Colombia: a Paramilitary State

by Anthony C Heaford - redrafted 18 March 2019 

I camped for six weeks at the Cabo San Juan del Guia resort in the Colombian Tayrona National Park in 2006. This report details my encounters there with right-wing paramilitaries, Nazi descendants and Israeli tourists. 


The Germanic Manager, his Swiss Friends and the Right-wing Paramilitaries

It was November 2006 and the resort was relatively quiet when a large group of men emerged from the jungle to use the football pitch by the beach. I later learnt they were right-wing paramilitaries of the Tayrona Resistance Block, a subdivsion of the Giraldo clan cartel that ruled over the area with the most brutal levels of violence and targeted assassinations of indiginous and social leaders, or anyone that opposed their mafia-esque rule in fact.

colombia tayrona camp

I was by my tent when I noticed what can only be described as an exodus from the resort. Like a scene from a wildlife film of gazelles spooked by the smell of a leopard, everyone was moving with a cautious urgency in one direction - away from the football pitch. I stood up and once again walked against natural flow, heading towards the football pitch; it was just my curiosity that wanted to know what was going on.

There were about twenty men - two football teams - all casually dressed and preparing for a kick-about. As soon as I was in view of the group one man who appeared to be their leader saw me and came to confront me face-to-face. Behind him I saw the posture of his men change; stopping their warm-up they looked at each other with what appeared to be resignation - a kind of “here we go again” look upon their faces.

The leader squared up to me and, pointing to my trousers, asked:

 “What the fuck are those?” 

Now appreciating the situation I was in, I replied simply, saying: 

“They're Thai fisherman’s trousers - cheap clothes that are practical for the beach”

I quickly followed this answer with a respectful apology for disturbing them, whilst also taking a few steps back. He flicked his head up as if to say “Go on then, fuck off” and I took a few more steps back before turning and walking as calmly but as swiftly as I could in the same direction everyone else had disappeared in.

It was late in the afternoon before the atmosphere in the resort began to return to normal and in the evening everyone gathered as usual for a few beers and a chat. That evening the fearsome visitors and my encounter with them were the sole topic of conversation. The manager of the resort, a Colombian national with a very Germanic character, answered almost every query about the incident with a roll of his eyes, saying that I'd been:

colombia tayrona copy

“Muy suerte, muy, muy, muy suerte!” 

translated as

"Very lucky, very, very, very lucky!”

All the questions asked by the Colombian guests were spoken in almost whispered tones, as though they were children speaking about the boogeyman they feared but dare not speak his name. The only guests who appeared amused by my close call were a couple of Swiss nationals who were clearly friends of the Germanic manager and VIP guests at the resort. It was one of those Swiss nationals who confirmed to me the next day that the visiting football players were in fact recently disbanded AUC paramilitaries. I've since deduced that they were members of the Tayrona Resistance Block - essentially a right-wing death squad based in the surrounding Sierra Nevada, which aptly translates as the ‘Snowy Mountains’.

I packed up my tent and decided to move on a couple of days after this incident, returning to the nearby town of Santa Marta. What I'd seen in the Tayrona National Park had unnerved me, but it wasn’t my encounter with the paramilitaries that worried me so much, it was the reaction of the Colombian holiday makers that scared me. This was my first glimpse of what it was like to live in a country that is ruled by absolute fear. A country where shadowy groups like this operate with impunity and with the absolute complicity of the state. The Colombian police and military appeared to me to be subservient and secondary forces, with the true power wielded by these hidden militias.

In 2006 I did not challenge these paramilitaries further as I assumed they were still in the transition phase of the recently imposed ceasefire. But in 2013 I began reading of continued violence and murders by this group and decided it was time to say something. On the 29th April 2013 I called British security services and told them how in 2006 "a football field full" (typically twenty-two players) of paramilitaries had been threatening tourists in the National Park. Four days after my telephone conversation with a British Military Intellignce officer I saw this news headline online (click the image for link to report):


Colombians & Israelis

I saw a lot of holiday makers come and go from the Cabo San Juan del Guia resort, mostly Colombian nationals but also large groups of Israelis just out of their military service. The Israelis kept to themselves, not socializing outside of their groups which consisted of soldiers who’d served together in the Israeli army.

