Back in a week A slideshow without the talk
Feb 142008

On February 4, Colombia’s nationwide – and worldwide – public protests against the FARC guerrillas were wildly successful. Much of that success owed to organizers’ efforts to stay “on message” and avoid politicization, which they mostly did. This guaranteed the largest possible participation.

Now, victims of Colombia’s other armed groups want a day of their own. Led by the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, they are calling for a national and worldwide day to reject Colombia’s paramilitary groups and those who aided them. They are planning to convene on March 6th.

These victims too deserve a massive turnout. Even a quick look at today’s news from Colombia reminds us that paramilitary power and impunity are still at crisis levels.

  • Yesterday, in the comfortable cell block housing a few dozen paramilitary leaders in the Itagüí prison outside Medellín, a surprise search yielded a 9mm pistol, a grenade, and US$6,000 in cash.
  • In his “Justice and Peace” testimony yesterday, paramilitary leader “Diego Vecino” spoke – without naming names – of his deep and broad support for leading politicians in the Montes de María region of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
  • The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, recognized that new paramilitary groups – many of them resembling mafias more than pro-government militias – are forming throughout the country.
  • Meanwhile, new testimonies are emerging about the Colombian military’s involvement in a recent rash of “extrajudicial executions” – civilians detained and killed, with their bodies later presented as those of guerrillas killed in combat. This week, a former paramilitary fighter gave evidence about cadavers presented as guerrillas in Antioquia in 2002.

The victims of paramilitaries and state actors did not have an opportunity to express themselves on February 4th, and they deserve a moment of their own with similarly broad participation. The conflict’s victims need to know that their fellow citizens stand with them, regardless of who victimized them. In exchange, the protest’s organizers must do their utmost to avoid seeing their own event become politicized – to devolve into an anti-government rally or something similarly divisive.

This would all seem to be uncontroversial – why shouldn’t the March 6 event receive levels of support similar to what Colombia saw on February 4th? Colombia’s mainstream media appears to be supportive; editorials in the El Espectador newspaper and Cambio newsweekly have already offered endorsements of the March 6 effort, reminding readers that “the country’s rejection of paramilitary violence is overdue.”

Yet the March 6 protest has become controversial, sadly, because of the virulent opposition it has inspired from the Colombian government. The Uribe administration, which enthusiastically joined the February 4 protests against the FARC, is rejecting the March 6 anti-paramilitary protests in the strongest possible terms.

“I personally will not participate, as I did enthusiastically in the march against the FARC,” was the response of José Obdulio Gaviria, a presidential advisor considered to be President Uribe’s chief ideologist. “It will be difficult for Colombian society to participate in this type of event, when we just finished marching against the people who are convening it.”

Gaviria’s words are terribly unfortunate. Not only does a top Colombian government official reject the March 6 protests, he alleges that its organizers, the National Victims’ Movement, are indistinguishable from the FARC. This is the worst sort of slander, and the Colombian government must not let it stand.

Before the February 4 march, an editorial in Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, excoriated doubters who worried that the anti-FARC protest would become politicized.

The positions of those who have sought to disqualify the march, calling it “Uribista,” are cynical and shameless. As though only the uribistas have the right to protest against the FARC’s kidnappings, or as though doing so were an act of pro-government politicking. This is a sectarian and frankly twisted way to politicize an initiative that originated cleanly and spontaneously from common citizens.

Similarly, the doubters – including the doubters in Colombia’s government – should not get a free pass this time.

To paraphrase El Tiempo: Those who seek to disqualify the March 6 protest, calling it “pro-FARC,” are also cynical and shameless. As though only the FARC has the right to protest against the paramilitaries’ thousands of unpunished, unclarified abuses, and the powerful people who helped them occur – or as though to do so were an anti-state act. This is a sectarian and frankly twisted way to politicize an initiative that originated cleanly and spontaneously from common citizens.

