Mar 18

Here’s how the results of Sunday’s legislative elections look, with nearly all ballots counted. The numbers don’t yet total up to the total number of legislators in each house, because the counting is not complete.

It appears that pro-Uribe parties will continue to have a very solid majority in both houses of Congress. Opposition and non-aligned parties’ share will remain about the same as they did in 2006.

A key part of the government coalition is the National Integration Party (PIN), many of whose members are related to, or from the same political groupings of, legislators imprisoned for ties to paramilitary groups. The PIN party, says Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, was “designed in jail.” However, the La Silla Vacía website notes, several other parties had candidates suspected of ties to organized crime and armed groups, and most of them won.

For the first time, two leaders of Colombia’s non-governmental human rights movement did well, both as candidates of the leftist Polo Democrático party. Iván Cepeda of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes was elected to the Congress, and Gloria Flórez of Asociación Minga was elected to the Andean Parliament.

Senate (102 members; 94% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 58

La U 27 (20 in 2006) – the party headed by President Uribe’s former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the front-runner in polling for the May 30 presidential elections.
Conservative Party 23 (18 in 2006) – the Conservatives also held a presidential primary pitting former ambassador and minister Noemí Sanín against former agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias (known as “Uribito” for his loyalty to the President). The final result is not yet known.
PIN 8 - the party most associated with the “para-politicians.”

Opposition 26

Liberal Party (center-left) 18 (18 in 2006)
P
olo Democrático (left) 8 (10 in 2006) – the Polo lost seats in part because of internal infighting, and in part due to the unpopularity of Bogotá’s current mayor, Samuel Moreno.

Other 15

Cambio Radical (center-right) 8 (15 in 2006) – the party of right-wing politician Germán Vargas Lleras, part of the pro-Uribe coalition until Vargas Lleras broke away in early 2009. Many members of Cambio Radical defected to “La U.”
Green Party (center-left)
5
– the party of three popular former Bogotá mayors, Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Luis Eduardo Garzón. The Greens also held a presidential primary on Sunday, which Mockus won.
MIRA (evangelical) 2

Chamber of Representatives (166 members; 90% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 101

La U 49 (30 in 2006)
Conservatives 37 (29 in 2006)
PIN 14
Alas Equipo 1 (8 in 2006) – a small party many of whose members were caught up in the “para-politics” scandal.

Opposition 39

Liberals (center-left) 34 (35 in 2006)
Polo Democrático (left) 5 (10 in 2006)

Other 24

Cambio Radical (center-right) 15 (20 in 2006)
Green Party (center-left) 3
Apertura Liberal 2 – tied to DMG, a failed pyramid scheme
Unidad Liberal (regional / Huila department) 2
MIRA (evangelical) 1

Indigenous Social Alliance 1 – allied with center-left former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, whose movement made a surprisingly weak showing.

Jan 27

Note as of 1:00 AM January 28: After 13 hours of deliberation today, El Tiempo reports, Colombia’s National Electoral Council decided to suspend the ADN party, citing the active role played by imprisoned politicians.

(This post was composed with research assistance from CIP Intern Cristina Salas.)

As Colombia inches closer to its March 14 legislative elections, it is growing ever clearer that the country has not left “para-politics” behind.

The last time Colombia reelected its Congress, in March 2006, about a third of the winners ended up under investigation, on trial or in prison for ties to mass-murdering, drug-trafficking paramilitary groups who were politically powerful in many regions. (Download a recent list here.) The resulting scandal raised public awareness of organized crime’s infiltration of Colombia’s government, and spurred Colombia’s Supreme Court to attempt an ambitious housecleaning in the legislature. But the phenomenon continues in the current election cycle.

Since the 2006 cycle, three parties all but ceased to exist because of the huge number of office-holders who ended up in trouble for sponsoring, aiding and abetting, or otherwise making deals with the right-wing militias. But “Colombia Viva,” “Colombia Democrática” and “Convergencia Ciudadana” are back in new guises, running candidates for the March vote.

The three parties have undergone a makeover, reemerging as Alianza Democrática Nacional (National Democratic Alliance) and Partido de Integración Nacional (National Integration Party), but maintaining the legal registrations of Convergencia Ciudadana and Colombia Democrática, respectively. (This El Tiempo editorial asserts that they maintain the legal registrations of Convergencia and Colombia Viva.)

Alianza Democrática Nacional, or “ADN” (the Spanish initials of DNA, as in genetic code), was created in early December by former members of Colombia Viva, Convergencia Ciudadana and Colombia Democrática, the latter party founded by President Álvaro Uribe’s second cousin Mario Uribe, who is currently under investigation for paramilitary ties. Colombia Viva included Senator Vicente Blel, sentenced this week to seven years in prison, and Álvaro García, accused of conspiring with paramilitaries who carried out a notoriously horrific string of massacres in the Montes de María region during the early 2000s. Juan Carlos Martínez, a Convergencia Ciudadana senator from Valle del Cauca, is accused of helping to organize the ADN party from his prison cell.

Former members of Convergencia Ciudadana created the Partido de Integración Nacional, or “PIN”, after the earlier party ceased to exist because its founder, ex-senator Luis Alberto Gil, was jailed and another one of its leaders, ex-governor of Santander Hugo Aguilar, came under judicial investigation.

Colombian analysts say that these political parties exist in part to support the campaigns of political heirs of the “para-politicians,” thus guaranteeing their continued influence and local political power. As the scandal leaves voids in local political leadership structures, the parties aim to fill them with the scandal-tarred bosses’ friends, relatives or allies. In the candidates list for the upcoming elections, for instance, ex-senator Gil has been replaced by his wife, and ex-governor Aguilar by his son. (More examples of family members serving as substitutes can be found in this piece in the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio.)

The head of the largest “mainstream” pro-Uribe party, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos of the “Partido Social de la Unidad” or “U”, claims that the party is doing its utmost to avoid paramilitary influence. (Several “U” party legislators have been embroiled in the para-politics scandal, though the party was not hit as hard as the three parties being re-packaged today.) Santos announced that all “U” candidates for the upcoming Congress elections will be investigated for ties with illegal groups, including the signing of sworn statements and verification by an “ethics committee.”

Left-of-center Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán says that those who do not pass muster in La U will end up in the ADN or PIN parties, “enchanted creations conceived at the last minute by the Palace of Nariño [Colombian 'White House'] to house the scum of the paramilitary mafia that the ‘U’ no longer has the luxury of admitting.”

Meanwhile, ADN and PIN, their campaigns flush with cash, are blanketing several regions of Colombia with advertisements professing their support for President Uribe, hoping to ride his coat-tails back into office, four years after the “para-politics” scandal first broke.

Nov 18
Luis Jorge Garay. (Photo source and article text)

The Colombian newsweekly Semana published this interview Sunday, translated below, with outspoken Colombian economist Luis Jorge Garay. Working with the Fundación Método, Garay recently co-published a study about one of Colombia’s most severe challenges: the difficulty of eliminating organized crime’s influence over the state.

