“New” paramilitaries, all over the map Congress: don’t let the trail go cold on NGO break-ins
Jul 192007
Iván Cepeda accepting the Baldwin prize last month.

Last December we posted translated comments from Iván Cepeda at an event in San Onofre, Sucre. Cepeda – the son of murdered leftist Senator Manuel Cepeda, a columnist for El Espectador and this year’s recipient of the Baldwin Human Rights Prize – is a leading figure in the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes in Colombia, which formed during the paramilitary negotiations to advocate for their victims’ rights.

San Onofre, on the Caribbean coast just south of Cartagena, is one of the first places in Colombia where victims came forward to tell the authorities about mass graves filled with the paramilitaries’ victims. At the victims’ rights event in San Onofre’s municipal stadium last November 27, Iván Cepeda publicly accused the town’s current mayor of having worked with paramilitaries. Here is what he said.

A first-order responsibility that has been exposed here is that of the current Mayor of San Onofre, Mr. Jorge Blanco Fuentes, who still has not renounced his post, but who should do it immediately for ethical, penal, and political reasons.

Mr. Blanco was the only candidate for the mayorship [in October 2003 elections] because of the pressure exercised by “Cadena.” His candidacy was launched at a public event in mid-2002, organized by this paramilitary leader at the “March 29″ cockfighting pit in Verrugas. Cadena’s crimes were clearly known by Mr. Blanco, since before he became mayor, at the apogee of the regime of terror, he was the municipal treasurer. Mr. Blanco also participated in other public events with the paramilitaries. His first decision as mayor was to fire, illegally, all the municipal government’s career administrative officials, and to replace them with the paramilitaries’ political appointees, while the paramilitaries also controlled the municipal council. Those dismissed could not claim their benefits and were compelled to sign resignation letters and acknowledgements of termination pay that they never received. Something similar happened to the personnel at the municipal hospital. Mr. Blanco attended a meeting on July 16, 2006 in which paramilitary leader Diego Vecino, various councilmen, and the ex-Congresswoman Muriel Benito Rebollo [currently in prison pending trial for paramilitary collaboration] also participated, with the goal of finding ways to pressure the population to guarantee that the ex-congresswoman’s brother, Edgar Benito Rebollo, would be the municipality’s next mayor. The meeting took place in the house of Mrs. Estefanía Balseiro, mother of the ex-congresswoman.

Mayor Blanco did not take these charges lying down. He got Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office to initiate criminal proceedings against Iván Cepeda on charges of slander and libel of a public official. (No such crime exists in the U.S. criminal code.) A prosecutor in Sucre’s capital, Sincelejo (a town also under heavy paramilitary influence), has been pursuing the case against Iván Cepeda with particular vigor.

This case is so bizarre that twenty-eight members of the U.S. Congress, from both parties, sent a letter on Monday to Colombian Prosecutor-General Mario Iguarán protesting the treatment that Cepeda is receiving. Here is the text of that letter, and the list of signers. (PDF version)

July 16, 2007

Doctor Mario Germán Iguarán Arana
Attorney General of the Nation
Ministry of Justice
Diagonal 22-B (Avenida Luis Carlos Galán)
No. 52-01
Bogotá
COLOMBIA
FAX: 011-(571) 570-2017

Dear Attorney General Iguarán:

We are writing to express our deep concern about criminal charges against Dr. Ivan Cepeda. Dr. Cepeda is a courageous human rights defender who has selflessly promoted the rights of victims of Colombia’s civil war and created a national social movement to call for justice. He is founder and director of the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes, and umbrella organization of more than 200 Colombian human rights organizations.

We are alarmed that a prosecutor (Quinta Delegada, Circuito de la Ciudad de Sincelejo, Radicado 70763) is investigating charges against Dr. Cepeda for slander and libel. We understand that these charges relate to comments made by Dr. Cepeda calling for the resignation of the Mayor of San Onofre, Jorge Blanco. We also understand that formal complaints have been lodged with the prosecutor against the mayor accusing him of connections with paramilitary organizations.

Regardless of the merits of the accusations against the mayor, it is the right of Dr. Cepeda and every citizen to criticize public officials and even to call for their resignation. It is especially important that citizens should not feel constrained in speaking openly about the observance of human rights principles by state officials.

We do not believe Dr. Cepeda’s comments constitute slander or libel.

We are also alarmed that on May 3, 2007, this same prosecutor attempted to enter the Senate Human Rights Commission allegedly in search of confidential information about Dr. Cepeda for use in his investigation against him.

We are concerned that the charges against Dr. Cepeda are politically motivated and form part of a broader pattern of instigating specious legal proceedings against Colombian human rights defenders in order to discredit them.

We call on you to take the appropriate steps that would allow the charges against Dr. Cepeda to be dropped. We further urge that the tactic of investigating and charging Colombian human rights defenders with offences where there is no adequate evidence to support those charges cease.

In the event that the charges against Dr. Cepeda are not dropped, we call on you to appoint an independent, objective and impartial prosecutor based in Bogotá to ensure a fair and balanced legal process. It is inappropriate for a local prosecutor in Sucre to be in charge of an investigation involving a mayor of the same Department.

Sincerely,

James P. McGovern, Member of Congress

Joseph R. Pitts, Member of Congress

Tom Lantos, Member of Congress

Frank Wolf, Member of Congress

John Lewis, Member of Congress

Donald M. Payne, Member of Congress

Rosa L. DeLauro, Member of Congress

James L. Oberstar, Member of Congress

Barbara Lee, Member of Congress

Robert Wexler, Member of Congress

Sam Farr, Member of Congress

Jan Schakowsky, Member of Congress

Bobby L. Rush, Member of Congress

John W. Olver, Member of Congress

Raul M. Grijalva, Member of Congress

Chaka Fattah, Member of Congress

Michael R. McNulty, Member of Congress

Tammy Baldwin, Member of Congress

Peter A. DeFazio, Member of Congress

Lynn C. Woolsey, Member of Congress

Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, Member of Congress

Luis V. Gutierrez, Member of Congress

Michael M. Honda, Member of Congress

Betty Sutton, Member of Congress

Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Member of Congress

Sheila Jackson Lee, Member of Congress

Linda T. Sanchez, Member of Congress

Phil Hare, Member of Congress

One Response to ““Specious legal proceedings” against Iván Cepeda”

  1. jcg Says:

    While I obviously don’t get *any* good vibes from the mayor and the local prosecutor, to put things decently, and I have a relatively positive view of Mr. Cepeda (I’ve had very brief e-mail exchanges with him regarding some of his columns in EL ESPECTADOR)…it’s hard to say how things stand from a legal perspective.

    I’m sure that Mr. Cepeda is completely entitled to make his call for Blanco’s resignation, but his specific description of the mayor’s activities and motivations can be a bit more ambiguous, to say the least.

    The crime of “slander and libel of a public official” may not exist in the U.S., but if it does exist in Colombia (even if it arguably shouldn’t), one can’t exactly dismiss it out of hand, even if the mayor is actually using the charges as a way to silence one of his critics.

    Regardless of those legal details, I do endorse the call for these charges, if they are not dropped, to be handled by an independent prosecutor in another location, possibly Bogotá as mentioned by the U.S. congressmen, in order to ensure that this process is not further tainted.

Leave a Reply