/88/99, 29 November 1999) – Possible “disappearance”/Fear for Safety.” AI Index: AMR 23/91/99. 06 December.

Human Rights Watch. 2010. “Paramilitaries’ Heirs. The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” ISBN: 1-56432-594-6

International Crisis Group. 2007. “Colombia’s New Armed Groups.” Latin America Report N°20. 10 May.

Stanford. “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.”

Wikipedia. “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia”.