- In a brilliant column that appeared in Tuesday’s edition of El Tiempo, Claudia López laid out how a politician accused of colluding with paramilitaries can avoid a long jail sentence, even under current Colombian law:
Though they have lost the opportunity to include themselves in the Justice and Peace process, the "para-politicians" could reduce their sentences significantly. The majority of the "para-politicians" will be judged for aggravated conspiracy, which carries a sentence of between six and twelve years.
Surely they will receive an average sentence of nine years. If they plead guilty, they can have their terms reduced by one-third: they will only be in jail for six years. If they also confessed in their first declaration, one-sixth of the remaining sentence could be reduced – one year – leaving five years of jail. If they also collaborate with the justice system – for instance, supplying information about how relations between paramilitarism’s military and political wings operated and assisting in their dismantlement – they will receive another reduction of between one-quarter and one-sixth of the remaining sentence. That would leave only 3 years and 9 months in jail.
In addition, for each day of work or study while in jail, they have the right to one day of freedom. assuming that they work or study from Monday to Friday, they would be in jail approximately 3 years and 3 months. Finally, when they have finished two-thirds of their sentences, that is approximately two years, they could be sent home under "conditional liberty." In conclusion, the initial 12 years could be reduced to 2 if they confess and collaborate with the justice system.
- In Bolivia, Evo Morales announced this week that his government will no longer send soldiers to attend the U.S. Army’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, the successor to the School of the Americas). Bolivia joins Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Costa Rica among countries no longer sending personnel to WHINSEC. Morales also indicated that Bolivia would stop accepting U.S. military aid – or at least ban the presence of U.S. military personnel on counter-drug missions. Whether this applies to DEA personnel or U.S. contractors is not yet clear.
- The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission yesterday released a quite critical report [PDF] about Colombia’s handling of the paramilitary demobilization process. We haven’t read it yet, but the press coverage (El Espectador / El Tiempo / AFP) indicates that the criticism is strongly worded.
- A group of U.S., European and Colombian NGOs has issued a report documenting an increase in "extrajudicial executions" – murders of civilian non-combatants – committed directly by Colombia’s armed forces. The Colombian military’s share of these killings was quite low between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, when paramilitary groups were responsible for the majority. (AP / Reuters)
- The New York Times published an editorial Monday advising congressional Democrats that this is not the time to approve a free-trade deal with Colombia.
Only Colombia’s deal should be delayed. President Álvaro Uribe and his government have not done enough to bring to justice the paramilitary thugs — and their political backers — responsible for widespread human rights violations. Colombia is eager for the trade deal, and it has made some progress on human rights. But more is needed and withholding ratification can still be used as a lever to change Mr. Uribe’s behavior.
The column enraged the Colombian government; a press officer in the Washington embassy accused the Times of being "cynical", "inhumane" and "hypocritical."
Meanwhile Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose husband’s signature "achievements" in Latin America were NAFTA and Plan Colombia, surprisingly echoed the New York Times’ line in a Bloomberg News interview.
"Colombia has a lot of problems that need to be addressed," Clinton said. "I want to see more explicit commitments and actions by the government to dealing with these ongoing violent actions that are often traced to people allied with the government."
- Colombian opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, one of Colombia’s most dogged investigators of paramilitary influence on politics, will be in Washington next week. Petro will accept the Institute for Policy Studies’ Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award on Wednesday.
- We still haven’t yet seen the Bush administration’s long-promised aid package for Mexico, which may still be presented to Congress at any moment now. Media interest in "Plan Mexico" and drug policy has increased, though. Laura Carlsen of CIP’s Americas Program in Mexico City (formerly the International Relations Center Americas Program) had a good quote in Saturday’s Washington Post, and you can see or read me talking about Mexico on Dan Rather Reports (just press play, it’s the first story) and in a Q&A that Newsweek.com published this week.