Colombian ‘False Positives’ Fugitive Arrested in Spain

Published: 18 February 2021

Spain has re-arrested “El Zarco”, one of Colombia’s most wanted fugitives (Photo: Policia Nacional España, Twitter)Spain has re-arrested “El Zarco”, one of Colombia’s most wanted fugitives (Photo: Policia Nacional España, Twitter)

By Alessandro Ford

Spanish Authorities announced on Monday the arrest of one of Colombia’s most wanted criminals who was sought for his murderous role in the “false positives” scandal of the 2000s, when soldiers killed innocent people and then dressed them as guerrilla fighters to secure combat medals, promotions and other benefits.

Luis J. Castro, alias “El Zarco,” was detained in Alicante on Saturday, days after Interpol issued a Red Notice against him for multiple homicides and conspiracy to commit aggravated crimes dating back to his actions in 2007.

Formerly a member of the leftist guerrilla group, “Ejército de Liberación Nacional” (National Liberation Army – ELN), Castro later turned on his comrades, switching to helping government forces in their brutal war against the ELN.

He later confessed to participation in the “false positives” scandal, which broke in 2008 and would ultimately reveal how over 2,200 innocent people were confirmed to have been murdered between 1988 and 2014 by Colombian soldiers seeking to advance their careers.

Thousands more who “disappeared” are believed to have suffered the same fate, with one recent estimate citing 10,000 dead. Senior military officials were heavily implicated in the crime and dozens of soldiers have been arrested since then.

“We think [Castro] was of mid-ranking importance working for both sides” said Chris Dalby, Managing Editor of Colombia-based media outlet InSight Crime.

“He was connected to the ELN, paramilitary groups and the army so his role is muddled but probably not a top commander” Dalby told OCCRP.

Castro was certainly a “recruiter,” hiring young men under false pretenses and delivering them to Army troops. Such individuals, many of whom were connected to paramilitary forces, would offer jobs to impoverished and often mentally handicapped young men, transport them to specific locations and sell them to army units for a few hundred dollars per head for summary execution.

Castro has been charged with involvement in the deaths of 14 young people he recruited, delivery of another six who were later executed and of the direct murder of four others, according to El Pais.

Colombian President Iván Duque has said Castro will be swiftly repatriated to face justice and a 40-year prison sentence. That depends, however, on a successful extradition. Spanish authorities first arrested Castro in 2018, but were forced to release him after time ran out in his extradition process – a blunder for which Colombian authorities were heavily criticised.

That said, if Castro is extradited, he may find the Colombia he returns to is not so different from the one he left. Despite a 2019 public outcry forcing a government backtrack on resuming the military policies that produced the massacres, extra-judicial killings of social leaders, civilians and demobilised combatants continue to plague the country’s peace process.