Friday Links Those who remain
Feb 262008

That’s me, third from left, with (to my right) Caquetá Congressman Luis Fernando Almario, on a July 2006 panel discussion in Colombia’s Congress. Almario was arrested yesterday in connection with the “para-politics” scandal.

I first met Alvaro Araújo in 2000, after he sent me an e-mail asking to meet the next time I visited Colombia. Over the next year or two, we had coffee or breakfast on three occasions and traded periodic e-mails.

He was a young congressman – only three years older than me – from a powerful political family in Cesar department, in Colombia’s Caribbean coast region. He was ambitious and deeply conservative (though at the same time a principal backer of ownership rights for gay couples in Colombia). Attracting foreign investment in Cesar’s mining industry seemed to be one of his main priorities. But he was quite articulate and seemed to have a genuine interest in policymaking.

We disagreed on almost everything politically, and ended up debating each other, at times heatedly, every time we met. The last time, if I remember right, was in late 2001 or early 2002. I recall him being perplexed by my lack of enthusiasm for presidential candidate Álvaro Uribe, whom Rep. Araújo was backing while running for the Senate.

Both candidates won, of course, and I sort of lost touch with Sen. Araújo after that. Nonetheless, I was personally disappointed when, in 2006, my acquaintance’s name came up as an alleged sponsor of paramilitary groups in his home department of Cesar. Araújo is accused of helping the AUC’s Northern Bloc, then headed by Rodrigo Tovar Pupo (”Jorge 40″), to raise funds and to influence elections. Araújo may have even conspired with paramilitaries to kidnap a political rival.

Alvaro Araújo has been in jail for a year now, and his court case is ongoing.

In July 2006, meanwhile, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion, held in Colombia’s Congress, on anti-drug policy. The panel was hosted by Luis Fernando Almario, a congressman from Caquetá, a department in southern Colombia overrun by guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the coca trade. Caquetá has been heavily fumigated with glyphosate since the mid-1990s, with little alternative-development investment to go along with it. This combination of policies has had litle discernible effect on the amount of coca grown in the department.

Congressman Almario understood why fumigation was failing in Caquetá, he said, based on his constant interactions with his constituents. He said that nearly everyone in the department is angry about being sprayed while getting so little help from Bogotá and Washington. He conveyed demands for new social investment so that legal economic alternatives can take root. It was Rep. Almario who told me about the U.S. Agency for International Development’s decision to cease future investment in Caquetá and elsewhere in southern Colombia, showing me a letter from Colombia’s presidency explaining the decision. I reported this revelation in a blog post, which helped generate a few news stories in 2006.

About a year later, though, some very disturbing allegations about Rep. Almario began to emerge. Opposition Senator Gustavo Petro alleged in mid-2007 that the congressman had frequent dealings with the FARC guerrillas, including a possible conspiratorial role in the guerrillas’ brutal December 2001 murder of a political rival, Rep. Diego Turbay. Then, in October 2007, Colombia’s Supreme Court opened an investigation of Almario for alleged collusion with paramilitaries in Caquetá.

Luis Fernando Almario was placed under arrest yesterday.

Though he is not a part of the “para-politics” scandal, in 2005 this blog inteviewed another politician who ran into trouble: Carlos Palacios, a former priest and human-rights activist who was elected governor of Putumayo in 2003. Palacios was removed from his post under a cloud of corruption allegations in 2006. (Palacios claims he was the victim of a setup by Putumayo’s narco-dominated local political elite – but according to Colombia’s Procuraduría, the corruption evidence was sufficient to remove him.)

The point here is not that I tend to associate with a criminal element when I visit Colombia. The problem is how hard this is to avoid, especially when in any contact with people in positions of local or regional power. (Even the Smithsonian Institution’s Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars hosted Antioquia “para-politician” Rocío Arias at a 2004 conference on the paramilitary demobilization process – an event at which U.S. Ambassador William Wood was a featured speaker. This was a perfectly legitimate invitation, since Rep. Arias was intimately involved in that process.)

But this reflection does yield a few lessons.

