Terrorism Profiles

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC)

Alternative Names:

Columbian United Self-Defense Groups, Autodéfenses unies de Colombie and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia



The Autodéfensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) were active in the Northwest regions of Colombia including Antioquia, Cordoba, Sucre, Bolivar and the Panamanian border region. The group is believed to have had operations in approximately 2/3rds of Colombia.


Carlos Castaño (1982 to 2004) was the AUC’s main ideologue and the AUC’s Political leader. In 2003, Carlos became disillusioned with the group’s involvement in the drug trade and considered leaving the group. The majority of AUC’s leadership, including Carlos’ brother Vincente Castaño, believed Carlos to be a risk and had him executed in 2004.

Vincente Castaño, also known as “El Profe” (1982 to 2006), controlled AUC finances and saw the group as a way to increase his personal wealth. Vincente started to include drug traffickers into the network of the consolidated paramilitary group. Vincente went into hiding in 2006, when the government released arrest orders for all paramilitary leaders. It is believed that in 2007 Vincente was murdered in his home, although no reports can confirm his death and some analysts believe he could be alive in Panama.


During the early 2000s, AUC’s membership was estimated at 30,000. In 2009, The Colombian Government claimed the AUC no longer had membership and was effectively disbanded.

Funding Sources:

The AUC received funding from drug traffickers, economic elites and local communities in exchange for security from the guerilla groups under the AUC umbrella.

In addition, the AUC became directly involved in the production and export of cocaine. The group’s leadership was very open about receiving the majority of its funding (70% according to Carlos Castaño) through the drug trade.


The AUC formed in 1997 as an umbrella group to organize illegal paramilitary groups. The hope was to organize these loosely affiliated groups against leftist guerillas groups like the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The group became known for horrific killings and attacks meant to instill fear in individuals supporting the guerillas. Between 1997 and 1999 the AUC killed more than 19,000 people deemed as “guerilla sympathizers.”

As the AUC became more violent it turned to illegal drug trade and extortion to fund its anti-guerilla mission. These practices quickly became the focus of the group, abandoning its anti-guerilla mission, and lead to Carlos Castaño attempting peace talks and demobilization of the group. The remaining leadership opposed this decision and orchestrated the kidnapping and murder of Carlos.

In 2005, the Colombian government began to incorporate the Justice and Peace law, which provided a transitional justice mechanism for paramilitary groups. This deal helped demobilize the AUC and forced the remaining founder Vincente Castaño into hiding. The Colombian government affirmed in 2009 that the AUC no longer existed in the country. 

Major Attacks:

January 1999: The AUC attacked six different regions in Colombia and killed suspected FARC sympathizers. (150 killed, unknown wounded)

February 17, 2000: 300 AUC members, guided by captured FARC guerrillas, entered the town of El Solado. The AUC killed 38 suspected FARC sympathizers in Solado and another 28 in the surrounding area. (66 killed, unknown wounded)

October 3, 2000: AUC members went from house to house in the town of Vijes, killing specific targets, including the town police inspector. (9 killed, 0 wounded)

December 3, 2001: The AUC killed farmers in Curumana who they suspected were working with the FARC. (22 killed, unknown wounded)

January 18, 2003: The AUC attacked a province on the Colombia-Panama border. Believing community members assisted the FARC the AUC tortured and killed four indigenous Kuna leaders. The AUC also planted landmines and took the community’s food, displacing 400 adults and 200 children. (4 killed, unknown wounded)

April 16, 2004: The AUC’s main leader, Carlos Castaño, was mysteriously killed in a gunfight. Carlos’ brother, Vicente, allegedly ordered the AUC’s head of security to kill Carlos. (1 killed, 0 wounded) 

Ideological Roots:

The AUC was established with anti-guerilla right-wing values. The Castaño brothers established the group to organize loosely affiliated paramilitary groups to combat the left-wing guerillas.

The group hoped to protect economic interests of their sponsors: the local communities, elites and drug traffickers. Some of the group also sought to acquire political power, however this conflicted with others in the group who wanted to continue their violent and aggressive tactics.


The main objective was to counter the influence of the left-wing guerilla groups in Colombia. The AUC opposed the ELN and the FARC.


The AUC targeted left-wing guerillas, indigenous people, trade unionists, human rights advocates, religious leaders and rural populations. All of these individual groups were believed to be sympathizers or collaborators with the ELN and FARC.

The AUC utilized: assassinations, intimidation, torture, kidnapping and public executions. This was in conjunction with its vast and close ties to drug trafficking. 

Recent Articles

Profile Last Updated: 12/23/2015

View References

  1. “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.” Mapping Militant Organizations. Stanford University. Accessed December 23, 2015. http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/85
  2. “AUC-Profile.” Insight Crime: Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime. Accessed December 23, 2015. http://www.insightcrime.org/colombia-organized-crime-news/auc-profile
  3. “Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC).” Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium. Accessed December 23, 2015. http://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/autodefensas-unidas-de-colombia-auc
  4. “Currently Listed Entities.” Public Safety Canada. Government of Canada. Last Modified November 20, 2014. Accessed December 23, 2015. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2017

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