The imminent demobilization of 3,000 paramilitary fighters is likely to bring
a wave of optimistic statements and glowing press coverage about the Uribe government’s
very troubled process of negotiations with the AUC. In order to help keep things
in perspective, the next few days’ postings will explore several troubling issues
that urgently need to be sorted out before we can recommend that the
government support the Santa Fe de Ralito peace talks.
These issues include (1) continued paramilitary cease-fire violations; (2)
drug traffickers at the negotiating table; (3) improvisation and secrecy; (4)
the post-demobilization security vacuum; and (5) justice, victims’ rights and
accountability; and (6) extradition and the
(1) Cease-fire violations
Between 1998 and 2002, a right-wing presidential aspirant named Ãlvaro
Uribe relentlessly criticized President AndrÃ©s Pastrana for agreeing to
negotiate with the FARC guerrillas while the fighting raged on away from the
negotiating table. Uribe promised that, if elected, he would only talk with
groups that first agreed to a unilateral cease-fire.
Uribe was elected in May 2002, inaugurated that August, and by December the
AUC paramilitaries had declared a cease-fire, allowing talks to begin. After
two years, though, there’s a snag that’s awfully hard to overlook: the AUC
hasn’t stopped killing people. Cease-fire violations are routine, and usually
the government, rather than threatening to get up from the table, hardly even
Granted, there has been a partial truce; the AUC has significantly slowed the
pace of its slaughter since December 2002. (This is a main reason for the recent
torrent of statistics about reduced violence since Uribe took office.) Cease-fire
violations nonetheless continue at an alarming rate.
On October 3, the Colombian government’s human rights ombudsman (DefensorÃa
del Pueblo) announced that its offices in eleven
thirty-two departments (provinces) had received 342 complaints of paramilitary
cease-fire violations since December 2002. In the department of Tolima alone, the local ombudsman said that the paramilitaries
had killed 170 people since the cease-fire was declared. Nationally, the Colombian
Commission of Jurists cites a far higher number of violations: Between December
1, 2002 and September 10,
2004, the respected human-rights group target="_blank">reports, the paramilitaries killed
or disappeared at least 1,895 civilians "in actions not directly related
to the armed conflict."
The last three months alone offer some high-profile and very disturbing examples
of cease-fire violations.
- In August, paramilitaries killed Freddy Arias, a leader of the Kankuamo
indigenous group, in the northeastern city of Valledupar. Paramilitaries and
guerrillas have both killed numerous civilians, many of them in deeply rooted
indigenous communities, in an all-out war for control of drug crops and trafficking
routes in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of northern
- In September, paramilitaries killed
target="_blank">Alfredo Correa de Andreis, a professor at Barranquilla’s SimÃ³n
University. Correa, a leading local
advocate of human rights, had been arrested and charged with helping guerrillas
a few months earlier; he was shot shortly after being released for lack of
- In October, paramilitaries in MedellÃn killed Teresa Yarce, a community
organizer in the conflictive Comuna 13 neighborhood.
- An October massacre of at least 11 people at a resort in Candelaria, Valle
del Cauca â€“ part of an ongoing war between drug traffickers in the area â€“
appeared to involve paramilitaries. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’
BogotÃ¡ field office issued a href="http://www.hchr.org.co/publico/comunicados/2004/comunicados2004.php3?cod=37&cat=15"
target="_blank">statement noting that "this mass killing appears to constitute
another clear violation of the commitments the paramilitaries have made at
the Santa Fe de Ralito negotiating table."
Even the office of the Colombian government’s peace negotiator (High Commissioner
for Peace) recognizes a (far smaller) number of cease-fire violations in href="http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/noticias/2004/mayo/mayo_28_04.htm?PHPSESSID=7a2e4031ae6efe899ebc411424cb46bb"
target="_blank">periodic reports. For its part, the OAS support mission (MAPP-OEA),
which is charged with verifying the cease-fire, has noted in reports issued
in May ( href="http://www.oas.org/documents/OEA-Colombia/inf-colombia-051104e.pdf"
target="_blank">PDF format) and August ( href="http://scm.oas.org/doc_public/spanish/hist_04/cp13354s04.doc"
target="_blank">MS Word format) that cease-fire violations are a problem.
Instead of forcefully denouncing these violations, however, the OAS has chosen
to downplay them: the August report, which contains the most extensive discussion
of cease-fire violations, devotes much space to a repetition of the Uribe government’s
statistics showing a general decline in violence. "We are deeply concerned
that the OAS is in fact abandoning its impartial verification role and locating
itself openly alongside one of the parties in the current conflict," read
a May 2004 href="http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/caramagna.html"
target="_blank">letter to OAS mission chief Sergio
Caramagna from dozens of Colombian human-rights organizations
and political groups.
With the cease-fire routinely violated, the Uribe government is left sitting
with armed-group leaders at a table in a special demilitarized zone, while the
group’s members go on killing people throughout the
country. In that respect, there’s a strong similarity between the Ralito
dialogues and the Pastrana government’s much-maligned
talks with the FARC.
Clearly, having a cease-fire in place makes negotiators’ work easier; ongoing
battles, offensives and atrocities create distractions that make dialogues very
difficult to sustain. It is not always practical to require a cease-fire, though:
if a group is willing to talk without one, and forcing them into a truce would
entail a great deal of bloodshed on the battlefield, being flexible about a
cease-fire could save lives. For this reason, CIP did not recommend a cease-fire
as a pre-condition for the 1998-2002 talks with the FARC.
In this case, however, the AUC’s noncompliance casts
strong doubts on the whole negotiation process. Since President Uribe had made
the cease-fire a fundamental pre-condition for talks, it has become an early
test of the paramilitaries’ will to negotiate in good faith. By violating their
word so blatantly, the paramilitaries fail this test miserably. The result is
mounting distrust at the negotiating table and weakening public and international
confidence in the talks.
The Colombian government, along with the OAS, must keep the situation from
getting worse, and not by issuing yet another empty ultimatum. BogotÃ¡’s options
include (1) suspending the talks until the killing measurably stops; (2) greatly
stepping up military pressure on the paramilitaries, especially in zones where
cease-fire observance is poorest; or (3) abandoning the "cease-fire first"
requirement, which in fact would allow the government to accelerate and regularize
its discussions with the FARC and ELN.
Coming soon: (2) The “paracaidistas”