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When the government of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe (2002–10) started demobilizing the paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in 2005, some thought that this would at least eliminate one actor from the system of war. Now more than six years later, Colombia has about 6,000 well-armed paramilitaries that, according to the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), operate in 314 municipalities and are located in 29 out of 32 of the country’s departments. The most alarming thing is that their numbers are increasing.
The irony is that at its peak the real fighting force of the AUC may have only numbered between 10,000 and 15,000 paramilitaries. This was in spite of the fact that about 31,000 people were demobilized. There is strong evidence to support the argument that most of the people who were demobilized were actually relatives of the fighters, informants, and people just recruited for the ceremonies. The demobilization incentive of cash remuneration alongside a new uniform and some boots was attractive to young people in many villages and cities.
The key question, however, is how to explain the surge in new recruits?
Simple: Narcotrafficking and the continuation of the conflict were either not factored into the demobilization plan or downplayed by some of the good-hearted supporters of the policy. It is good to keep in mind that as long as the plague of narcotrafficking exists, and is exacerbated by an unresolved armed conflict, there will always be entrepreneurs to exploit every opportunity presented.
If we look at Colombian history, these violent entrepreneurs have lent their services to a host of groups including state agents, cattle ranchers, large landowners, conservative politicians, the narco-bourgeois, and last but not least the multinational corporations.
Consequently, it is likely that the paras (paramilitaries) will continue to inflict unchecked violence on the civilian population, with their active participation in the Colombian system of war secured.