The U.S. State Department has included Colombia’s two leftist guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), on its annual list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) for the past four years. This year it also listed the right-wing paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), as a terrorist group. However, unlike the two guerrilla groups, the AUC was not included on the FTO list, but rather on a secondary list that, according to the State Department’s acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism Edmund J. Hull, means the AUC’s activities have “caught our attention and caused us to look more closely at this organization.” Consequently, the AUC is not subject to the same legal sanctions that apply to the FARC, the ELN and other groups included on the FTO list.
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In the poor neighborhoods of Barrancabermeja, urban guerrillas belonging to the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been desperately trying to stave-off an urban offensive by right-wing paramilitaries. Most of these neighborhoods have been firmly under the control of the ELN, with a few in the hands of the FARC, since the 1960s. But in recent months, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have successfully gained control of many guerrilla-controlled neighborhoods in Barrancabermeja, known locally as Barranca.
It was just after dark on the evening of February 7, 2001 when I arrived at the restaurant in the center of La Hormiga, Putumayo at the pre-arranged time. The restaurant was closed and I waited on the sidewalk until a pick-up truck pulled up. In the back were two large men who jumped down onto the sidewalk as another man got out of the passenger side talking on his cellular phone. He was Comandante Enrique, alias “the Cobra,” and at 28 years of age the commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the department of Putumayo in southern Colombia.