  • It is very hard to know whom you’re working with. In much of Colombia, it is often the case that politicians and other local leaders are only able to maintain themselves in their positions through compromises or other deals with violent illegal groups – paramilitaries, guerrillas, or narcotraffickers. These local leaders can run the gamut from politicians to military officers to wealthy individuals to religious figures. Their “arrangements” may range from non-aggression agreements to active collusion, including conspiracy to commit atrocities. Even people who see themselves as agents of social justice or opponents of corruption may have these skeletons rattling in their closets – otherwise the violent armed group(s) in question would have ensured that they ceased to hold their positions of power.
  • In much of Colombia, these sort of relationships with illegality have long been considered “normal” – merely the way to do business. That is one reason the “para-politics” investigations are so important. They hold the hope that, in the future, this behavior will no longer be “normal” in Colombia. It will be something that is openly condemned and systematically investigated and punished in the judicial system. For Colombia, that would mean an enormous leap toward modernity. Hope for this new definition of the “normal” way to govern Colombia
    is a major reason why the “para-politics” investigations must continue. And if the evidence is there, the people who are implicated – including, of course, those whom I have met – should absolutely be punished to the law’s fullest extent. At a minimum, they betrayed the public trust.
  • The investigations must go beyond the more marginal regions. As the map in last week’s “para-politics” post indicated, the bulk of the “para-politicians” implicated so far have come from peripheral, largely rural areas. In places like Cesar, Sucre or Magdalena, local politicians and warlords hold great sway – but they have less political and economic clout in Colombia’s centers of political and economic power like Bogotá and Medellín. Many departments on that map remain suspiciously empty. In an important piece published today, El Tiempo columnist Claudia López points a finger at Antioquia, Colombia’s most economically prosperous and powerful department, whose capital is Medellín. She notes that the “para-politics” scandal has yet to break in Antioquia, other than a few rural political figures, despite a widespread belief that paramilitary collusion with the political and economic elite has been commonplace.
    In core power centers like Antioquia, para-politicians continue to remain unscathed – and even to do well in elections.
  • That “it’s hard to know whom you’re working with” doesn’t erase the questions about President Uribe’s many scandal-tarred supporters. It is one thing to have breakfast or appear on a panel with someone who, months or years later, gets embroiled in the “para-politics” scanda. It is another to campaign for them, or have them campaign – or raise campaign funds – for you. Or for them to be your cousin or the director of your intelligence service. This is not to say that President Uribe himself is a “para-politician.” But it does put him in a position where he must be seen to be doing all he can to ensure that the “para-politics” judicial investigations proceed smoothly, thus providing Colombia the historical housecleaning that it needs. When President Uribe is even perceived to be standing in the way – as in the case of his wars of words with top judicial officials – he does himself no favors whatsoever.

13 Responses to ““Para-Politicians” I have known”

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    When will someone come in the front door and expose the rattling skeletons presidents Uribe and Mr Bush keep in their closets? That would contribute both of their countries of jurisdiction to take an enormous leap toward modernity. sad :(

  2. Tambopaxi Says:

    I have the flip side question: Is there anyone who’s really clean, honest, and trustworthy in Colombian politics today? If so, instead of constant stories about crooked pols from one side or the other, can we hear about someone who might, just might, constitute some sort of hope for the future of Colombia?

  3. Camilla Says:

    I suspect the same thing. If that’s the case, and no one’s hands are clean, what is to be done? I would include all the leftist politicians too because they all have associations with Marxist Narcoterrorist FARC and ELN guerrillas. But I don’t think the solution is to import Pith Helmet Imperialists from CIPCOL to ensure political purity. I think the solution is to amnesty as much as possible, get as much truth-commissioning out as possible (particularly for the left, which up till now, has never admitted any evil), and work with what is there. Robespierrian NGO purity, a government of charity workers and lawyers, really isn’t practical. Nor, for that matter, is it electable. Nobody wants CIPCOL running their country with all its deracinated Sorosian Uniworld morality. The best thing is to accept what is there, accept that Colombians don’t always vote the CIPCOL-approved way, aren’t the same thing as Uniworld Swedes, and move on, trying to make each day better than the last. The world of Insta-Swedes really isn’t going to happen in Colombia. The best thing to do is accept them the way they are instead of trying to turn them into rootless, gutless, appeasing Sorosian Swedes.