Colombia’s government has been repeatedly penetrated by criminal groups. Examples include Pablo Escobar’s domination of local politics in Medellín and his 1982 election (as an alternate legislator) to Colombia’s Congress; the Cali cartel’s donations to the 1994 presidential campaign of Ernesto Samper; and the ongoing “para-politics” scandal, in which several dozen legislators, governors, mayors and other officials have made common cause with drug-funded paramilitary groups.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who remains a very close parner of the U.S. government, has made gains against leftist guerrillas and cut a deal with paramilitary groups to demobilize their national structure. He has extradited several top paramilitary leaders, as well as most leaders of the North Valle cartel that dominated narcotrafficking in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

The power of Colombian organized crime, however, remains great. Narcotraffickers are estimated to control about 10 million acres of land, including about half of the most fertile and sought-after land in the country. Recent scandals have revealed their infiltration at the highest levels of institutions like the presidential intelligence service (DAS) and the Medellín branch of the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía). And Garay contends that, with the emergence of “new” paramilitary groups throughout the country, the mafia – and its penetration of the state – is evolving.

How is it evolving? Garay’s study performs a fascinating network analysis of narco-state ties. Though the study doesn’t discuss it in these terms, we can identify several characteristics of the “successful mafioso” in today’s Colombia.

  • Control of territory, using private militias.
  • Alliances forged with local politicians, usually cemented by support for campaigns and sharing in corruption.
  • Investments in legal enterprises, particularly productive projects like biofuels and palm oil, usually pooling resources with local economic elites.
  • Alliance with, or acquiescence of, local security forces – through ties of corruption rather than a common counter-insurgent cause.
  • A low profile, avoiding a protagonistic role in politics, and avoiding confrontation with the security forces.
  • Usually, benign treatment of the population, including financial support – with the exception of organized civil society, who are subject to threats and intimidation.

Though they are responsible for much of the illegal drugs coming from Colombia to the United States today, it has not been easy to convince policymakers, many focused on Colombia’s recent “success,” that this new generation of organized crime poses a threat, and that the United States must work more actively to limit its influence over a government that Washington continues to aid generously.

Here is the Semana interview with Luis Jorge Garay.

The economist and researcher Luis Jorge Garay coordinated for the Fundación Método a study about what, in boldly simple terms, could be labeled organized crime’s infiltration of the state. …

Gustavo Gómez, Semana: What does cooptation of the state consist of?

Luis Jorge Garay: It is the exercise through which a person or group, legal or illegal, taking advantage of its power of influence, intermediates before the state to favor its own interests. Within the law, a business association for example is coopting when, through the exercise of its power of influence, it gets the state to adopt sectoral policies that favor it, even against the collective interest. On the other hand, the case of illegality takes place with organized criminal groups, on occasion in alliance with legal sectors, who seek to reconfigure state institutions for their advantage, through the state itself.

GG: It is inevitable to think of Pablo Escobar and his election to Congress…

LJG: Since the time of [Escobar associate] Carlos Lehder the mafia understood that politics is an efficient means to infiltrate the state and society. Escobar managed to get a seat in Congress, but he ran up against the counterweight of Luis Carlos Galán [a Liberal Party leader assassinated in 1989], who got in the way of his political cooptation strategy.

GG: Did the mafia learn from that mistake when it penetrated Ernesto Samper’s campaign?

LJG: It learned much, so much that it realized that participating openly and visibly in politics implied risks of criminal and social exposure, and it decided to advance in the financing of parties and campaigns, and reached the point of trying to coopt the presidential agenda.

GG: Who was the counterweight then?

LJG: There was indignation in some sectors, but the determining reaction didn’t come from society, nor was there any definitive political leadership like in Galán’s case. The determining actor was foreign: the U.S. government.

GG: What advance did the paramilitaries make with regard to infiltration, compared to these previous experiences?

LJG: The scenario of an intensification of the fight against the guerrillas, to the point at which, with the active participation of legal sectors and with the intervention of illegal groups, illegal armies were established. They understood that a mafia without territorial dominion would not reach power, and that a mafia without a state has no reason to exist. These armies, to their very central nucleus, were penetrated by narcotrafficking in their attempt to coopt the state. This even took them to the Congress, so that it is possible to talk about the narco-para-political phenomenon.

GG: The objective as to re-found the state?

LJG: Their advance with regard to Lehder, Escobar and the Cali cartel was the consolidation of new, regionally based political movements, through alliances resulting from intimidation but, above all, of shared interests between criminals and politicians to use the legislature and advance in the coopted reconfiguration of the state.

GG: What role does the Supreme Court play in this panorama?

LJG: It is the counterweight power par excellence, first in the scenario of the conspiracy charges faced by the narco-para-politicians, and later, in proving that in participating in pacts to reconfigure the state, they abetted the use of force that cost the lives of 25,000 people. Recently the Court gave itself the power to judge them as the authors of crimes against humanity.

GG: It did so to avoid impunity?

LJG: The thing is, we are facing a paradoxical scenario in which the United States, which was the counterweight during the Samper period, now seeks to privilege its domestic interests by judging the paramilitary leaders for narcotrafficking, and subordinating to those interests much more serious crimes commmitted in Colombia. The risk of impunity for crimes against humanity has diminished with the Court’s current position which, in fact, is establishing new jurisprudence regarding extradition.

GG: Is the Court not exceeding its competence?

LJG: In the case of judging narco-para-politics, it acts absolutely within the law and there is no possibility of debating its right to make these judgments.

GG: The government insists that it strangled paramilitarism. Does this mean selling us the idea that we are living in a period of post-conflict?

LJG: We are not living that because, as I say, cooptation continues.

GG: Should we mistrust the successes of Democratic Security?

LJG: There are evident advances, like the weakening of the FARC, and effectiveness in the dismantling of the top narco-paramilitary leadership. But at the regional level, agreements with some sectors of the political class continue, and organized crime has regrouped as “emerging bands.” There are still armed groups that have created “a new social order” in some regions, to the advantage of some legal actors.

GG: Have the media been an effective counterweight?

LJG: We have analyzed the last 12 years and we find a permanent scrutiny of what has happened with respect to narco-paramilitarism. They informed, but they came up short in the task of building broad consensus in rejecting processes of this nature.

GG: What consequences might another reelection have?

LJG: If it happens, there will have to be a simultaneous, integral change to guarantee an adequate system of checks and balances under the constitution.

GG: What will the next cooptation scenario be?

LJG: If the currently germinating elements of the current stage of cooptation are not uprooted, there will be a transition to another with a similar basis but with more sophisticated processes and new actors seeking a change in the regime. THe actors are accidental, temporary and substitutable.

GG: Would you prefer to avoid optimism when you think of Colombia’s future?

LJG: I realistically view the deep problems we face in order to develop as a true democracy, but I’m optimistic that we, as a society, can react. Much is lacking, that is true, to arrive at true social justice and democracy.

Oct 29

We’ve grown accustomed to hearing Colombian government officials accuse the country’s human rights organizations of supporting guerrilla groups. While they never present proof, the notion that human rights defenders are “spokespeople for terrorism” of the left is a regular theme in speeches by President Álvaro Uribe and others. (See examples in the section that begins on page 33 of this report, recently produced by a coalition of Colombian groups.)

But here is an accusation we’ve never heard before. This 20-second video shows Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, in a Colombian television interview granted last Thursday. Santos is responding to news that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) reopened an investigation into allegations that, ten years ago, he urged paramilitary leaders to set up a presence in Bogotá:

Santos seems to think that Colombia’s human rights NGOs are now in league not just with the guerrillas, but also with the right-wing paramilitaries – and that the judicial system should investigate.

Keep in mind that, in the Uribe government, the human rights portfolio is managed by the Vice President’s Office.

