United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (or AUC) were an extreme right-wing paramilitary organization originally from Colombia, founded in 1997 by brothers Carlos Castaño Gil and Vicente Castaño Gil.
Their objective was to fight insurgent organizations in Colombia such as the FARC or the ELN, however, as time went by, they began committing terrorist attacks and multiple massacres throughout Colombia, killing a large percentage of civilians and peasants during their operations, being responsible for 80% of the murders of civilians during the Colombian Conflict.
Drug trafficking also represented an objective, because it provided a source of income and self-support to "finance an anti-subversive war". In the same way that extortion and kidnapping were cited as profitable activities.
On August 5, 2006, they were officially dissolved, however, some of their former members continued on criminal paths, forming criminal gangs.
The militia had its roots in the 1980s when militias were established by drug lords to combat rebel kidnappings and extortion by communist guerrillas.
In April 1997 the AUC was formed through a merger, orchestrated by the ACCU, of local right-wing militias, each intending to protect different local economic, social and political interests by fighting left-wing insurgents in their areas.
The organization was led by Carlos Castaño until his murder in 2004 and the organization was believed to have links to some local military commanders in the Colombian Armed Forces.
According to Human Rights Watch, the paramilitary groups and the armed forces of Colombia share a very close connection and due to which paramilitary groups are also perceived as an extension, more commonly called sixth-division, of the Colombia's armed forces which has five official divisions.
The AUC had about 20,000 members and was heavily financed through the illegal drug trade and through support from local landowners, cattle ranchers, mining or petroleum companies and politicians.
The Colombian military has been accused of delegating to AUC paramilitaries the task of murdering peasants and labor union leaders, amongst others suspected of supporting the rebel movements and the AUC publicly and explicitly singled out 'political and trade union operatives of the extreme left' as legitimate targets. The AUC was designated as a terrorist organization by many countries and organizations, including the United States, Canada and the European Union.
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.