Testimony from an “older brother” Traveling, so expect fewer posts
Sep 302006

Álvaro García Romero is a Colombian senator widely alleged to have strong ties to the paramilitaries who
dominate much of his home department of Sucre, on the Caribbean coast. Four Sucre provincial legislators tied to Sen. García were recently arrested on charges of working with paramilitaries.

Note how Thursday’s El Tiempo describes Sen. García:

García, a mysterious senator

Álvaro García is one of the most enigmatic senators in the Congress. He rarely speaks on the floor, his attendance is scarce, and he has no relations with the press.

A political boss in Sucre, during the last twelve years he has influenced in the election of the governor of that department, one of the most backward and most affected by the paramilitary phenomenon.

García is considered an unpredictable senator. "It’s never known how he is going to vote or if he is going to change his mind," says one of his colleagues, who prefers that his name not be published.

In the last Congress he is remembered as the target of a tough debate promoted by Gustavo Petro. [Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, was a congressman - and now a senator - from the left-of-center Polo Democrático party.] In Sucre, the paramilitaries committed some of the most serious massacres that the country remembers, such as those in Chengue and Macayepo, and the Polo legislator questioned García for collaborating with those responsible for these massacres.

In the last elections he had difficulty finding a political party to align with, but he was elected.

In addition to having power in his department, his brother "Juancho" García was a senator with votes from Bolívar department. Now, this seat is occupied by his sister-in-law, Piedad Zuccardi.

This is a shining example of the "please read between the lines, we don’t want to be killed" writing style one sees very often in the Colombian press. Even to report this much, the author had to rely heavily on evidence that was already announced in a public forum by one very brave member of Colombia’s Congress.

One Response to “How to report on politics in Sucre”

  1. jcg Says:

    Sad but true. García’s been repeatedly singled out, even if not usually explicitly, and that at least contributes to “getting the message out” among those that might care. It’s unfortunate that he himself has managed to stay afloat in spite of all this, definitely.

    There’s another problem here though….when there isn’t as much public evidence or you don’t have access to additional information yourself, how can you expect people to distinguish between “right” and “wrong” accusations?

    And, more importantly, when can you expect those charges to stick and when not to? The mere existance or “explicitness” of an accusation does not guarantee its truth, all dangers involved aside.

    I am all too aware that there is a real danger of reporters and others getting killed when some accusations are made too explicitly, that is sadly true in Colombia, but that doesn’t mean that all accusations are automatically going to be accurate.

    One can “read between the lines”, “get the message” and reasonably agree with it in cases such as that of García (from the looks of things and, btw, I recall that Petro’s debate was very well documented).

    But in other cases, even “reading between the lines” might not lead to such a clear outcome, and the person being accused might end up being innocent (or, at least, being guilty of something else entirely…).

    In other words, there really isn’t one “foolproof” way to go about interpreting these things.

    One tragic irony (much more tragic than ironic) that comes to mind is that many people have been killed because someone else “reads between the lines” and concludes that the author has to be a political, social or military enemy.

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