Oct 20
Francisco Santos. (Photo source and article link)

The former paramilitary chief [Salvatore Mancuso] stated that [Vice President Francisco] Santos … also met several times with the paramilitaries’ leaders and that “I was surprised because I noticed how much he identified with the cause” and because “he told [AUC paramilitary leader Carlos] Castaño that he liked the model (of self-defense groups) in [the northern Colombian department of] Córdoba and that he would like to see it repeated in Bogotá.” In one of these meetings, Mancuso continued, “Castaño proposed to Santos that he be the commander of the Capital Bloc, but he turned him down, saying that he did not know about such things.”

That, as recounted by Colombia’s Semana magazine in 2007, was the essence of a series of exchanges between Francisco Santos, Colombia’s vice-president, and top paramilitary leaders about a decade ago. At the time, Santos was an editor at Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper and a leading anti-kidnapping activist. The allegation that Vice President Santos, who holds the Uribe administration’s human rights portfolio, urged the paramilitaries to set up a unit in Bogotá, comes from 2007 testimony to “Justice and Peace” prosecutors by Salvatore Mancuso, a paramount leader of the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Mancuso has since been extradited to the United States, where he awaits trial in a Virginia jail cell.

Santos insists that the comment was a joke – a joke in terrible taste. There is no known evidence that Santos followed up on his suggestion. Another top paramilitary leader, Freddy Rendón (alias “El Alemán“) has testified that while he met with Santos, he did not discuss the “Capital Bloc” idea. While a “Capital Bloc” of the paramilitaries later appeared, under the command of “Centaurs Bloc” leader Miguel Arroyave, it seemed to be largely focused on illicit fundraising: extortion and drug-dealing in poor Colombian neighborhoods, and involvement in sectors like bus transportation, food distribution and black-market items like pirated DVDs.

Still, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), which closed an investigation of Santos in August 2008, announced yesterday that it was re-opening its probe. The decision made headlines in Colombia yesterday, drawing attention to Santos, who said he would cooperate with the prosecutors’ investigation.

It is unlikely that the investigators will find that Francisco Santos was a mastermind of paramilitary expansion. It may find, however, that the vice president’s words and attitude toward the paramilitary leadership were friendlier and more supportive than he would ever acknowledge in public.

Just as 2007 photos of herself wearing a black beret and posing with FARC negotiators were a setback for leftist Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, revelations of bonhomie and camaraderie with the mass-murdering paramilitaries could be deeply embarrassing to Francisco Santos.

Jun 02

Here are translated excerpts from an interview with extradited paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, given at the DC Jail where he is being held pending trial. The interview was the cover story in last Thursday’s edition of the Colombian newsweekly Cambio. Thanks to CIP Intern Cynthia Arévalo for the translation help.

According to the Government, you were playing around with the process…

Look, I am going to give you a “scoop.” The prosecutor-general, Mario Iguarán, and the attorney in charge of my case said in this same prison that there was no evidence that I, in particular, had committed any criminal offense when I was in the Itagüí prison [between December 2006 and his May 2008 extradition]. They said that if that evidence had in fact existed, I would have been out of “Justicia y Paz” [the Justice and Peace process], and I’m still in “Justicia y Paz.”

If, like you said, you weren’t committing any crimes, then why do you believe you were extradited?

The government got scared by what many commanders were doing and because we were reconstructing the truth. I decided to tell all of those who had worked with me to tell the truth, and in the stand I also told some of it.

I reported, to [government peace commissioner Luis Carlos] Restrepo, to the OAS and to the church, that there were 6,000 people re-armed in Córdoba and Catatumbo. But some AUC commanders said they wouldn’t talk because they had been threatened. I was left alone. That truth worried many businessmen, political leaders and others in the economic sector. There had to be some kind of pressure for the government to extradite us all. But if there were commanders who failed [to honor the Justice and Peace terms], we should say as well that the government failed because they ruined any hopes for peace in Colombia.

With you all extradited while trying to negotiate with U.S. Justice, is there any possibility of rebuilding the process and giving reparations to the victims?

My attorneys and I are determined to continue with the reconstruction of the truth as well as with reparations to the victims. However, I want to clarify that when the government extradited me, they said through the Minister of Justice that the agreements and mechanisms existed to allow the process to continue. That is a big lie and what we have done so far owes to the goodwill of the district attorneys in the United States and “Justicia y Paz” in Colombia [the Justice and Peace Unit of the prosecutor-general's office]. The government extradited us, and they will have to figure out what to do in order to avoid impunity and fulfill reparations.

Will the whole truth be known someday?

It is us, the commanders, who hold the important truth, with our extradition to the United States they extradited the truth. The law they passed sought retaliation. For example, when I said that Carlos Castaño and I met with the ex minister [of defense] Juan Manuel Santos in order to promote a coup d’etat against President Ernesto Samper, the minister of Interior said that people should not believe a criminal like Mancuso. The truth is stigmatized and generates rejection from society.

Which of the truths you revealed have not had any effect?

The coexistence of active and retired military, as well as of important political figures, who are presidential candidates today, with the AUC.

Like who?

They know.

In Colombia there is a controversy over an iPod you owned, apparently, that has dozens of recorded conversations with politicians and officials. Some of these conversations have already been revealed. What is the truth about this device?

Evidentlly it was the iPod where I stored the files of my processes in the Colombian courts and the records of the reconstruction of historical truth. I left it in my cell in Itagüí and the INPEC [Colombian government prisons institute] took it. When they returned all my belongings they did not return it, and some judicial authorities have added to the charges against me part of what was recorded there. But these could have been manipulated, added or edited, and therefore I do not acknowledge these recordings. The last I heard, this ipod was being put on sale in Colombia.

You said that the AUC had control of 30 percent of Congress. Right now, there are 68 who have been investigated, nine of whom have been convicted. Are there more?

There are many more, and some commanders have not yet completed their testimonies. And I don’t think that they will do so until they arrange their affairs with the United States. That is the problem of extradition.

What politicians are not detained for their ties to the AUC?

There were many people involved. For example, in early 2002 in a country estate in ‘Macaco’ in Piamonte, near Taraza, there was a big meeting where ‘Cuco’ Vanoy, Vicente Castano, ‘Don Berna’, ‘Macaco’, ‘Julián Bolívar’ ’Ernesto Báez’, ‘Diego Vecino’ and I attended, as well as Colonel (Ret.) Hugo Aguilar (former governor of Santander) and ‘ El Tuerto’ Gil (former Senator Luis Alberto Gil, investigated for para-politics).

What was the meeting for?

For electoral support that some politicians were seeking at that time from the “Bloque Central Bolivar” in six or seven departments.

Why do you recall the presence of Gil and Aguilar in particular?

Because Aguilar presented himself as the person who had killed Pablo Escobar, and I recall Gil because he was with the colonel.

Is it true that one of the largest meetings of polititians and the AUC was on an estate called “La 21?”

Yes, the estate “La 21” was owned by Carlos Castaño, located between San Pedro de Urabá and Valencia. There was a big meeting as well in “La 15” with Vicente Castaño. It was two or three days of meetings towards the end of 2001.

What happened at the meeting in “La 21?”

Carlos Castaño called all commanders to a meeting because “Ernesto Baez,” political leader of the Bloque Central Bolívar, wanted to propose the creation of a “single [candidate] list” for Congress headed by Rocío Arias and Carlos Clavijo. This initiative failed to pass because ‘Jorge 40′ and I said that the AUC acted as a federation, and that each region had its own needs.

