MIAMI — A former boss of a notorious Colombian paramilitary group who was convicted of exporting cocaine to the United States was held liable Monday in a Miami federal court for the fatal shooting of a Colombian community leader and the torture of his wife 20 years ago.
Carlos Mario Jiménez Naranjo, aka “Macaco,” was found responsible by a magistrate judge for the extrajudicial killing of Eduardo Estrada. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral after he was gunned down in the Middle Magdalena River region by paramilitaries commanded by Macaco. Estrada’s wife, Sara Gonzalez Calderon, was also tortured by the group at Macaco’s direction, the judge found.
Federal Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres ordered Macaco, 55, to pay both compensatory and punitive damages for the couple’s pain and suffering totaling $12 million. Collecting the judgment will be difficult but not impossible.
The “defendant led an organization that executed entire families and he encouraged a policy of murdering civilians,” Torres wrote in his 29-page ruling. “His actions also silenced dissent and resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,300 individuals, including Mr. Estrada. And this does not even consider the untold hurt and suffering of those that survived (the) defendant’s acts like Mrs. Calderon.”
Macaco, who was extradited from Colombia in 2008 and pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in Miami, was sentenced to 33 years in prison. However, he obtained a huge sentence reduction to 11 years for his cooperation with U.S. authorities, leading to his release in 2019, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website. His court record regarding the sentence reduction is sealed from public view.
Macaco’s defense attorney in South Florida, Lawrence Hashish, said Tuesday that he was released from U.S. prison, transferred to Colombia and is now in custody in his homeland, facing drug-trafficking charges. More than a decade ago, Colombian officials seized 25 homes, 23 vehicles and six businesses belonging to him that they valued at $20 million — as well as goods including 26 watches and 14 Mont Blanc pens. But Macaco may still have other assets that could be used to compensate Estrada’s survivors, including his widow.
From the mid-1990s through 2007, Macaco led the Bloque Central Bolivar, a group within the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Macaco commanded an army of 7,000 combatants, federal prosecutors in Miami said. His organization, using clandestine airstrips and seaports, exported thousands of kilos of cocaine from Colombia to Central America, Mexico and the United States.
A self-described “killing machine,” the BCB murdered, disappeared, and tortured thousands of civilians, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Miami civil case. Torres, the magistrate judge, found that the BCB’s human rights violations were abetted by the Colombian military, a landmark ruling.
“There is an abundance of evidence in this record that the BCB operated in a symbiotic relationship with Colombian state actors,” Torres wrote. “State actors actively supported the BCB’s operations through intelligence sharing, weapons, and military uniforms.
Macaco, like other top paramilitaries who demobilized in 2005 and participated in “truth-telling” in Colombia’s Justice and Peace process, was extradited to the United States solely on drug trafficking charges. Many of these paramilitaries were implicated in human rights crimes, but their extradition to the United States prevented survivors from seeking truth and reparations against them in Colombia.
The Miami civil case, which was filed in 2010, refocused attention on the devastating human rights toll inflicted by Macaco, attorneys for Estrada’s survivors and wife said.
“The United States government had the opportunity to prosecute Macaco for his human rights crimes when they sought his extradition from Colombia,” said Daniel McLaughlin, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability, an international human rights organization. “Its decision to focus solely on narco-trafficking charges, however, means that (Monday’s) ruling may be the only accountability Macaco sees for his human rights crimes.”