Sunday, December 25, 2011

Caracho's Surprising Decision

ERPAC fighters turn themselves in in Villavicencio.
Hundreds of fighters of one of Colombia's violent drug-trafficking gangs have turned themselves in to the military near Villavicencio over the past several days.

But, unlike demobilizations vicious by paramilitary groups a few years ago under the controversial 'Peace and Justice Law,' these guys weren't promised soft punishments for their many crimes. The ERPAC, whose name means Anti-Subversive Revolutionary Army, are inheritors of the old paramilitaries, who committed horrendous crimes in fighting Colombia's leftist guerrillas. But the ERPAC groups have focused instead on drug trafficking than fighting communists. Their demobilization looks like a dream come true for those who want to end Colombia's conflict while also punishing offenders.

Jose Lopez Montero, or Caracho:
Why'd he do it?
The mystery, tho, is why Caracho, whose real name is Jose Lopez Montero, decided to turn himself and his men in. He had said that he was tired of fighting. But perhaps a stronger clue is the fact that his predecessor, who used as his nom de guerre Cuchillo, or knife, died while fleeing the military last year. Lopez's band was also under siege by rival drug gangs. Still, I wonder why Lopez didn't just sneak across the border to Brazil or Venezuela, where he could likely have lived secretly and comfortably with his criminal wealth.

Today, Lopez and five of his group's commanders, who use the nicknames 'Caribe',  'Chorrillano', 'Vacafiada', 'Pájaro' y 'Puntocom' (yes, that does mean dotcom) are in Bogota's La Picota prison, facing criminal charges.

The fates of Lopez's foot soldiers is less clear. Of the almost 300 fighters who turned themselves in, all but about 20 had been released as of today. Perhaps authorities decided they deserved to spend Christmas with their families. But many of these fighters have committed serious crimes. They deserve punishment, and pose a threat to Colombian society.

Three hundred fewer armed fighters trafficking drugs is good news for Christmas by any measure. But, the key is to understand why Lopez and his commanders made such as radical decision - and motivate other criminal bands to do the same.

I look forward to hearing the ERPAC leaders' explanations.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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