And in the meeting at “La 15” what happened?

In the meeting at “La 15,” according to what Vicente Castaño told me, it was with farmers and businessmen from the region. Vicente asked them to support Uribe’s campaign for the presidency.

What do you remember in particular from those meetings?

I remember Juan José Chaux in particular (former governor of Cauca and former ambassador). He was the only one whom I did not know who came to give a speech. He said that his grandfather or great-grandfather had been president, that they had belonged to the legal “self-defense groups” created by Guillermo León Valencia and that they had always been against the guerrillas. At that time he was dealing with the kidnapping of a relative by the AUC. I also recall seeing Carlos Clavijo.

The speech you refer to was in favor of the AUC?

Yes, [Chaux] completely identified himself with the AUC. ‘H.H.’ (Hernando Hernandez, an AUC leader) was so proud, he presented him as the political representative of the Calima [which was based in Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments in southwestern Colombia].

Is it true that former Deputy Director of DAS [the presidential intelligence service] Miguel Narvaez, involved in scandals for the paramilitary infiltration of that office, attended meetings of the AUC?

Narváez is a very structured man who collaborated with the AUC on ideological issues. He was a professor at the “Escuela Superior de Guerra” and taught classes to officers. He was in meetings with Carlos Castano, ‘Jorge 40′, ‘El Alemán’ and me. In our training schools he spoke to the cadres about command structure. He delivered ideological indoctrination to our men in either 1996 or 1998.

How did he get involved with the AUC? Did he get any form of payment for the classes?

Through Commander Castaño, but I don’t know how they met. When he arrived in the area I would sometimes send someone to pick him up at the airport in Montería. I never knew of any payment for his work.

When Narváez came to work in the DAS, what did you think?

That the guerrillas would have a serious problem with this man because of his knowledge of the conflict.

Narváez pursued the guerrillas and he would turn a blind eye to the AUC?

He identified ideologically with the AUC, so this was likely to happen. But these are only assumptions, because can’t really know what he thought.

There are allegations that when the DAS was under the administration of Jorge Noguera, he favored the AUC and his subordinates would pass information to ‘ Jorge 40 ‘…

I am not aware of Jorge Noguera’s relations with the AUC, but with the DAS we had relationships long before, as well as with the Police and Army. To give just one example, the director of the DAS in Cúcuta, Jorge Diaz, was a self-defense group leader. We operated in his cars as did the Police and Military. These were used to transport our troops.

Diego Fernando Murillo, ‘Don Berna’, said, while he was in the United States, the AUC endorsed the nomination of today’s mayor of Medellin, Alonso Salazar, as well as that of President Uribe… What do you know about that?

Politically speaking, I was chief of negotiations for the AUC , however I was not responsible for the decisions of each bloc and therefore would not be able to say what kind of pacts or agreements were reached. But I can say that the vast majority of us supported Uribe because those were the instructions we received from commanders and we did so in all departments with influence of the Northern Bloc [commanded by 'Jorge 40'].

What were these instructions?

Because Uribe’s ideological discourse was very much like ours but within a framework of legality, we decided to support him immediately. We asked people in the towns if they had listened to Uribe and what he was promising to do. Their answer was yes, so we said we would support him and we ‘directed’ the populations to vote for him. There were no direct arrangements, I would lie if I said there were.

Dec 11

Authors Jorge Rojas and Iván Cepeda. (Picture from the website of Semana magazine.)

At Ubérrimo’s Gates is the name of a book released this week in Colombia, jointly written by two of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders: Iván Cepeda of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes and Jorge Rojas, the director of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Internal Displacement (CODHES.)

The book’s title cites the name of the extensive ranch outside Montería, a small city that serves as capital of the northwestern Colombian department of Córdoba, that is the property of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. Though he is from the neighboring department of Antioquia, where he served as governor from 1995 to 1997, Uribe owns significant amounts of land in Córdoba as well, and frequently receives visitors at El Ubérrimo.

The authors make note of this because Montería, and the department of Córdoba in general, are practically synonymous with the rise of paramilitarism in Colombia since the 1980s. By the 1990s much of the department was firmly under the control of the founding group of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the United Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU), led by Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso. The AUC/ACCU was headquartered in Córdoba’s Nudo de Paramillo region, it received generous and open support from Montería’s landowning elite and politicians, and its leaders were frequently seen in the city.

Cepeda’s and Rojas’s book is not principally about Álvaro Uribe. It contains no juicy “smoking gun” evidence that Colombia’s president has ties to paramilitaries and narcotraffickers. The authors’ focus is on the growth and pervasiveness of paramilitarism in a city and province that became a chief AUC stronghold, with local elites’ acquiescence and support.

The book goes on to ask how Álvaro Uribe could have spent years as a prominent public figure and landholder in Montería without showing any signs that he was uncomfortable with, or even aware of, the paramilitaries’ strong dominion over the zone. It also notes Uribe’s close relationships with Córdoba business and political leaders who have since become embroiled in scandal over their ties to paramilitary groups, among other corruption.

Here is an excerpt from the opening chapter of At Ubérrimo’s Gates, published Sunday by the Colombian daily El Espectador.

Excerpt from At Ubérrimo’s Gates, by Iván Cepeda and Jorge Rojas

Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s successful political career was bearing fruit. His name began to be heard in political circles as a card in the deck of aspirants for the Presidency of the Republic. Followers and regional leaders launched his candidacy. Shortly before he finished his term as governor [in 1997], representatives of Antioquia’s commercial, industrial and cattle-raising sectors asked him to resign the governorship and begin his campaign. As a show of their support, the business associations organized a public demonstration that gathered more than 3,000 people in the Plaza Cisneros, across from La Alpujarra, where the governor’s office is located. The media highlighted that among those headlining the event was found the head of the Ochoa clan [associates of the Medellín cartel], the horse enthusiast Fabio Ochoa. The Uribes and the Ochoas never hid their friendly relationship. The event closed with the songs of Darío Gómez, “the king of despecho music.”

In Córdoba, the cattlemen’s associations’ leaders saw in Uribe Vélez a politician inextricably tied to the department, as the owner of “El Ubérrimo” and other lands. His first public appearance in Córdoba as a presidential pre-candidate was to take place, with him as the central speaker, at an event in honor of Rodrigo García Caicedo, considered one of the clearest exponents of the self-defense doctrine, a confessed admirer of the Castaño Gil brothers [founders of the AUC] and the victim of a dynamite attack.

Last-minute difficulties kept the governor of Antioquia from attending. Among those attending the event were Jorge Visbal Martelo, who convened it, and the ex-commander of the [Montería-based] 11th Brigade, Iván Ramírez. A few months after the event, in May 1998, Gen. Ramírez would see himself tied down by a complicated situation, when the U.S. embassy decided to revoke his visa to enter that country due to presumed human rights violations committed when he commanded the army brigade in Montería. Upon learning of the decision, the general said that all he had done was fight terrorists for 36 years, and that it was an outrage that, near the end of his career, he would be treated like one of them.