President Uribe must not let his top advisor’s dangerous and irresponsible words stand as the official de facto position of the Colombian government. Instead, the Colombian government should join in support of the March 6 event, in order to demonstrate to the world:

  • That it cares just as deeply about the tens of thousands of Colombians who fell victim to the paramilitaries and to state security forces;
  • That it supports efforts to end impunity for decades of horrific abuses, instead of seeking to deny them or sweep them under the rug; and
  • That it believes all armed groups’ abuses – whether in support ofor against the state – must be rejected equally.

Colombians, no matter how they feel about President Uribe, should participate in the March 6 event, standing with the victims and with those who are trying to uncover the truth and win a measure of justice. Colombians should send a message to their government’s more ideologically inclined officials – a message that should be common sense: it should be possible to call publicly for justice without being tarred as a guerrilla supporter.

13 Responses to “February 4th and March 6th”

  1. Kyle Says:

    Adam, good post and commentary. Dead on. Though I am still waiting for El Tiempo to put in all the effort to promote this march as they did for the February 4th march. El Tiempo now has the chance to rebuke critiques of non-objectivity and near advertising for the February 4th march by doing the same for the March 6th event (at least ridding of the non-objective critique). We shall see if they do the same. You point to this, and quite correctly might I add. I just wonder if you went far enough in only quoting them and demanding the same of their editorials.

  2. jcg Says:

    I share the main conclusions outlined here, and so I will try my best to participate in this new event, as circumstances permit.

    While there’s a bit of truth to the claim that the specific timing of this new mobilization is hardly what I’d consider “optimal”, as it may well be interpreted by some as a form of “backlash” against the previous event or more generally against the government…I realize it’s more than valid and necessary enough as a matter of principle, regardless of other particular issues.

    As for EL TIEMPO’s editorial position, they still have enough time to express their support, if they so choose. Several of their columnists have already done so, with at least one evident but quite predictable exception.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    First Main Stream News Mag backs Rally

  4. Camilla Says:

    I do not think this will be as successful, for three reasons:

    One, the paramilitaries have disarmed and are no longer a threat. I think the threats Adam cites are graspings for straws, the broad threat to the country today is the FARC Marxist narcoterrorists.

    Two, it’s so obviously reactive to the first march, it’s a Sorosian effort to equivocate FARC’s mayhem with para mayhem, and thus, reduce the significance of FARC to that old 60s phrase of “everybody does it.” It’s an obvious effort to cheapen the anti-FARC rally and people will know it. It fails to acknowledge that the central, and most pressing problem in Colombia right now is FARC. Had there been no FARC, and had there been no FARC appeasement from past governments, there never would have been paramilitaries. Now that the government has started doing its job and enforcing the law against Marxist terrorism instead of offering up ‘understanding’ to stone-cold drug-dealing Marxist killers, the paras no longer have a reason to exist. That’s why they don’t.

    Third, it’s obviously political, a POLO project, because they couldn’t politicize the anti-FARC rally as everyone knows they tried to and couldn’t.

    In any case, numbers will tell. President Uribe has an 80% popularity rating so long as he refuses to appease Marxist terrorists, so it might be an uphill struggle to persuade people to attend.

    What I think they should do is some other form of expression against paramilitary violence, something original, not some effort to one-up the Facebook kids – something like a new memorial to victims of the paramilitaries or perhaps a new Facebook project of showing portraits of paras, or some sort of quilt, to name and shame them one and all since they got off with such minimal punishment. They need to come up with their own expression rather than react to the previous one. And for godssakes, they need to start holding truth commissions on the crimes of the Marxist left, to show that they are sincere and not just secret guerrilla worshippers seeking to fog and equivocate a defeated threat with a live threat in a bid to make the live one look less bad.

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    “the paramilitaries have disarmed and are no longer a threat”, Camilla don’t you ever get tired of falsifying reality and making up stupid propaganda in favor of those people you bill to?

  6. Tambopaxi Says:

    Camilla,

    With all due respect, the paras may have done some disbanding/disarming ceremonies for publicity effects, but I don’t think they’ve ever gone out of business. I believe that they’ve simply morphed into new groups which have gone into new business lines in some cases, and/or carried on anti-FARC activities in other cases.

