Video testimonies from Putumayo Joint statement on human-rights certification
Apr 182007

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos yawns during Sen. Gustavo Petro's congressional debate yesterday on paramilitarism in Antioquia.Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos may look bored, but in fact there’s a lot going on right now. I’m in Chicago for a few events and meetings, which are going to keep me from writing much today. But I want to point to three things:

1. Senator Gustavo Petro held his long-awaited congressional debate on paramilitary-government links in Antioquia, a department that Álvaro Uribe represented as a senator from 1986 to 1994, and as governor from 1995 to 1997.

From today’s Washington Post:

Basing his accusations on government documents and depositions by former paramilitary members and military officers, Sen. Gustavo Petro said the militiamen met at Uribe’s Guacharacas farm as well as ranches owned by his brother, Santiago Uribe, and a close associate, Luis Alberto Villegas. “From there, at night, they would go out and kill people,” Petro said, referring to the sprawling ranch owned by Álvaro Uribe.

If you understand Spanish, you can view Petro’s presentation in its entirety on the website of his political party, the Polo Democrático. Here is other coverage:

2. Sen. Patrick Leahy has put a hold on 2006 military aid to Colombia that was “unfrozen” earlier this month, when the State Department certified that the Colombian military’s human-rights record was improving. This $55 million is once again frozen until Sen. Leahy – who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee in charge of foreign aid – gets a fuller explanation of how the State Department could possibly see things as improving right now.

3. The Colombian government and ELN negotiators finally sat down in Havana and began talks yesterday, five days later than the current round was scheduled to begin. The ELN has offered a partial cease-fire, which the government is unlikely to accept. Talks continue behind closed doors, but pessimism abounds.

11 Responses to “Paramilitarism, aid on hold, peace talks”

  1. jcg Says:

    I usually admire Mr. Petro’s work, a lot in fact, but this debate seems to be one of his weaker ones, at least thus far. Later events may or may not change this, but I cannot predict the future (nor do I know everything about the past).

    Compared to the Sucre debate, for example, the potential evidence revealed in this one is still far more circumstantial, at least against Mr. Uribe. He didn’t reveal any smoking guns.

    Governor Uribe authorized, regionally, a number of CONVIVIR groups (at least 60-70, I believe), and it does appears that some of them did include paramilitary personnel. However, it does appear that the majority of CONVIVIR groups apparently did not, at least as far current claims go, so the two cannot always be equated. It must also be remembered that the authority in charge of overseeing the CONVIVIRs nationwide (there were more than 400 groups in Colombia) was in fact the “Superintendencia de Vigilancia”, not Uribe.

    There’s also the possible issue that a number of the documents may be violating the confidentiality of legal proceedings (”reserva del sumario”). This may be a legal technicality for some, which explains why the foreign press ignores it, but the implications go further than that.

    Imagine what kind of claims could also be made if this were to be applied to the government’s enemies. In fact, if some of us already are and continue to be critical about the government’s use of “informantes”, using their claims as enough evidence to take action, I believe that it would be inconsistent to allow a similar kind of reasoning to go through, when it is employed by government critics. In both cases, selectively revealing and acting upon claims that are still part of investigations says little about their worth, in either direction.

    Mr. Petro also made a rather unlikely interpretation (for which he presented no proof) of Cesar Gaviria’s decree authorizing the groups that would slightly later become the CONVIVIR. He said that they were a “reward” for Los Pepes.

    As for the ELN-government talks, apparently the government is viewing the ELN proposal somewhat more positively this morning.

    Not much I can say about Sen. Leahy’s acts right now, but we’ll have to wait and see what the State Department does.

  2. jcg Says:

    I might as well add this.

    The most direct (but still indirect) of Petro’s claims against Uribe is of course the one about the use allegedly given to one of his farms by paramilitaries.

    If that was indeed the case, that obviously means that one of Uribe’s properties was used for illegal purposes.

    But what needs to be established is what did Uribe himself do about it. Who were those people and did they have any ties to Uribe? Was Uribe using this farm at the time as well or what was its current status? Did he take any concrete action in support of such activities or was he actually unaware? Several questions like these need to be answered in order to make the leap.

  3. Rainer Cale Says:

    I’m just a hack at this topic, but since this is just a blog I’ll share my impressions anyway. The 8 or 9 hour debate certainly made for unusually gripping Canal Congreso viewing.