This ’seperation’ was re-enforced to me one night after I’d struck up a conversation with an Israeli woman. A young man, one of about a dozen men in this group, stood up and began to remonstrate with his companions in Hebrew - it was clear he was angrily objecting to my presence. From his appearance and disposition I guess the young man was someone’s kid brother - one who’d not served in the army. The other men in the group did carry themselves with a distinctly military bearing. After a minute or so of trying to ignore him, I grabbed hold of the young mans arm as he pointing to me sat in my chair. Catching him off balance and yanking him down with a thud on to his backside I had a quick but forceful word or two in his ear. I simultaneously scanned the rest of the group and all eyes were on me. The kid got up off his arse and was now seething but no one else in the group seemed too bothered as he continued his rant against me. Having made my point but not wishing to escalate the confrontation I bid my female Israeli friend good night and left them to listen to the young man's whining.

rabbi colcombia

There were so many ex-military Israeli travellers in this resort that on Jewish holidays a Rabbi would visit. The Israelis I chatted with were all fresh out of military service and a trip to Colombia after demobilizing was considered the safest and most fun place to go. They told me of other exclusively Israeli resorts nearby but said that even they did not like the company there. 

This is the destination they referred too, one which actually made the news for all the wrong reasons some ten years later:


Adolfo - “born with pure German blood in 1946” 

Adolfo was a distinguished looking gentleman sitting on the veranda of my hotel in Santa Marta. I was staying at the Hotel Bahia after my six-weeks camping in the Tayrona National Park and as I returned to the hotel one afternoon I noted two men looking out of place near the hotel entrance. There were men of a similar disposition at each end of the block too - “something's going down“ I thought to myself. I then glimpsed the distinguished looking gentleman on the hotel veranda and concluded there really was something very interesting afoot. I went into the bar for a beer and casually wandered back to the veranda. I’d not intended to impose on the gentleman but he immediately called me over to join him. Greeting me warmly he asking where I was from and what was I doing in Santa Marta. I told him I was a Mancunian and a tourist:

“Just having a look… ”  I said before adding “and enjoying the cold beers and guapa chicas"

That made him chuckle and he looked at me and said: 

“I’m here for the same thing; enjoying this beer before visiting my mistress in town.” 

We both laughed having made such a rum connection. He then introduced himself: 

“My name is Adolfo,” he said, “born with pure German blood in 1946” 

- he said this with glee and a sparkle in his eye. I smiled back wryly as the conversation paused for a moment. I was unsure what had shocked me more - the implications of what he had told me or the fact that he had told me at all. I could see he was enjoying the moment and so we settled on a shared smile and smirk before continuing. 

I told him I‘d spent six weeks camping in the Tayrona National Park and Adolfo replied that he owned the principle resort area in the park, ArrecifesMy interest was not just in his claimed ownership over this pristine Colombian National Park paradise; I was wondering what he knew of the right-wing paramilitaries still operating in the park. I decided to skip telling Adolfo about my recent run-in and a face-off with them. I'd ascertained by now that the men loitering in the street were definately this man's bodyguards. We chatted for a few minutes more before Adolfo left, his security appearing incredibly professional and perfectly coordinated with his movements and routine.

Adolfo maintained an absolute confidence throughout our brief meeting. I read this man as being completely fearless - protected so very well at every possible level that he was untouchable, by anyone:

Adolfo was a man of such importance to warrant bodyguards

He claimed to own prime Carribean real-estate that I knew was policed by the right-wing paramilitaries

He spoke freely to complete strangers about his Nazi heritage 
(i.e. claims of name Adolfo,  birth-year 1946, heritage “Pure German”

It was as though Adolfo was daring me to challenge him - I didn’t challenge him then, but I am now. And reflecting back, it strikes me as very likely that Adolfo was related to or closely associated with the Germanic character who was the resort manager at the 
Cabo San Juan del Guia resort, just 10-minutes walk from the Arrecifes resort that Adolf claimed to own.


Minca - a Pirate Hideout

My next destination was the Sierra Nevada - the Snowy Mountains. These mountains had been the battle zone in the bloody Wars between the AUC paramilitaries (private armies employed by rich Colombian land owners) and the FARC guerrillas. Although there was a recently US imposed ceasefire between the groups the British foriegn office still advised against all travel to the mountain’s interior.

But my destination was Minca, a former pirate hideout in the mountain’s foothills and just on the safe side of the previous War’s frontline. I found lodgings on the outskirts of town and spent the next three weeks there - and it was in Minca that I crossed over to the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. Today Minca is promoted as a bird watching tourist destination and it is a tropical paradise. Surrounded by jungle on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada it is a few degrees cooler than the coast and far more relaxed. It is now part of the backpackers tourist trail, another party destination for the few nationalalities that dare to travel to Colombia. But in 2006 I would describe it as very much still a pirates hideout - full of the most nefarious of characters and hidden dangers.

As with Adolfo in Santa Marta I did not dare to challenge those nefarious characters in Minca in 2006. But today in 2019, with an ongoing CIA backed coup attempt in neighbouring Venezuela, I've decided they really do need challenging publicly and I’ve done that in my next report, linked here:

International Cocaine Cartel, or Afrikaans Mercenaries?

Truly, for some of us nothing is written, unless we write it 
© Anthony C Heaford - The Quiet Mancunian