It wasn’t until 1999 that the new candidate attended several public events in Córdoba that had an electoral connotation. He participated in the 39th Agricultural, Commercial, Microenterprise and Equine Fair and Exposition. The local media referred to him as “the owner of considerable extensions of land in Córdoba” and as one who “has been credited, during his occupation of the Antioquia governor’s office, with revitalizing the controversial Convivir [state-sanctioned self-defense militias], many of which later turned into paramilitary groups.” On the night of June 18, the ex-governor of Antioquia was at a cocktail party at this event. In the photos published in the social pages of Córdoba’s El Meridiano newspaper, Uribe Vélez appeared with Johanna Mancuso, the newspaper’s sales executive and the cousin of Salvatore Mancuso, who at the time was one of the AUC’s commanders. At the same event was Giuliana Mancuso, the national “cattle queen” and cousin of the paramilitary chief. The presidential candidate, who had known Mancuso years earlier, knew to whom the El Meridiano executive and the queen were related.

Along with the young Mancusos, the cattlemen’s fair’s social event counted with the presence of Róger Taboada, who at the time was the vice president of the Banco Ganadero. Months later, Taboada became treasurer of Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s presidential campaign. His friendship with Uribe led him to be Colombia’s consul-general in San Francisco, California. After his tenure as a diplomat, his legal problems began: the Prosecutor-General’s Office [Fiscalía] ordered his arrest for his alleged participation in a series of illegal operations that made up part of the multi-million-dollar theft from the Fond for the Financing of the Agrarian Sector, Finagro, of which he was president, which benefited the narcotrafficker Luis Enrique Micky Ramírez, a former partner of Pablo Escobar. The investigations indicated that Taboada may have given out 855 credits of 29 million pesos each [about US$14,000], supposedly loaned to cattlemen. The former official faced an arrest warrant for conspiracy, money-laundering, document falsification and procedural fraud. After being a fugitive, he was captured in June 2008.

Accompanied by two of the main signers of the Santa Fe de Ralito Pact [a 2001 mutual-support document signed by politicians and paramilitary leaders], Miguel Alfonso de la Espriella and Eleonora Pineda, candidate Álvaro Uribe traveled throughout Córdoba, held public events, spoke at conferences and spoke with the people. In ads and photos published in El Meridiano de Córdoba he appeared in a red shirt, hand on his heart, behind him the national flag and beside him the smiling faces of Miguel Alfonso and Eleonora. With them he went to Montería’s neighborhoods and spoke of defeating violence and corruption; he attended the demonstrations carried out in the zones of Bajo and Alto Sinú, San Jorge, Sahagún and Cereté. He met with young Córdoba university students, to whom he spoke of the need to “rebuild the Fatherland.”

Continue reading »

Sep 30

[Regular posting should begin again Thursday. In the meantime, here is a post from CIP Intern Anthony Dest.]

In a recent interview with Gustavo Gómez of the Colombian magazine Semana, Colombian lawyer Abelardo de la Espriella offered a spirited defense of his work defending paramilitary leaders, para-politicians and businesses with questionable financing, such as David Murcia’s highly questioned DMG holding company.

De la Espriella’s unabashed responses offer a glimpse into a powerful sector of Colombia’s politics and society that continues to resist the rule of law. As the “para-politics” scandal has shown, this sector has been an important base of political support for President Alvaro Uribe.

Here are a few translated quotes from the interview:

Gustavo Gómez: Have you ever received money from ‘Ernesto Báez,’ Salvatore Mancuso or ‘Jorge 40?’ [All three individuals are currently in U.S. or Colombian prisons awaiting trial for drug or human-rights crimes related to their leadership roles in the AUC.]

Abelardo de la Espriella: Never, and I will submit myself to a polygraph if you like, Gustavo.

Gustavo Gómez: Are you friends with them?

Abelardo de la Espriella: I met ‘Ernesto Báez,’ whom I consider the romantic of the paramilitaries, and ‘Jorge 40′ at the negotiation table and we formed a good friendship. Mancuso is my paisano, and he took on a struggle that all of us from Córdoba should have supported. If I were in his place, I would have have done the same thing. Critics have wanted to call me a paramilitary, but, like Uribe says, if they had wanted to kill and extort me, I would have been a true paramilitary, with a uniform and a gun.

Gustavo Gómez: Does the title “defender of para-politics” make you proud?

Abelardo de la Espriella: Of course, now I would like for someone to give me the title of ‘Defender of DMG,’ or that people will begin use the nickname [investigative journalist Daniel] Coronell gave me: the “Proxy.” ["El Apoderado"] Sometimes I answer the phone when my friends call and when they ask me who is speaking I tell them: “the Proxy.”

Sep 04

Here is an English translation of a table compiled in mid-August by the Colombian think-tank INDEPAZ. It lists the 39 members of Colombia’s Congress who are under investigation, and the 29 currently in detention, on suspicion of having colluded with paramilitary groups.

The list has been updated to reflect the release, two weeks ago, of Sen. Mario Uribe (the president’s cousin) and other very controversial cases of charges dropped by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

Thanks to CIP Intern Anthony Dest for the translation.

Members of Congress implicated
in parapolitics; the list includes those under current investigation and
those detained as of September 3, 2008.

And the count continues…

PARAPOLITICS

INDEPAZ investigative unit

Members of Congress INVESTIGATED

 Department
 
 Name  Title  Party

Antioquia

5

Atlántico

2

Mauricio
Parodi Díaz

Representative

Liberal

Oscar
Suárez Mira

Senator

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Antonio
Valencia Duque

Senator

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Jorge
Morales Gil

Representative

Liberal

Mario
Uribe Escobar

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

David
Char

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Armando
Benedetti

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Bogotá

Juan
Carlos Restrepo Escobar

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Bolívar

3

Javier
Cáceres Leal

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Héctor
Julio Alfonso López

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Fernando
Tafur Díaz

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Cauca

Luís
Fernando Velasco

Senator

Liberal

Caldas

2

Adriana
Patricia Gutiérrez Jaramillo

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Víctor
Renan Barco López

Senator

Liberal

Cesar

Alfredo
Cuello Baute

Representative

Conservative

Córdoba

3

Musa
Besaile Fayad

Representative

Liberal

Zulema
Jattin Corrales

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Julio
Manzur

Senator

Conservative

Cundinamarca

Nancy
Patricia Gutiérrez

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Guainia

Sandra
Velásquez

Representative

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Magdalena

Rodrigo
Roncallo Fandiño

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Meta

Luís
Carlos Torres Rueda

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Nariño

2

Eduardo
Enríquez Maya

Senator

Conservative

Myiam
Paredes

Representative

Conservative

Norte
de Santander

3

Carlos
Emiro Barriga

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Juan
Manuel Corzo

Senator

Conservative

Manuel
Guillermo Mora

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Putumayo

Guillermo
Rivera Flórez

Representative

Liberal

Risaralda

Habib
Merheg Marun

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Santander

4

Luís
Alberto Gil Castillo

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

José
Manuel Herrera Cely

Representative

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Oscar
Josué Reyes Cárdenas

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Luís
Alfonso Riaño

Representative

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Sucre

2

Jairo
Fernández Quessep

Representative

Social Action (Acción Social)

José
Maria Conde

Representative

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Tolima

Mauricio
Jaramillo Martínez

Senator

Liberal

Valle

3

Dilian
Francisca Toro

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Juan
Carlos Martines Sinisterra

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Luis
Carlos Restrepo Orozco

Representative

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Total Members of Congress INVESTIGATED 