    The GOC and for that matter, the USG, would really like everyone to believe the “paras are done and over” story, but this is Colombia, after all, and these guys (whom I’ve always viewed as more dangerous and vicious than the FARC) aren’t gone, they’ve just reinvented themselves.

    I’d commented in an earlier posting of Adam’s that the first march should have included an anti-AUC element, but if this new (March) march can do the same thing, even better. I hope that the media comes through with the same enthusiastic support they gave the anti-FARC march.

    The GOC, on the other hand, appears to be failing the “consistency” test when it comes to condemning all/all forms of lawlessness and organized violence in Colombia. To say that is unfortunate is understating the situation; it only strengthens the long-held sense (by me at least) that the GOC and its military are tacitly or explicitly in cahoots with the AUC and its allies. The only way that they can disabuse me of that sense is to get out there, as Adam and others suggest, and support marches against the paras that are just as big and enthusiastic as they were against the FARC.

    Finally, your ideas about using Facebook, quilts, etc., are interesting at the least. I have no idea as to how effective they might prove to be, but hell, give ‘em a try. Again, though, the GOC needs to stand up say the paras (or whatever they might be called these days) are just as bad as the FARC, and we ain’t gonna take ‘em anymore……

  7. Christopher Colbow Says:

    The GOC should not have involved themselves in the NO MAS FARC event and they should not involve themselves in this upcoming event. It’s not the right forum for the government to attend because of what we’re seeing now…an expectation to attend alternate events like on the 6th of March, or else the idea that the government is bias towards one or the other.

    The anti-paramilitary march has its merits, but I agree with Camilla, the timing is way-off. Only a month after the anti-FARC and now you want everyone to reorganize. It’s hard enough to get people to vote (passive activity) and you want them to reernegize for another rally so soon!

    It will not be successful and unfortunately pro-socialist/FARC sympathizers (chavez) will use this soon-to-be lackluster event to declare the NO MAS FARC raly a sham, and merely a “hate” event by the government against socialist ideals.

    Have the anti-paramilitary rally, but schedule it 6-months from now.

    BTW…Tambopaxi, I don’t believe that the US govt considers the paramilitaries a done deal. That threat still exists…it’s just not as urgent as the FARC threat. I’ve said it before…we have to deal with Colombia’s problems one at a time or else we won’t get anything accommplished.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    EXCUSE ME, Christopher Colbow, and who are you to be dealing with Colombia’s problems one at a time? Why don’t you rather see how you gonna deal with the freedom curtail American people is undergoing without even knowing? What about The North American Union whose highways are being built as I speak. Don’t you think you have got enough problems of your own to be meddling in some else’s?

  9. jcg Says:

    Tambopaxi: I think the paramilitaries are clearly extremely dangeorus in certain senses (their well-known brutality being just one, but there’s also their spreading corruption/parasitism, for example), but perhaps not in others…the situation is complex, it depends on what you want to focus on, and several different perspectives are quite possible, without necessarily being mutually exclusive.

    One thing which may be worth considering, however, is that this isn’t exclusively an anti-paramilitary mobilization (still not clear if it will be a “march”, technically speaking, despite some assumptions), but it’s also explicitly anti-state (or, to be more accurate, against certain crimes committed by certain state actors, but that’s a longer way to put it) …which introduces another element into the equation, and may be one of the reasons why a few of the government-related critics are reacting like this (ideologically, at least).

    While I see no problem with that, personally, and thus I will support this mobilization…that anti-state factor seems to be something that an administration without a certain (moderate to high) amount of self-criticism (or tolerance for criticism, actually) wouldn’t be able to take lightly or easily adapt to. Needless to say, the current administration is rather lacking in those areas.

    On the other hand, the government just released its official position:

    Comunicado

    1. El Gobierno Nacional reitera su compromiso con los derechos de todas las víctimas en Colombia. En desarrollo de ello, combate a los grupos victimarios, consagra los derechos en las Leyes colombianas y desarrolla políticas que han multiplicado los recursos para atender a las personas desplazadas. Así mismo, impulsa la reparación por vía administrativa y ha puesto como condición la verdad y la justicia en los procesos de reconciliación, entre otras acciones.

