The Twilight of the Colombian Paramilitary

Ryan Holroyd


The following article discusses the development of Colombia’s paramilitary army, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), beginning in the 1990s and ending with the destruction of the organisation in the late 2000s. The AUC was originally founded by three brothers surnamed Castaño as a private army designed to combat the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and other Columbian revolutionary guerrilla groups. The main argument put forward in the article is that when the AUC was initially founded, the primary goal of its leaders, the Castaño brothers, was a sincere desire to check and, if possible, destroy the power of the FARC. In the process of its development however, the AUC came to depend on the taxation of cocaine to fund its war against the guerrillas. When the Colombian state, which had been too weak to prevent the development of either the AUC or the FARC in the 1990s, strengthened its military power in the 2000s, it demanded the AUC cease its operations, demobilise its military forces, and aid the state in destroying the cocaine industry’s infrastructure in southern Colombia. The Castaño brother who had become the organisation’s sole leader, Carlos, was willing to comply, but his move to end the AUC’s association with the cocaine industry invoked the wrath of his subordinate commanders, resulting in his brutal murder. This event revealed that the AUC had gradually developed into a cocaine cartel in the guise of a paramilitary army despite the intentions of its leader, who was killed because his leadership became a threat to the profitable taxation of cocaine that his former subordinate commanders enjoyed.

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