  4. Randy Paul Says:

    I would include all the leftist politicians too because they all have associations with Marxist Narcoterrorist FARC and ELN guerrillas [boldface is mine].

    Honestly, if you want an object lesson as to why it is impossible to take anything you write seriously that highlighted section is it. Every single leftist politician in Colombia is tied to the FARC and ELN? And your proof of this is what?

    Honestly, if you really believe this, you are doing a disservice to your cause by not starting your own blog and providing actual evidence of these claims that every single leftist politician is tied to the FARC and ELN, rather than your specious unsupported smears.

    That way those of us who want to discuss the facts involved in these issues can do so with having our time wasted with your special brand of tendentious silliness. That presumes, of course, that you have any proof.

  5. Camilla Says:

    My source: President Uribe, who pointed out the FARC endorsement of the Moreno campaign. I looked it up and sure enough it was there, FARC endorsed the guy. Better still, take a good look at the career of your pal Petro: Marxist terrorist guerrilla who once ordered massacres and now sanctimoniously talks about human rights. You better believe he isn’t the only one. Piedad Cordoba? You saying the flowers and the kissup sessions with Barreto (whose men just bombed Fedecameras in Caracas, lovely man, and that isn’t even getting to the booze or pedophile parts) don’t mean a thing? Sorry, they do, normal people don’t hand out with FARC so exuberantly or take every opportunity to hang out with FARC thugs, check out the thugs she associates with, bonafide killers.

    Look: the fact is: leftists are not simon pure and neither are rightists. In a nation at civil war for nearly 50 years (something you don’t seem to be aware of), everyone needs protection, particularly in a failed state, which then-appeasement-happy Colombia had been. If you are threatened and it’s a question of your life or making allies, you make allies, don’t pretend you don’t.

    Let’s get the key fact straight: FARC started the war. That’s right, FARC. Let’s repeat that again, FARC started it. The paras were reactionaries. They only reacted because the government failed, repeat, failed, to do its job. Instead, they went on the Randy-Paul-Leftist-Appeasement-Plan to create a New Jimmy Carter World in Colombia where friends would be treated as enemies and enemies would be treated as friends. We all know where that ended up: with the election of President Uribe, who currently sports an 80% approval rating, have you heard of that? I doubt it.

  6. Randy Paul Says:

    Look: the fact is: leftists are not simon pure and neither are rightists.

    I never made that claim, but your claim that all lefitst politicians are tied to the FARC is unsupportable.

    You’re the one engaging in hyperbole, not me.

  7. Kyle Says:

    OK, Camilla. You may have hit a new low. Not only do you provide no evidence (remember, just because FARC liked Moreno does not mean he has ties to them; same goes for Uribe and the paracos, just because they liked him doesn’t mean he had ties to him). And then you talk about Cordoba. My question is then, where are all the other leftist politicians? You named two, and had nothing on them (I mean, obviously Cordoba has connections with the FARC – her job was to mediate with them!). So where’s the rest? There are plenty more leftist politicians. Petro is a whole other case. Yes he used be a member of the M-19, but he took the political deal given to him and now, yes, he does talk about human rights. This does not mean that he has ties to any armed group NOW, which would be your point.
    We also must remember that it does not matter who started the war. It would be quite difficult to argue that the FARC did, simply because of their time of appearance is too late. You would have to argue that those in the “independent republics” started the war, an argument which is not as strong as you think.
    The point is, it does not matter who started the war. You cannot let petty, childish arguments remove responsibility. FARC are responsible for their actions, no matter what they justify them under; the paramilitaries are as well, whether they reacted or not. As Michael Walzer reminded us a good 20 years ago, “…terrorism is the deliberate choice of rational men and women. Whether they conceive it to be one option among others or the only one available, they nevertheless argue and chose.”
    As for truth-commissioning, Camilla, I agree, though I think you are using the term quite loosely, just as jargon. Amnesty, I cannot. Despite the various critiques of transitional justice, I do agree that preventive measure can be created through the guaranteeing of punishment, at some level, which is something Colombia needs. Unfortunately, any Colombian government administration has a lot on its plate when it comes to making that prevention a possibility, including factors such as geography, parallel economies, etc.
    Not sure where you got all the Sorosian Uniworld, “CIPCOL” (so aptly misnamed) stuff, because it is not pertinent at all, except for apologizing for the same people you condemned only words before! We got a genius here folks…
    Just because you think you would make allies or the situation you described (make allies or death) does not mean every single politician (left or right) has connections to them.
    I’m sure you are using hyperbole when you ask if we heard about president Uribe and his disingenuous approval ratings.
    Overall, I struggle to find one legitimate, practical argument here. Any attempt at making one usually comes up short on evidence. It’s all assumptions and then questioning our questioning of the assumptions. God forbid “logic” be added to your vernacular.

