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Is it the end of paramilitarism in Colombia?

The last of Colombia's paramilitary leaders were captured in Venezuela, marking the end for a group that dominated Colombia's drug trade, writes guest blogger Jeremy McDermott.

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While most of the AUC surrendered to the government during the peace process from 2003 to 2006, the ACC refused to demobilize, preferring to continue running their criminal empire. This is believed to involve drug trafficking not only on Colombia's Eastern Plains, but into Venezuela and Bolivia. In June last year, Carlos Noel Buitrago, alias "Porre Macho" (in Spanish), was arrested in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, where he was charged with running a drug smuggling network linked to his cousin Martin Llanos.

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The ACC also got involved in local politics. In the so-called "Pact of Casanare," mayors in the province of Casanare received paramilitary backing during the elections, and in return delivered to the ACC half of their municipal budgets. Six mayors have already been imprisoned as part of the case, as well as a former governor of Casanare, Miguel Angel Perez.

The arrest of the two Buitrago brothers was a result of a joint Colombian-Venezuelan operation. Colombian police had been tracking the two since 2010, discovering that they were residents in Venezuela. They had been following the ex-wife of Nelson Buitrago, which led them to him in to the town of El Tigre, Anzoategui, where the men were arrested. Initially they arrested Nelson, with another man who claimed to be his driver. However the physical similarity between the two men was obvious and authorities suspected they had netted Martin Llanos, which was confirmed after his fingerprint details were sent from Colombia.

These captures are just the latest in a long series of arrests of Colombian drug traffickers in Venezuela. Under pressure from Colombian and US law enforcement, many Colombian drug traffickers have sought refuge in the neighboring country, although the arrest of senior figures like Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias "Valenciano," in November 2011, as well as the Buitrago brothers, reveal it is no longer any kind of sanctuary.

However, it is clear that Venezuela is still home to large numbers of Colombian rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). The Venezuelan authorities seem a little more reticent about capturing and deporting guerrilla leaders. Venezuelan authorities arrested FARC commander Guillermo Enrique Torres, alias "Julian Conrado," in May last year, but have been reluctant to send him back to Colombia to face charges. The Colombian government has stated that the FARC commander-in-chief, Rodrigo Londoño, alias "Timochenko," is in the Venezuelan province of Zulia, but he remains at large.

– Jeremy McDermott is a director at Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region.

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