 Political Party   Senators  Representatives  Total

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

1

3

4

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

1

0

1

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

5

1

6

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

1

1

2

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

1

0

1

Conservative

3

2

5

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

4

2

6

Liberal

3

4

7

Social Action (Acción Social)

0

1

1

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

5

1

6

Total

24

15

39

PARAPOLITICS

INDEPAZ investigative unit

Members of Congress DETAINED

 Department  Name  Title   Party

Antioquia

3

Rubén
Darío Quintero

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Humberto Builes

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Guillermo
Gaviria Zapata

Senator

 Liberal

Atlántico

2

Dieb
Nicolás Maloof Couse

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Jorge
Castro Pacheco

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Bolívar

Vicente
Blel Saad

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Boyacá

Ciro
Ramírez Pinzón

Senator

Conservative

Caldas

2

Emilio
Enrique Angel Barco

Representative

Liberal

Dixon
Ferney Tapasco

Representative

Liberal

Caquetá

Luís
Fernando Almario Rojas

Representative

Popular Participation (Participación
Popular)

Casanare

Oscar
Leonidas Wilches Carreño

Representative

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Cesar

3

Álvaro
Araujo Castro

Senator

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Álvaro
Morón Cuello

Representative

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Mauricio
Pimiento Barrera

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Córdoba

3

Magdalena

6

Norte de Santander

Sucre

2

Tolima

3

Miguel
De La Espriella Burgos

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Reginaldo
Enrique Montes

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Juan
Manuel López Cabrales

Senator

Liberal

Jorge
Luís Caballero Caballero

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Alfonso
Campo Escobar

Representative

Conservative

Karley
Patricia Lara Vence

Representative

Moral Movement (Movimiento
Moral)

Luís
Eduardo Vives Lacourte

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Miguel
Pinedo Vidal

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Alonso
de Jesús Ramírez

Representative

Moral Movement (Movimiento
Moral)

Ricardo Elcure Chacón

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Álvaro
García Romero

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Eric
Julio Morris Toboada

Representative

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Gonzalo
García Angarita

Representative

Conservative

Pompilio
Avendaño

Representative

Liberal

Carlos
García Orjuela

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Total Members of Congress DETAINED

 Political Party   Senators  Representatives  Total

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

0

1

1

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

1

1

2

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

4

1

5

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

3

1

4

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

3

0

3

Conservative

1

2

3

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

1

0

1

Moral Movement (Movimiento
Moral)

0

2

2

Liberal

2

3

5

Participación Popular

0

1

1

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

2

0

2

Total

17

12

29

Modified September 3, 2008

Aug 27

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, accompanied by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, is visiting Colombia during an especially agitated week.

The international representatives’ observation visit is taking place in the midst of a worsening conflict between President Álvaro Uribe and his country’s Supreme Court, which is investigating ties between paramilitary death squads and dozens of politicians, most of them Uribe’s supporters. The brother of the interior minister, until recently the chief prosecutor in Medellín, is facing allegations that he is linked to one of the country’s principal fugitive narcotraffickers and sponsors of “new” paramilitary groups. The country’s main newsmagazine revealed Sunday that paramilitary representatives had meetings in Colombia’s presidential palace earlier this year to discuss ways to discredit the Supreme Court’s investigations. And President Uribe has responded to the pressure by launching pointed verbal attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.

Here are translations of two columns that capture the present moment well. Both appeared in the Colombian daily El Espectador. The first, published today, is from veteran Colombian journalist Cecilia Orozco. The second, published yesterday, comes from César Rodríguez of the judicial-reform think-tank DeJuSticia.

Suicidal Desperation
By Cecilia Orozco Tascón
El Espectador, August 27, 2008

International Criminal Court Prosector Luis Moreno Ocampo and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón found quite a spectacle upon arriving in the country:

  • The President of the Republic, live on television, shows a video reconfirming that two shady individuals tied to the narco-paramilitary “Don Berna” entered the “Casa de Nari” in their own vehicle, a privilege before reserved only for ambassadors and high-ranking personalities. ["Casa de Nari" is how the paramilitary representatives, in recorded conversations, referred to the presidential palace, the Casa de Nariño.]
  • The President of the Republic, speaking before some intimidated reporters at a press conference, says that there is “trafficking in false witnesses” at the Supreme Court; that [Supreme Court "para-politics" investigator] magistrate Iván Velásquez (whose mere existence is becoming a dangerous obsession for him) “gets drunk” with other witnesses; that Senator [Gustavo] Petro, from the Democratic Pole opposition, “manipulates” still more witnesses.
  • The President of the Republic states that the Prosecutor-General’s Office handed down a politicized finding in the case of “Tasmania,” probably because it found that case to have been an attempt to frame ["para-politics" investigator] Velásquez. ["Tasmania" was the nickname of a former paramilitary who, in a letter that Uribe read in a press conference last October, alleged that Velásquez had tried to induce him to testify against the president. "Tasmania" retracted this claim in June, explaining that his lawyer had put him up to it.]
  • The President of the Republic also criticizes Prosecutor-General [Mario] Iguarán because his entity is infiltrated by the mafia and because “it did not react” to the corrupt acts of [Guillermo] Valencia Cossio [the interior minister's scandal-tarred brother].
  • The President of the Republic accuses ex-president César Gaviria, head of the Liberal Party opposition, of having allied during his term with the “Los Pepes” gang. ["Pepes" = "People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar," a hit squad formed in the early 1990s by the Cali cartel, whose members included individuals who would become top paramilitary leaders later in the decade.]
  • The President of the Republic orders an investigation of journalist Daniel Coronell for covering up “crimes.” [Coronell had interviewed Yidis Medina, a one-term congresswoman who had confessed to him that her tie-breaking committee vote, which allowed President Uribe to run for re-election in 2006, came in exchange for bribes and favors.]

On the other side the Court, Magistrate Velásquez, Senator Petro, the Prosecutor-General, César Gaviria, Coronell and, behind him, several journalists’ organizations, respond to these aggressions, making use of their legitimate right to presumed innocence. All of these taking place on the same day.

Moreno and Garzón, the representatives of international justice, must have been stupefied by the spectacle… and convinced that the black episodes that shake the country cannot be resolved internally because, under the present circumstances, there are no guarantees that anyone here can act with autonomy and liberty: neither the magistrates, nor the prosecutors, nor the politicians, nor the independent journalists. What a great paradox the President has provided, or perhaps, has crafted for his own enjoyment! Democratic security has allowed him to place the guerrillas on the verge of defeat and to demobilize – albeit partially – the paramilitaries, the reasons why he has awakened – until now – the nation’s almost unanimous admiration. But it was not enough for him to cloak Establishment Colombians, in whose name he serves as head of state, with a climate of tranquility and respect.

In his senseless decision to avoid democratic controls, he has been firing buckshot at anything that moves, and he gives the impression of reacting with the suicidal desperation of someone who has been cornered. Unfortunately his tactic of distraction in order not to contaminate himself with the double scandal covering his government – the shady messengers’ visits to the Palace, which will keep on occurring as we have been notified, and the recently named Interior and Justice Minister’s brother’s relations with the cartel of Don Mario – will not work at all, and will only manage to floor the accelerator on the country’s institutional chaos. When was it that the hero of 90% of Colombians lost his reason?

The International Criminal Court has arrived
By César Rodríguez Garavito (professor, Universidad de los Andes, founding member of DeJuSticia)
El Espectador, August 26, 2008

Continue reading »

Aug 24

Reading the stunning story in today’s Semana magazine about meetings earlier this year in Colombia’s presidential palace with emissaries of top paramilitary leader “Don Berna.”

