BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Ramon Isaza, a 75-year-old patriarch of the far-right paramilitary bands that killed thousands in Colombia, has been released from prison after serving less than 10 years, it was announced Friday.
Isaza, who was freed Jan. 29, was a founder of the militias created in the late 1970s and early 1980s by ranchers and traffickers seeking to protect themselves from guerrilla kidnappings and extortion. The militias became deeply involved in the drug trade.
The groups, often in collusion with members of Colombia's armed forces, went on the form death squads that targeted suspected rebel sympathizers, union activists and representatives of landless farmers.
The chief prosecutor's office estimates they were responsible for at least 156,000 killings from 1980-2004.
The paramilitaries received training from Israeli and British mercenaries. Some became hit men for traffickers, including Pablo Escobar.
Much of that training occurred in the Middle Magdalena River valley where Isaza lived and presided over a criminal empire that police said was handed down to his sons. He was so powerful that he even went to war with Escobar in the early 1990s for control of his home region.
Isaza surrendered to authorities in 2006 under a peace pact promoted by then-President Alvaro Uribe that stipulated that paramilitary warlords confess their crimes in exchange for prison terms of no more than eight years.
Too hot handle for Uribe, most of the top warlords were extradited to the United States two years later on drug-trafficking charges.
The top prosecutor in the Justice and Peace unit that handled such cases, Luis Gonzalez, said in a 2007 newspaper interview that Isaza had told prosecutors that he would confess to responsibility for 567 murders.
But when his time came to confess, Isaza complained of serious memory lapses.
Since May, five top paramilitary bosses have been released from Colombian prisons after serving similarly truncated terms.
The judge who ordered Isaza released stipulated that he wear an electronic ankle bracelet to track his whereabouts.
The aging warlord had originally been ordered released in late December but his freedom was delayed by an arrest warrant in the 2001 murder of an oil workers' union leader.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Lima, Peru.