Whenever you see pictures of powerful, widely feared, millionaire paramilitary leaders being forced to do yard work, you know you’re not getting the entire story.
After months of reports of top paramilitaries – men wanted for murder and narcotrafficking – driving armored SUVs, going to discos and swanky restaurants, and shopping in upscale malls, President Uribe ordered last week that they be "conducted" to a facility in La Ceja, south of Medellín. There, they are to await investigation and sentencing to terms of up to eight years in confinement under the "Justice and Peace" law.
By posting these pictures to its website yesterday, the Colombian government’s High Commissioner for Peace clearly intends to demonstrate that the eighteen paramilitary leaders so far assembled there are not living in the lap of luxury. Instead of the splendor that Pablo Escobar enjoyed (briefly) in his personal "La Catedral" prison in 1992-93, and instead of the very comfortable conditions that most narcotraffickers in Colombian jails have come to expect, we see pictures of weedy patios, lumpy beds, and unadorned walls. Warlords who have long decided who lives and dies in vast territories, we are told, must now share one computer, and must help to clean up the grounds.
Apparently, we’re meant to think that the paramilitary leadership is truly going to spend the next several years in these conditions, doing penance for the thousands of murders that they ordered or committed. This should shake our certainty that the AUC leaders are in fact going to enjoy near-impunity, and should cause us to doubt that they still command powerful criminal networks and have extensive political clout in key regions of the country. In particular, it is no doubt hoped, pictures of paramilitaries roughing it in a penal colony might reduce U.S. pressure to extradite them for drug-trafficking.
Of course, these pictures are probably not accurate representations of the AUC leaders’ daily routine. And we can expect their material conditions to improve rapidly, if they haven’t already done so since these photos were taken. Nonetheless, let’s enjoy these few images. Look at them and imagine what it would be like if some of Colombia’s most ruthless and brutal criminals really did have to spend many long years wearing rubber boots, doing chores, sleeping in twin beds and jockeying for a few minutes of computer time…
|Salvatore Mancuso of the Córdoba and Urabá paramilitary bloc (ACCU) hoists a log.|
|Hernán Giraldo of the Tayrona Resistance Bloc (right, posing with High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo) in his assigned bedroom. Note the stylish Spider-Man sheets.|
|Pedro Iván Laverde ("Pedro Frontera"), former head of the Catatumbo Bloc, in his bedroom.|
|Iván Roberto Duque ("Ernesto Baez"), outspoken leader of the Central Bolívar Bloc, in the "library" / computer room.|
|Carlos Mario Jiménez ("Macaco") and Rodrigo Pérez Alzate ("Julián Bolívar") of the Central Bolívar Bloc work a power-washer and broom.|