  8. LFM Says:

    If it’s Wednesday, it’s gotta be Camilla’s rants. Here we go again. The previous posts have done a great job at dealing with this, so I won’t pile on. But then, I’ll make a tiny point: if we believe them, the FARC was founded in 1964, probably there were some nuclei earlier, but it doesn’t matter. That comes to around 44 years of existence. Of all those 44 years, roughly 2, from 1983 to 1985, had a cease fire between the Army and the FARC. We know from previous posts that percentages are not Camilla’s strong suit but I can help. Two out of 44 is 4.54%. That is, throughout 95.46% the Colombian Army has been fighting the FARC. Even Pastrana’s much-reviled DMZ covered only 5 municipalities out of 1009. The Army was fighting the FARC in the remaining 1004 and in fact, as previously mentioned, brought in Plan Colombia, the biggest increase in military aid in the last few decades. I’m not discussing if this was good or bad; that argument would be endless. All I’m saying is that if you spend 95.46% of your time awake, nobody in his right mind would call you a sleeper. Fighting 95.46% of the time doesn’t sound like appeasement to anyone careful with concepts and words.

    Oh, before I forget, don’t waste your time parsing out Camilla’s “truth-comissioning and amnestying” line. It was clear posturing. Clearly Camilla doesn’t really mean it. Otherwise, Camilla would have to consider extending that to the FARC. But that won’t happen. Until it does, “truth-commisioning and amnestying” is just feel-good code for “get out of the way of the chainsaw murderers so that they can go on with their job.”

  9. Kyle Says:

    I think Camilla does mean it, but again, probably in your manner, but it does have an almost conciliatory tone.

  10. Kyle Says:

    Also, there are 1094 municipalities in Colombia, if I am not mistaken. And to avoid being disingenuous, those 5 municipalities covered a lot of territory relative to the % of municipalities it covered. It’s not like the FARC had five San Miguel, Putumayos.

  11. LFM Says:

    Point taken Kyle. But in terms of control, land mass is a poor guide. Population is what matters. In that sense, the DMZ looks even less impressive. Also, let’s not forget that this was, from the start, meant as a purely temporary concession. In fact, once the peace talks collapsed, the government recovered the DMZ in no time.

    Since I think we’re both in the same wavelength, I guess we can agree on one thing: the whole “Pastrana gave away Switzerland” line out of which the furibismo has been making much hay is largely bogus. Sure, the DMZ lasted three years, much more than what the Administration bargained for, sure, it was big, sure, the FARC took advantage of it (as was to be expected). But: a. it was sparsely populated, b. the government’s control of it was rather tenuous before, c. it was temporary as later events proved.

  12. onegeros Says:

    Dorks.

  13. Sergio Méndez Says:

    Camilla:

    The AUC also endorsed Uribe compaign back in 2002. That says nothing, If you want to claim Polo democratico has TIES with the FARC, you need to point to something more than a unilateral endorsement by the FARC to one Polo candidate. But you havent. On the other side we have very strong evidence of Uribist politicians TIES with paramilitaries. That´s the way things are, sorry. You know, the gobverment has been menacing to reveal the ties between the democratic left and the guerrilla, and still haven´t produced any evidence, except in one case (I think it is a politician in department of Tolima). Compare that with the long list of senators, generals and ex governors that have ties with the paras, and ehem, are overwelmingly uribists. That makes it clear why you want a quick admisty: lets forget and act as nothing happened..isn´t it? No way

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