For the first time, Commander Camilo appears before the cameras, wearing military camouflage and a ski mask with a skull print. His paramilitary army, the Conqueror Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada (ACSN), has given a breather to the peace policy of President and ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro in Colombia.
Rifle in hand and radiotelephone close to his chest, the 30-year-old ringleader attends a unique interview with AFP. He is accompanied by his closest security circle on the mountain attached to Santa Marta (north), the highest in the world at the edge of the sea (5,770 meters above sea level), where in 2020 the illegal organization of which he is the “political and military leader” was born. “.
NGOs denounce that the so-called “conquerors” sow terror in this mountain range next to the Caribbean, declared a biosphere reserve by Unesco and populated by indigenous people. Justice requires its fighters for crimes against community leaders, extortion and other crimes.
And although they were born following in the footsteps of the right-wing squads that were fighting the guerrillas in the midst of the conflict, today they are in dialogue with a former rebel, President Gustavo Petro, in one of the few peace negotiations that is advancing smoothly.
Petro included the ACSN within the package of five most important armed groups in the country.
On December 31, the president announced a bilateral ceasefire for six months with all of them, but three of the truces were broken and put “Total Peace” in check, the policy with which he intends to extinguish the armed conflict.
Only the non-aggression pacts with guerrillas from the Second Marquetalia, who abandoned the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC, and the ACSN, which according to their own calculations have some 1,100 combatants, remained in place.
Other organizations “have violated the cessation of hostilities, but (we) have remained sane, firm in the decision,” says Camilo, who claims to be a retired soldier who fought for 12 years in the public force.
“We are still fighting, committed to President Petro’s Total Peace, but waiting for progress,” adds the paramilitary commander with gold rings, chains and bracelets. Young men, armed and with their faces covered with black scarves, keep a close watch.
“World Leader of Peace”
The government ceasefire collapsed with the Clan del Golfo, the main cocaine cartel, the guerillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), the most powerful faction of the FARC dissidents. .
Petro is facing difficulties in reaching agreements with rebel groups with whom it was presumed to hold friendly negotiations than other governments.
The first left-wing president in the country’s history is a former guerrilla who laid down his arms in 1990 when he signed peace.
But the ELN rebels rejected his offer of a truce and from January to April attacked the civilian population and the security forces 32 times. Only until July 6 did they finally file for dismissal. Those of the EMC broke the agreement with the murder of four indigenous minors.
On the other hand, the ACSN paramilitaries are the group that has most respected the truce, with three violations, according to the verification system of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
Camilo, according to his account, belonged to ‘counter-guerrilla’ units of the army that tried to put an end to the rebels in the midst of the conflagration that began in the mid-20th century.
Now he praises the president as “a world leader of peace.”
“I think that he is the most qualified person at this moment that Colombia has, throughout his entire political career, to make peace,” he says.
The frozen peaks of the Sierra Nevada are coveted by crime. In the 1970s the colossus was full of marijuana. Then coca, the base plant for cocaine, attracted the FARC.
The inhabitants united to expel the guerrillas by force and formed the Tayrona Resistance Block, which demobilized in 2006 together with all the paramilitary structures in the country.
Camilo says he is inspired by the legacy of those groups, whose leaders were extradited to the United States.
Now, the commander hopes that Petro will recognize them as a political group, citing their “social work”, such as the construction of roads and schools in areas where the State has not reached.
The government has not yet defined whether it will give them such a deal. A law designed to regulate the disarmament of all organizations is stuck in Congress after months of debates.
“It is something very complex, but we should start (the dialogues) so that along the way it will be seen what decision they would make,” says Camilo.
Lifting the arrest warrants for the members of the ACSN, one of the paramilitary group’s conditions for setting up the talks table, arouses criticism from the opposition, which considers rapprochement with those in arms as lenient.