The emissaries offered Uribe government officials surreptitiously recorded information about officials in Colombia’s Supreme Court investigating the “para-politics” scandal. And these officials neither kicked the emissaries out of their office, nor did they alert the proper authorities.

The lawyer of a criminal like ‘Berna’ and a demobilized paramilitary (with one foot in legality) like ‘Job’ clandestinely recorded the star magistrate in para-politics and gave this material to high government officials with the purpose of undermining the Supreme Court’s credibility. And these officials, instead of denouncing this to the authorities, chose to maintain a complicit silence.

Aug 20

President Álvaro Uribe’s cousin and longtime political ally, former Senator Mario Uribe, walked out of Bogotá’s La Picota prison today after being held for less than three months. He continues to be under investigation for working with paramilitary groups in his home department of Antioquia. The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) nonetheless determined this week that the evidence against Uribe was “not sufficient to justify imprisonment” while he awaited trial.

The Fiscalía and Colombia’s Supreme Court have placed 69 members of Colombia’s Congress under investigation or arrest on suspicion of having aided, abetted or collaborated with paramilitary groups. (Active members of Congress are investigated and tried by the Supreme Court, while former members are investigated and prosecuted by the Fiscalía.) These politicians are under investigation for a very serious charge: working with criminals responsible for tens of thousands of murders and the production and transshipment of hundreds of tons of cocaine. Nearly all of the legislators caught up in the”para-politics” scandal are supporters of President Uribe.

Mario Uribe’s release comes amid an onslaught of political pressure on the judicial system’s “para-politics” investigators. Despite the seriousness of the charges, President Uribe and his allies are carrying out, in the words of an unusually strong communiqué the Supreme Court put out last week, a “recurrent, systematic and even orchestrated” campaign “oriented exclusively to delegitimize the judicial public servants’ investigations or to undermine their credibility.” This campaign may be working.

The Uribe government’s pressure on the judiciary began to mount back in September 2007, when President Uribe angrily produced a letter written to him by a low-ranking imprisoned paramilitary leader nicknamed “Tasmania.” The letter alleged that the Supreme Court’s chief investigator, Iván Velásquez – a frequent target of those attacking the court – had sought to get the ex-paramilitary to give false evidence implicating the President in support for the paramilitary cause. “Tasmania” retracted his story in June, alleging that he had been put up to it by his lawyer, an individual closely tied to Mario Uribe.

Things heated up again in January, when President Uribe launched a slander lawsuit against the outgoing Supreme Court chief, Julio César Valencia. The judge had told Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper that Uribe had called him on his cell phone in September 2007 to talk about the allegations of “Tasmania,” and that during the conversation the President had asked him about the case of his cousin Mario. Uribe denies that he mentioned his cousin in the conversation, while Valencia insists that he did. The case is still before Colombia’s Congress, which has competence over charges against judicial officials and is controlled by a large pro-Uribe majority.

Last month, Colombia’s new interior minister, Fabio Valencia, announced that the Uribe administration would be sending Congress a package of constitutional reforms that would, among other things, strip the Supreme Court of its ability to investigate members of Congress. “This proposal serves no real purpose, other than to help members of Uribe’s coalition get off the hook,” read a statement from Human Rights Watch.

Last week, the pressure on Colombia’s para-politics investigators further intensified. Former Senate President Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez (whom we have praised in the past for her stance on peace negotiations, but who is now under investigation for para-politics herself) revealed a surreptitiously taped recording of a conversation with a Fiscalía investigator. In the recording, the investigator – Juan Carlos Díaz Rayo, a 33-year-old employee of the Fiscalía’s Technical Investigations Unit (CTI) – told the senator that he felt that the Supreme Court’s chief investigator, Iván Velásquez, was becoming so zealous in his pursuit of “para-politicians” that his work was becoming sloppy.

As Sen. Gutiérrez revealed her recordings last week, President Uribe told an audience that “a senator has told me that she has felt that sectors of justice have wanted to ask her for money.” This charge has no basis in Senator Gutiérrez’s tapes; it is not at all clear, in fact, what President Uribe was talking about.

In Sunday’s El Espectador, the disgraced CTI investigator, Juan Carlos Díaz Rayo, gave a lengthy interview. His words make clear that – despite what President Uribe and his allies have been insinuating – the Supreme Court investigators have not done anything illegal or unethical. The interview does indicate, though, that the Court could stand to make some adjustments to its approach – provided, that is, that constant attacks from a very popular president and his supporters won’t prevent them from doing their job.

Here are a few translated excerpts from Díaz Rayo’s interview. It’s a fascinating read; his final answer is especially incisive.

Continue reading »

Aug 12

Here is Colombian President Álvaro Uribe yesterday, in another attack on judicial investigators of the “para-politics” scandal, as well as opposition members of Congress:

A senator [Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, a former Senate president now under investigation for paramilitary links] has told me that she has felt… that sectors of justice [investigating the scandal] have wanted to ask her for money. Why didn’t she denounce it? She said that they did it so subtly that it would have been difficult to denounce, and that she was afraid to do it. And we also know of interferences… interferences of justice. It is important that the justice system investigate what manipulations of witnesses have been carried out by [opposition legislators] Sen. Piedad Córdoba or Sen. Gustavo Petro. It is very important to do that.

The accusations against Córdoba and Petro have no evidence to back them up, and Sen. Gutiérrez’s accusations, based on a recorded conversation with an investigator from the prosecutor-general’s office [Fiscalía], are troubling – the investigator has since
been taken off of the “parapolitics” investigations – but vague and hardly indicative of a pattern.

President Uribe’s accusations, obviously intended to impugn the character of Supreme Court investigators and weaken the political opposition, may play well in Colombia’s internal political battles and in Colombian public opinion. Viewed from outside, however, the President is sending a terrible message.

A foreign government – or investor, or journalist, or anyone constantly evaluating their country’s relations with Colombia – would feel most confident if President Uribe’s reaction to the “para-politics” revelations were something like: “The idea that top officials could have been supporting mass-murdering drug-trafficking terrorists is shocking. Let’s give the judicial system the tools and support it needs to investigate this, punish it, and make sure that it never happens again. Colombia has to be a country of laws, and we can no longer be tolerant of those who benefit from corruption, organized crime, and even crimes against humanity. Let’s let the justice system do its job.”

Sounds reasonable, right? We should be disturbed, then, that President Uribe’s reactions have so often been the exact opposite. This is the latest in a string of verbal attacks – some of the most high-profile of which have turned out to be baseless – seeking to undermine the credibility of Colombian judicial investigators. The Supreme Court’s chief “para-politics” investigator, judge Iván Velásquez, told El Tiempo that the constant pressure has him thinking about submitting his resignation.

The President is making the “para-politics” investigators’ work more difficult. Viewed from outside Colombia, this behavior sends up very strong warning signals.

Jun 12

Here is the introduction to an astoundingly good new report by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund on the “Justice and Peace” process, the “para-politics” scandal, and the paramilitaries’ victims’ efforts to learn the truth and achieve restitution. It is available as a PDF file, and an Executive Summary [PDF] features recommendations for U.S. policymakers. Congratulations to the LAWGEF for this achievement.

