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United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)

United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)

The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia—AUC) is an organization created in April 1997 to consolidate scattered counterguerrilla paramilitary units that had emerged in several areas of the country since the 1980s. These private armed groups were organized by landowners, local elites, drug traffickers, and victimized communities, to retaliate against aggressions by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, FARC) and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army, ELN) guerrilla groups. Their declared objective was to protect supporters from kidnapping, killing, and extortion by these insurgent groups. The AUC did not oppose the Colombian state, but their actions were based on claims that the national army had failed to protect them from rebel groups. Their main areas of operation were rural zones of northern Colombia, but they had a presence all over the country, and were also affiliated with urban units operating in the poorer sectors of major Colombian cities, particularly Medellín. The AUC was financed mostly by illegal drug trafficking, but also by voluntary or imposed contributions from land and business owners in the areas they operated. They were added to the U.S. and European Union lists of terrorist organizations in 2001. In 2003 the AUC signed an agreement with the Colombian government, as a result of which around 30,000 combatants disarmed by 2006, and their top commanders stepped down to face sentences of five to ten years, some of which could be served out of prison. The law that allowed this demobilization created controversy within the country and abroad, as well as objections among human rights organizations, which considered it too lenient.

Members of the AUC were known for their brutal methods of aggression, involving massacres and severe victimization of targeted populations. Their attacks were often directed toward individuals or communities suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers, and they also engaged regularly in direct combat with the guerrillas. Several human rights organizations claimed that the Colombian army tolerated AUC operations, and there were frequent allegations of close links between the AUC, the army, and some members of the Colombian government. Some of these claims have been confirmed through official investigations by judiciary entities in Colombia. The centralized structure of the AUC was dismantled after the demobilization, but a number of AUC units have refused to disarm and continue operating in several areas of the country.

See alsoColombia: Since Independence; Colombia, Revolutionary Movements: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); Colombia, Revolutionary Movements: Army of National Liberation (ELN).


Arnson, Cynthia J., ed. The Peace Process in Colombia with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia-AUC. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2005.

Rangel, Alfredo, ed. El poder paramilitar. Bogotá: Planeta y Fundación Seguridad y Democracia, 2005.

Romero, Mauricio. Paramilitares y autodefensas, 1982–2003. Bogotá: Planeta y IEPRI, 2003.

                                 Maria Helena Rueda

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