    While the concerns regarding Petro’s reliance on individual testimony, raised by jcg and two or three conservative and liberal speakers, are certainly to be taken into consideration, it seemed to me that most of his presentation rested on solid ground documentation-wise. The response from the Uribe’s defenders was, quite frankly, Orwellian or “Rovian,” in its willful ignorance of the basic facts that Petro was setting forth–incontrovertible facts such as Alvaro Uribe’s signature on the orders to create the CONVIVIRs of La Gata and Mancuso. Indeed, the more undeniable the fact, the more roundly it was condemned by Uribe’s defenders as “outrageous infamy,” almost as though they believed that their emphatic Uribistic spirit would erase Uribe’s signature from the orders, or erase the fact that massacres had taken place.

    Also particularly astounding was the really bad information that came to light in the course of the debate. When the extermination of the UP came up, for example, the Minister of the Interior cited a book claiming that a mere 300 or so UP members had been killed in the Uraba region and that it therefore wasn’t such a big deal–he tried to portray it as comparable to the assassinations of Liberal and Conservative party members of the time. The truth, as brought out a couple hours later on by a PD senator, is that over a thousand UP members were killed in the Uraba region.

    Another howler came when the two Ministers defending Uribe claimed that the paramilitaries have been completely dismantled.

    Particularly interesting for me was how, by and large, Uribe’s defenders did not actually take issue with the veracity of Petra’s findings (apart from simply prefacing their speeches with an unsubstantiated remark that Petras was full of lies) but rather attempted to distract attention away from the findings with guerrilla horror stories or with absurd arguments that Petras just wanted to “make the people of Antioquia feel bad,” to “injure the pride of the noble paisa race,” and what have you.

    Particularly grotesque was Senator Parody’s speech about how emotionally scarred she was by having to watch news of the M-19 seizure of the Palace of Justice in her apartment when she was 12 years old, as if this was somehow morally comparable and even worse than the paramilitary abuses which Petras was condemning. Regardless, it is the underlying notion that “since the guerrillas did x,y,z then paramilitary abuses are understandable and justifiable” that is really alarming. Fortunately this was addressed by two or three senators.

    All in all a fascinating viewing experience. Colombians have such a gift for grandiloquent rhetoric.

  4. jcg Says:

    Rainer Cale: “I’m just a hack at this topic, but since this is just a blog I’ll share my impressions anyway.”

    That’s what most of us are doing, so no problem with that.

    “While the concerns regarding Petro’s reliance on individual testimony, raised by jcg and two or three conservative and liberal speakers, are certainly to be taken into consideration, it seemed to me that most of his presentation rested on solid ground documentation-wise.”

    Indeed, in the sense that most (not all) of his statements did have some documentation backing them up. The quality of the documentation is another matter.

    “Indeed, the more undeniable the fact, the more roundly it was condemned by Uribe’s defenders as “outrageous infamy,” almost as though they believed that their emphatic Uribistic spirit would erase Uribe’s signature from the orders, or erase the fact that massacres had taken place.”

    I wasn’t exactly impressed by most of Uribe’s defenders either, to put it in kind terms. They seemed too prone to personal attacks and diversionary tactics.

    Uribe did authorize those CONVIVIRs, among many others which apparently have not been accused of such activities yet. That is a fact, and his signature is hard to deny.

    Still, I think it should be pointed out that the Department wasn’t the “be all and end all” authority about the matter. Legally, that was the “Superintendencia”, both nationally and regionally. Was Uribe or any other Colombian governor really expected to check up on who was creating each and every CONVIVIR? I’d initially tend to doubt that.

    “The truth, as brought out a couple hours later on by a PD senator, is that over a thousand UP members were killed in the Uraba region.”

    The question, however, would then be this one: are those all the accumulated UP killings in Uraba from 198X to 199X, or did they only take place during Uribe’s term as Governor?

    Personally, I would doubt that the larger figure refers only to a 3-4 year period, but I’d like to know.

    “Another howler came when the two Ministers defending Uribe claimed that the paramilitaries have been completely dismantled.”

    A very unrealistic and almost laughable claim, IMHO, even in the best of circumstances. The AUC as an entity may have fractured, but the paramilitaries have not been completely dismantled. Not at all.

    “…but rather attempted to distract attention away from the findings with guerrilla horror stories or with absurd arguments that Petras just wanted to “make the people of Antioquia feel bad,” to “injure the pride of the noble paisa race,” and what have you.”

    Again, I thought that was pretty pathetic too. Unnecessary regionalism as a diversionary tactic.