The Other Half of the Truth: Searching for Truth, Justice and Reparations for Colombia’s Victims of Paramilitary Violence

The only way to change the nation’s destiny is to help the victims tell their story.
– Colombian journalist Hollman Morris

On February 4, 2008, Colombians marched in the millions in a powerful rejection of violence by the FARC guerrillas. It was an inspirational, authentic cry by Colombians weary of horrific guerrilla tactics, and a show of solidarity for the suffering of the many Colombians held for years as captives of the FARC. While the march was a citizens’ effort, the government supported it enthusiastically, and President Álvaro Uribe offered “our voice of gratitude to all the Colombians who today expressed with dignity and strength a rejection of kidnapping and kidnappers.”

For many of the victims of paramilitary violence, the march’s enormous scale raised the question of why the same Colombian society that stood so united behind the victims of the FARC would fail to stand behind them. Why did so few seem to care about the families of the thousands of people who had been killed or disappeared by the paramilitaries, about the mass graves in the countryside, about the bodies that washed up on the banks of the rivers, or about the several million people forced to flee their homes, many by paramilitary violence? Why would the government lend support and credibility to this march, but remain mute about paramilitary crimes? Victims called for a second march a month later, to reject the violence by paramilitaries, as well as the actions of the soldiers and politicians who had supported them. As movement leader Iván Cepeda explained, victims wanted Colombian society to “offer a just homage to the displaced, the disappeared, the families of those assassinated or massacred… We don’t want just a moment of remembrance, we want solidarity.” Yet Colombian society was divided about participating, the government failed to support this march, and march organizers faced a wave of death threats and violence.

The tale of the two marches helps to explain why a process that demobilized thousands of paramilitaries, members of a murderous armed group, would be so controversial. The victims, after an astounding period of violence, expect and demand not only an end to violence, but some tangible measure of truth, justice and reparations. But the victims of paramilitary violence are still waiting for the acknowledgment they long for, from the government and Colombian society: to recognize what they suffered, to admit the role of government officials, politicians and members of Colombia’s armed forces in aiding and abetting paramilitary atrocities, and to say: “Never again.” There is a palpable fear that the demobilization is a sham—with groups that never really demobilized, others rearming, and paramilitary power maintaining a lockhold over national politics and local communities.

This report will examine the official framework for the paramilitary demobilization and the limited opportunities for truth, justice and reparations that it has offered to date. Then, it will highlight some of the often heroic efforts by diverse actors—human rights activists, journalists, members of the judiciary, and especially victims—to push the boundaries and wring, if not yet reparations and justice, at least a little more truth from this process.

For the limits to the truth offered by the official framework began to unravel as many different actors in Colombia tugged at truth as if at a tightly wound ball of yarn. One hundred and twenty-five thousand people, far more than expected, attempted to register as victims with government agencies. Victims groups, many vociferously denouncing the official process, began to carry out their own truth sessions, mock trials and alternative registries of stolen land. Human rights groups assailed the obstacles to achieving justice through the demobilization law, and redoubled their efforts to document new abuses by the military and the rearming of paramilitary groups. Journalists published investigative stories and thoughtful opinion columns that sparked public debate on a subject long shrouded in silence. Colombia’s highest courts pried open the door to more justice than contemplated by the executive by setting some minimum standards for application of the demobilization law and hauling the politicians behind the paramilitaries into court. By the end of 2007, Semana columnist María Teresa Ronderos could say, “Like rabbits out of a magician’s hat came the names of businessmen, military and other accomplices of the paramilitary barbarie…. The truth that emerged this year has been sufficiently enlightening… that this year can pass down in history as the one in which we began to discover the truth.”  

Download the entire report

May 02
  • The Colombian authorities’ takedown of the Mejía Múnera brothers this week – one killed, one arrested – is a big deal. The “twins” (they really were identical twins) were top narcotraffickers who initially sought to avoid extradition by posing as paramilitary leaders in negotiations with the government. Later, they decided to become fugitives instead. They were believed to be some of the principal sponsors of “new” or “emerging” paramilitary groups.
  • Also significant was Tuesday’s capture in Cúcuta of Raúl Hasbún, a fugitive paramilitary leader who was the main go-between collecting money from Chiquita Brands to paramilitaries after 1997. If he tells what he knows, Hasbún will be a key witness in investigations of banana companies’ illegal payments.
  • A lengthy report in last weekend’s El Nuevo Herald details the testimony of a former paramilitary who says he recalls Álvaro Uribe, then governor of Antioquia department, participating in a meeting to plan the 1997 El Aro massacre. Here is an English translation (PDF).
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists places Colombia 4th in its worldwide “Impunity Index” of countries that fail to prosecute murders of journalists. Only Iraq, Sudan and Sierra Leone had worse indices.
  • A new report from the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Amnesty International questions the United States’ vetting of Colombian military units that receive aid, alleging that many of those units face allegations of carrying out abuses like extrajudicial executions. “Geographic regions with the highest levels of reported extrajudicial executions of civilians by members of the armed forces in 2006 were also largely regions with the most military units receiving US assistance.”
  • The latest Gallup poll of 1,000 people with telephones in Colombia’s four largest cities shows little change in approval ratings of President Uribe and other major figures and institutions. All are down ever so slightly, as indicated by this large powerpoint file on the El Tiempo website.
  • President Uribe testified for four hours Tuesday in his slander suit against César Julio Valencia, who until recently was chief justice of Colombia’s Supreme Court. Justice Valencia told reporters that Uribe, in a surprise phone call last September, asked him about the case against his cousin Mario Uribe, now in jail awaiting trial for colluding with paramilitaries. According to Colombia’s Caracol Radio network, “The hearing was prolonged amid the constant attacks, some of them virulent, between Uribe and [Valencia's defense lawyer, former DAS (presidential intelligence) chief Ramiro] Bejarano, during with the president offered at least ten times to resign if Valencia’s representative’s statements could be proved.”
  • “In less than a decade, this thousand-headed monster [paramilitarism] has taken over the state, infiltrating it at all levels. It is serious that this far into their supposed demobilization, it is still not possible to know how far they have penetrated the political sphere, much less the military, financial or business spheres. The scandals of the last few months (’para-politics’ in Congress) are nothing but the tip of the iceberg. … The violent ones, and their accomplices in power, never imagined that some men in togas, like a true suicide squadron, would stand up to defend the fatherland. The Penal Tribunal of the Supreme Court is the institutions’ last bastion against the barbarians.” – Parmenio Cuéllar, former Colombian justice minister, senator, and governor of Nariño department.
  • Meanwhile in Bolivia, the relatively wealthy, relatively less-indigenous province of Santa Cruz will be holding a referendum Sunday to seek greater autonomy from La Paz. The central government says that the vote is illegal. Violence is expected: the U.S. embassy in Bolivia has put out a “warden message” warning U.S. citizens in the country to be on guard. “Americans are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any protests. … You could become a convenient target of opportunity.”
  • [Added 5/3, I almost forgot:] On the website of The Atlantic, Robert “The Coming Anarchy” Kaplan, clearly not a reader of this weblog, writes that “Colombia is what Iraq should eventually look like, in our best dreams. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has fought — and is winning — a counterinsurgency war even as he has liberalized the economy, strengthened institutions, and improved human rights.” Kaplan’s three-paragraph polemic should remind us of what is turning out to be a central lesson of our post-9/11 foreign policy: beware the snap judgments of a foreign policy generalist, left or right.