    2. El Gobierno rechaza las expresiones que sindican al Estado de una política criminal. El país y la comunidad internacional han sido testigos de las órdenes claras de transparencia en la actuación de los servidores públicos y del apoyo y fortalecimiento a la justicia para el esclarecimiento y juzgamiento de quienes, actuando en contra de la política gubernamental, incurren en actos contra la población.

    3. Conforme a su convicción y obligaciones democráticas, el Gobierno Nacional garantiza en todo el país el ejercicio de las libertades y derechos. En ese sentido, aunque no comparte algunos términos de la convocatoria, garantiza a quienes quieran movilizarse el próximo 6 de marzo el ejercicio de ese derecho, y llama a los impulsores de esa marcha para que sea pacífica y respetuosa de las instituciones y de la opinión ajena y constructiva.

    Bogotá, 15 de febrero de 2008

    http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2008/febrero/15/08152008.html

  10. Christopher Colbow Says:

    Jaime,

    When I said, “WE have to deal with Colombia’s problems…” I was referring to all those interested in solving the country’s issues. I don’t know who you think I was talking about.

    Otherwise, take your trite ass somewheres else.

  11. Jose David Says:

    The problem with that press release is that it’s based on falsed premises:

    1. Despite the law guarantees civil action against the state in certain cases, the flawed Peace and Justice promotes impunity when demobilized Paras testify as if it were mere statements of their actions without legal constraints, withouth remorse and even justifying their atrocities.

    2. The Colombian state (important elements in the Army, the DAS intelligence office, Senators, Governors, and diplomats) are closely linked to death squads, and this makes a self proclaim Social and law State, a criminal-thug one. Uribe and their team, rather than enforcing the law against massacres and displacement perpetrators, have refered to human rights activist and leftist opposition who have denounced these crimes long ago as terrorists appeasers and guerrilla simpahtizers, promoting more selective killings, persecution, hate, fanatism and criminalization of dissent.

  12. Adam Isacson Says:

    A colleague who works closely with the organizers of the March 6 event sent the following message, which makes several points about March 6 that have been too easily overlooked:

    While first impressions do not communicate as much, organizers are currently making an effort to emphasize the following points:

    - The march for victims of crimes of the state was on the docket since March of last year, the time of the Victims’ Movement planning meeting. Therefore, while this march can in no way be de-contextualized, organizers insist that it is not a response to the 4th.

    - As noted, from here there is a careful, intentional effort to frame the 6th as in support of victims, and not against the paramilitary, as such is obviously divisive and contributes to polarization. It was mentioned in a CCEEU [Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos] meeting yesterday that unfortunately a different message is perceived in Washington. (This is not a surprise to me, however, given some of the early missives that circulated.)

    - What´s more, the following themes are being integrated in order to broaden the scope of the convocatoria: Humanitarian Accord; Political Solution to the Armed Conflict; Paying Tribute to _All_ Victims.

  13. NC Says:

    For those who are interested in joining the rallies, vigils and celebrations these will take place on March 6 in Washington DC; Madison, Wisconsin; New York, New York; San Francisco, California. Details for each city follow:

    In Washington DC
    People will meet at Dupont Circle, from 12 noon to 1 pm on Thursday, March 6. For additional information please contact: nomasvictimaswashington@gmail.com

    In Madison Wisconsin a Vigil will take place on Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 7 pm at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 302 East Gorham Street (James Madison Park) for more information visit: http://www.colombiasupport.net

    In New York City
    A rally will take place on Thursday, March 6, 2008 in front of the Colombian Mission to the United Nations at 140 E 57th St (Lexington Ave) at 4:00 p.m.

    In San Francisco
    A celebration in memory of Colombia’s Victims will take place on Thursday, March 6th @ 7pm at the Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission St. For more information contact: liza@igc.org

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