Because we’ve been accompanying Luis Eladio PÃ©rez on his visit to Washington, we’ve had little time at the computer to analyze yesterday’s remarkable extraditions of most of the old AUC leadership. You, the reader, probably have a fuller idea of what has been happening during the past 24 hours.
Nonetheless, our initial take on the extraditions is: Whether this is good news or bad news hinges on the truth of one part of President Uribe’s statement yesterday.
The Government has asked, and the United States has accepted, that the State and People of Colombia may send representatives to the trials to be conducted in the United States, in order to continue the quest for the truth – the truth about the crimes investigated, most of them committed before this administration came into office; the truthÂ in relation to trials already in progress, propitiated by the firmness of our security policy.
Further, the judicial cooperation agreements with the United States will make it easier to exchange evidence, and for the Colombian authorities to obtain evidence in the United States. The United States has reiterated its commitments on these points.
Now that they have little to lose – and probably feel that they owe nothing to Colombia’s political and economic elites -Â the paramilitary leadership may be more willing than before to talk about who helped them over the years, what their financial and logistical networks looked like, and perhaps what happened to their victims. From a jail cell in Miami with little hope of leniency, they have little incentive to stay quiet and protect those who helped them.
The question is whether those who wish to share such information will be able to do so. President Uribe and his government must be held to the statement above. Colombian investigators must have the access to the paramilitary leaders necessary to fully and aggressively comply with the “quest for the truth.”
If they have this access, and if the paramilitaries decide that they have no reason not to talk about those “on the outside” who helped them over the years, then yesterday’s extraditions are a triumph for the fight against organized crime and lawlessness in Colombia.
If they do not – if the paramilitary leaders, like most extradited narcotraffickers before them, are held incomunicado or remain silent in their jail cells – then it will be a tragic victory for the politicians, economically powerful individuals and military officers who made paramilitarism possible in Colombia. If that happens, we would find that President Uribe did nothing more yesterday than banish into a silent exile some of the star witnesses of the “quest for the truth.”