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Columbian Neo-Paramilitary Gangs and Libyan War

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Neo-Paramilitary Gangs Ratchet Up their Threat to Colombian Civil Society and the Long-term Survival of Civic Rectitude in the Public Arena

Both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries originally evolved from the protracted and brutal political conflict in Colombia between the late 1940s and early 1950s, known as La Violencia, waged between the Liberals and Conservatives. Therefore, in 1965, right-wing Colombian security forces initiated new military tactics aimed at diminishing the pervasive military capacity of powerful leftist guerrilla forces, mainly based in rural parts of the country. Decree 3398, which became permanent with the introduction of Law 48 in 1968, allowed the military to “create groups of armed civilians to carry out joint counter-insurgency operations.” In the years following, Law 48 would lead to the creation of thousands of ‘self-defense’ paramilitary groups, which would later become responsible for the displacement of 3.6 million people, along with “tens of thousands of other civilian[s] … victims of torture, kidnapping, and disappear[ances].” Labor unionists, small landowners, and rural farmers were often targeted because they were viewed by the paramilitaries as guerrilla sympathizers. “Paramilitaries were also used by local politicians to eliminate political opponents and to control social protest by targeting activist and peasant leaders.” The interconnectedness between paramilitaries, economic elites, political leaders, and the military contributed to numerous acts of notorious human rights abuses.

Despite major human rights atrocities committed by these “self-defense groups,” an even larger and more violent paramilitary group known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) emerged into the spotlight. Two brothers, Carlos and Vicente Castaño, founded this murderous body in 1997. The AUC proved to be extremely effective in its unqualified brutal methods, mobilizing several smaller independent paramilitary groups under one command, while actively promoting their overall goal, including the elimination of FARC leftist guerrillas and their supporters. The AUC’s tactical decision to combine multiple paramilitary groups and pool resources greatly increased their influence in the region and consolidated territorial control. In addition, the accumulated power and influence of the AUC was greatly augmented by the abundance of funding the faction received from the thriving drug trade in the late 1990s. Carlos Castaño claimed that “seventy percent of AUC revenue came from such trafficking.” With funding from the drug trade and the military, the AUC prospered as a paramilitary organization, carrying out massive human rights atrocities, including random killings carried out until the early 2000s.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associates Denise Fonseca and Candiss Shumate.

To read the full analysis, click here.

The Libyan War of the Empires

Muammar Gaddafi, a man who normally shunned courtly friends in the Arab world, ruled his country from 1969 until August 2011, when Libyan rebels defeated the authoritarian ruler. After the overthrow of former Presidents Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia during the Arab Spring, it was only a matter of time before local reformers brought down Gaddafi. During his period of resistance, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Castro brothers began to speak out in the fleeting leader’s defense as some of the only Latin American leaders that strongly supported the Gaddafi regime. On February 21, 2011 Fidel Castro stated that he could not imagine that Gaddafi would abandon his country after fighting broke out. Fidel strongly condemned the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for their role in Gaddafi’s overthrow, suggesting that these organizations were looking for a format to establish what grounds they could use to undermine a regime that no longer was useful to Western interests. By this time, he claimed that nationalist stirrings were nothing more than a ruse for establishing a strong Western military presence in the rich oil country, which could then be turned to their own self-interests. According to Fidel Castro in a letter signed on March 9, 2011, the U.S. “empire” was attempting to turn its focus toward what Gaddafi had not done during his rule in order to justify the right to “militarily intervene in Libya.” Chávez, like Castro, strongly criticized the imperial aggression of the “Yankee Empire and its European allies,” claiming that the uprisings in the Arab world were a result of “Western-led destabilization.” Concerned for the deposed leader’s safety, Chávez sent prayers to Gaddafi, standing in solidarity with him against U.S. aggression.

On October 20, 2011, forces loyal to Libya’s newly formed National Transitional Council (NTC) had found Gaddafi hiding in a cement drainpipe running beneath a road in his hometown of Sirte. The fugitive leader allegedly had died from a massive bullet wound to the head in the midst of crossfire between the NTC and forces loyal to Gaddafi. Gaddafi, stripped from the waist down, was driven to the neighboring town of Misrata, where hundreds of Libyan rebels gathered outside a refrigerated meat store to see the bloodied and battered dictator lying dead.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Denise Fonseca.

To read the full analysis, click here.

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Thursday November 17th, 2011 | Research Memorandum 11.3

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The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 223-4975, fax (202) 223-4979, or email coha@coha.org.

ENDS

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