The department of Casanare, Colombia, where Mary Anastasia O’Grady got cattle ranchers’ view of the security situation.
Yesterday, recounting a visit to the oil-producing department of Casanare, Colombia, Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote one of the most awful things I’ve ever seen published in a mainstream periodical.
Today the paras [paramilitaries] are condemned by society because they have morphed into criminal gangs. But in their early years they did not suffer such disapproval. They were, instead, hero vigilantes who had the courage to push back against the reign of terror. Many of their members were relatives of FARC victims.
People in these parts acknowledge that the paras cured FARC terrorism. One Colombian I know explains it like this: “The way I see it, the paramilitary was like chemotherapy. It makes you sick and your hair falls out but it saves your life.”
Breathtaking. In Ms. O’Grady’s narrative, Colombia’s paramilitary groups passed through a gauzy golden age in which they were selflessly defending decent citizens from guerrilla barbarism. While the guerrilla barbarism part is undeniable, when was this golden age exactly?
- In the early to mid-1980s, when drug lords were helping to form and finance the first paramilitary groups?
- In the mid-to-late-1980s, when paramilitary massacres of innocent civilians grew so frequent that the Colombian government felt compelled to declare these “hero vigilantes” illegal?
- In the 1990s, when the CastaÃ±o brothers and their associates in the newly formed AUC were killing and torturing tens of thousands of civilians, and displacing millions?
- In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the paramilitary leaders themselves were some of the top exporters of drugs to the United States?
Ms. O’Grady goes on:
So how did the rule of law return? Locals give the credit to Mr. Uribe, who offered all combatants a deal to surrender. Here in Casanare the paras demobilized and ever since, the ranchers under the porch in the rainstorm tell me, the warring has ended and a high-profile police and military presence keeps the peace.
How does she reach the conclusion that paramilitarism has been eliminated from the department of Casanare? The longtime leader of Casanare’s paramilitaries, Hector GermÃ¡n Buitrago, alias “MartÃn Llanos,” has been weakened but remains at large, while a former governor and congressman are under investigation for colluding with him. Parts of southern Casanare today are under the dominion of Pedro Oliverio Guerrero Castillo, alias “Cuchillo” ["Knife"], a paramilitary narcotrafficker closely allied with drug lord Daniel RendÃ³n, alias “Don Mario,” who in turn is the brother of one of the jailed but un-extradited paramilitary chiefs, former Ã‰lmer CÃ¡rdenas Bloc leader Freddy RendÃ³n, alias “El AlemÃ¡n.”
Meanwhile, Ms. O’Grady misses the glaring fact that Casanare continues to be a key way station for the river of Colombian narcotics flowing into, and through, nearby Venezuela. With the guerrilla presence in the department so reduced, who controls Casanare’s drug corridors? By most accounts, it is the still at-large, still locally powerful paramilitaries, some of whom do drug business with the guerrillas.
The quote above reveals the problem with Ms. O’Grady’s journalism. The only source she cites in Casanare are the ranchers, the large landowners in a department with poor land distribution. While there is no way of knowing whether Ms. O’Grady’s interlocutors themselves ever gave financial support to Casanare’s paramilitaries, they represent a sector of rural Colombia – large landowners and cattle ranchers – that enthusiastically backed the expansion of paramilitarism in Colombia.
By consulting only this source and reporting her findings in one of the United States’ most-circulated newspapers, Ms. O’Grady gravely offends the hundreds of thousands of people who were murdered, had loved ones murdered, were tortured or raped, or had lands stolen by these “hero vigilantes.”
As any of these victims could have told her, the paramilitaries didn’t lose their way when they “morphed into criminal gangs,” whenever exactly that was. They did so at the very beginning, when they started murdering, torturing, disappearing, and displacing their fellow citizens.