United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC, in Spanish) was created as an umbrella organization of regional far-right paramilitary groups in Colombia, each intending to protect different local economic, social and political interests by fighting left-wing insurgents in their areas. It is estimated that it has more than 31,000 militants. The AUC has been designated a terrorist organization by many countries and organizations, including the United States and the European Union.
The organization was formed in April 1997 and it has been alleged that it was supported covertly by elements in the Colombian government and the Colombian Armed Forces.
The AUC claimed its primary objective was to protect its sponsors and its supporters from insurgents and their activities, because the Colombian state had historically failed to do so. The AUC asserted itself as a regional and national counter-insurgency force. Former AUC leader Carlos Castaño in 2000 claimed 70 percent of the AUC’s operational costs were financed with cocaine-related earnings, the rest coming from “donations” from its sponsors. The group’s sponsors have included landowners, cattle ranchers, mining or petroleum companies and politicians. The AUC has also been linked to elements within the Colombian Army with whom they maintained cooperation, including their participation in joint operatives. The Colombian military has been accused of delegating to AUC paramilitaries the task of murdering peasants and labor union leaders, among others, targeted by the group under the suspicion of allegedly being guerrilla infiltrators.
The bulk of the AUC’s blocs demobilized by early 2006 and its former top leadership was extradited to the U.S. in 2008. However, local successors such as the Black Eagles continue to exist and death threats have been made using its name. On May 8, 2008, employees of a community radio station (Sarare FM Stereo) received a message stating: “For the wellbeing of you and your loved ones, do not meddle in subjects that do not concern the radio station. AUC, Arauca”. A few days later the letters AUC were daubed on the front of their office. This threat was made due to their participation in a public meeting attended by members of a Congressional Human Rights Commission on the 27 September 2007. Here, members of the public denounced human rights abuses committed in Arauca Department by different parties to the armed conflict, including the AUC.