    “Regardless, it is the underlying notion that “since the guerrillas did x,y,z then paramilitary abuses are understandable and justifiable” that is really alarming. Fortunately this was addressed by two or three senators.”

    Yes, I remember that some did question that rather flawed implication.

    “All in all a fascinating viewing experience. Colombians have such a gift for grandiloquent rhetoric.”

    Too much, in fact, if you ask me.

  5. Rainer Cale Says:

    jcg- Regarding the UP figures, I don’t know. It would be interesting to look at the book the PD senator was quoting from, apparently the product of the inter-american court investigation.

    As for your question:

    “Was Uribe or any other Colombian governor really expected to check up on who was creating each and every CONVIVIR? I’d initially tend to doubt that.”

    Much of the two Ministers’ defense of Uribe centered on then-Governor Uribe’s policy to hold “Daily Intelligence and Security Meetings” (REDIS by its Spanish abbreviation) wherein, according to the Ministers, they analyzed the performance of each CONVIVIR and took any corrective measures necessary, including the measure of shutting the CONVIVIR down if it strayed too far into paramilitarism. During the debate, the Transport Minister made the dramatic gesture of placing the minutes of all of Uribe’s REDIS meetings on the table for review (for public review? MEdia review? Senate review? not clear–I bet Adam can get a copy somehow). Therefore, in answer to your question, by his own claim Uribe was indeed keeping daily tabs on the details of the activities of each CONVIVIR and thus would have known about the abuses taking place. According to his team, of course, he took appropriate measures in cases of abuse. Looking at Petro’s evidence that seems unlikely, but it was certainly bold of the Transport Minister to disclose all of the REDIS minutes–assuming they haven’t been doctored in some way.

    Also worhty of further attention is the “New Medellin Cartel” which Petro does a good job of connecting with Uribe’s brother (using military intelligence as evidence). Uribe’s defenders were conspicuously silent on the issue.

    PS- Another noteworthy, albeit incidental, item came up when the Transport Minister mentioned that 800,000+ Colombians died in the 1000 Days war, and that in the past 25 years 500,000+ have died due to the civil conflict.

    These figures are new to me and it would be nice to get some independent verification. The Minister did not cite his source. The usual figure I’ve heard is more like 50,000 dead since 1964. While we’re on the subject of uncertain figures, one doesn’t generally know how many died in “La Violencia.” G.G. Marquez makes an offhand estimate in his memoirs that a million were killed. I haven’t heard any other estimates put forth.

    PPS- how encouraging that Sen. Leahy has taken a stand. I imagine the noise caused by Colombian Sen. Petro’s debate, as well as by the recent displacements in the south, will draw his attention to the inconvenient truths of Colombia’s human right’s record–especially as regards the persistence of paramilitarism.

    On a lighter note, I loved how each senator in the Petro debate would begin by promising that they would stick to the five or ten minutes they were allowed, and then proceed to speak for thirty or forty mintues. Also it seems that as a rule of thumb when a Colombian senator (or any Colombian really) says, “and so, to conclude…” that means that he or she will go on for another twenty minutes at least. I’ve long wondered if Colombian minutes have more seconds in them than US minutes.

    And so, to conclude, while I recognize there’s definitely a dark side to Colombian grandiloquence–and by grandiloquence I refer not just to rhetoric, but to the whole sort of floating magical-realistic world of cognition present even at the most serious levels of discussion and debate (perhaps a collective PTSD from the bloody history of this country)–I quite admire it. I don’t think the demobilization process could ever come so far without it, and I don’t think the country would have produced a writer like Gabo without it.

  6. Tambopaxi Says:

    Re: Petro’s hearings, what happens next in Congress up there (I’m in Quito)? Will there be more on this in Congress? Antics of Uribe’s defenders notwithstanding, Colombia’s a conservative country, so is any of Petro’s work getting any traction? T

  7. KyleHanky Says:

    JCG, I have to agree with your second post. Incontrovertible (sp?) information is necessary in order to show that Uribe was truly involved. Though, the argument of not knowing what was happening at his farm, is a weak one itself, I do agree more info is necessary. So far, the posts I’ve agree with for the most part.

    One piece I did diagree with, though not totally, was this:
    “Still, I think it should be pointed out that the Department wasn’t the “be all and end all” authority about the matter. Legally, that was the “Superintendencia”, both nationally and regionally. Was Uribe or any other Colombian governor really expected to check up on who was creating each and every CONVIVIR? I’d initially tend to doubt that.”

    That is true that the Department wasn’t the highest authority with regards to the Convivirs, but Uribe played a distinct role. Mancuso, during the time in which he lead Convivir groups, was wanted for taking part in different massacres in northern Colombia. This according to HRW’s “War Without Quarter.” While the highest authorities should have done something as well, Uribe probably should have checked with them, or done some of his own work before signing the papers. Simply not knowing who Mancuso was is a weak claim at best because of his such powerful status as a paraco at the time.

    Not only that, I’m not sure if this came up or not, but in some recently declassified documents on the National Security Archive’s website (it’s quite convenient I happen to be reading this stuff in general now), at a meeting Oct 1996 with various regional officials about crime, Uribe explicitely promoted the arming of Convivir groups, which is exactly, when announced, what they were not supposed to be. While this does not show much, it does tell us that he was willing to overstep the original Convivir bounds in order to fight guerrillas by “draining the pond.”

    So while higher officials were the last word, Uribe definitely did have an agenda with the Convivirs of turning them into offensive, military groups. Mancuso was known in the region as well to be “effective” when it came to “draining the pond” to fight the guerrillas, a strategy which the Colombian military had already adapted.

  8. Rainer Cale Says:

    It seems another post I left got swallowed up somewhere in cyberspace.

    With respect to jcg’s doubt that Uribe could know about what was going on, I would also add (in addition to Kyle Hank’s remarks) that Uribe himself claims to have kept daily tabs on all of his CONVIVIR activities and leaders through his REDIS meetings as governor (Daily Intelligence and Security Meetings). This in fact was the centerpiece of the two Ministers’ defence of Uribe during the debate. Their claim is that through REDIS they kept a close watch on all of the CONVIVIR developments and took corrective measures if the CONVIVIR began to stray into shady ground.

    During the debate the Transport Minister appeared to make the minutes of these REDIS meetings available for independent scrutiny.

  9. jcg Says:

    KyleHanky: I’m not saying that Uribe is free of any and all applicable responsibilities either, so your points would definitely apply as far as that goes.

    I do understand that Uribe heavily promoted the CONVIVIR groups and that included allowing them to arm themselves in the manner you have described, which carries at the very least a moral and political responsibility.

    The thing is, as you also seem to admit, that doesn’t show much more, at least not for now.

    I currently cannot say much about what was known about Mancuso at the time, nor about all the other paramilitary personnel that Mr. Petro named. Still, I assume you are correct about the matter.

    I do agree that Uribe’s office could have tried to check up on things if there already were widespread accusations against him or others, for example, though the Governor still wasn’t the highest authority. Despite his irresponsibility, to put it one way, things could have been handled far better if the central government had not been just as, if not more, irresponsible.

  10. rainercale Says:

    It seems another post I left got swallowed up somewhere in cyberspace.

    With respect to jcg’s doubt that Uribe could know about what was going on, I would also add (in addition to Kyle Hank’s remarks) that Uribe himself claims to have kept daily tabs on all of his CONVIVIR activities and leaders through his REDIS meetings as governor (Daily Intelligence and Security Meetings). This in fact was the centerpiece of the two Ministers’ defence of Uribe during the debate. Their claim is that through REDIS they kept a close watch on all of the CONVIVIR developments and took corrective measures if the CONVIVIR began to stray into shady ground.

    Thus, by his own admission, Uribe knew exactly what was going on from the first day of his governorship, on a daily basis.

    During the debate the Transport Minister appeared to make the minutes of these daily REDIS meetings available for independent scrutiny.

  11. jcg Says:

    rainercale: I did not recall that last part, but it is indeed important, now that you mention it.

    If that is the case, then they should definitely be further scrutinized, in order to see whether those claims stand up to independent verification of the REDIS minutes.

    I’m all for that, because that is one concrete piece of evidence that would help shed light on exactly what the Governor’s office knew about CONVIVIR activities on a daily basis.

    Instead of having to rely mainly on the interpretations and extrapolations, we’d have something far more substantial before us.

    However, even so, I would still doubt that absolutely everything was revealed in that kind of meeting, in practice, given the bureaucratic nature of the whole thing.

    Considering the fact that some CONVIVIR groups, both in Antioquia and outside of it, did engage in abuses and illegal activities, I wouldn’t be so absolute about the effectiveness of that particular mechanism, nor about the claim of almost omniscient oversight made by the two ministers and others.

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