Joe Biden on Colombia Friday links
Aug 272008

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, accompanied by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, is visiting Colombia during an especially agitated week.

The international representatives’ observation visit is taking place in the midst of a worsening conflict between President Álvaro Uribe and his country’s Supreme Court, which is investigating ties between paramilitary death squads and dozens of politicians, most of them Uribe’s supporters. The brother of the interior minister, until recently the chief prosecutor in Medellín, is facing allegations that he is linked to one of the country’s principal fugitive narcotraffickers and sponsors of “new” paramilitary groups. The country’s main newsmagazine revealed Sunday that paramilitary representatives had meetings in Colombia’s presidential palace earlier this year to discuss ways to discredit the Supreme Court’s investigations. And President Uribe has responded to the pressure by launching pointed verbal attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.

Here are translations of two columns that capture the present moment well. Both appeared in the Colombian daily El Espectador. The first, published today, is from veteran Colombian journalist Cecilia Orozco. The second, published yesterday, comes from César Rodríguez of the judicial-reform think-tank DeJuSticia.

Suicidal Desperation
By Cecilia Orozco Tascón
El Espectador, August 27, 2008

International Criminal Court Prosector Luis Moreno Ocampo and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón found quite a spectacle upon arriving in the country:

  • The President of the Republic, live on television, shows a video reconfirming that two shady individuals tied to the narco-paramilitary “Don Berna” entered the “Casa de Nari” in their own vehicle, a privilege before reserved only for ambassadors and high-ranking personalities. ["Casa de Nari" is how the paramilitary representatives, in recorded conversations, referred to the presidential palace, the Casa de Nariño.]
  • The President of the Republic, speaking before some intimidated reporters at a press conference, says that there is “trafficking in false witnesses” at the Supreme Court; that [Supreme Court "para-politics" investigator] magistrate Iván Velásquez (whose mere existence is becoming a dangerous obsession for him) “gets drunk” with other witnesses; that Senator [Gustavo] Petro, from the Democratic Pole opposition, “manipulates” still more witnesses.
  • The President of the Republic states that the Prosecutor-General’s Office handed down a politicized finding in the case of “Tasmania,” probably because it found that case to have been an attempt to frame ["para-politics" investigator] Velásquez. ["Tasmania" was the nickname of a former paramilitary who, in a letter that Uribe read in a press conference last October, alleged that Velásquez had tried to induce him to testify against the president. "Tasmania" retracted this claim in June, explaining that his lawyer had put him up to it.]
  • The President of the Republic also criticizes Prosecutor-General [Mario] Iguarán because his entity is infiltrated by the mafia and because “it did not react” to the corrupt acts of [Guillermo] Valencia Cossio [the interior minister's scandal-tarred brother].
  • The President of the Republic accuses ex-president César Gaviria, head of the Liberal Party opposition, of having allied during his term with the “Los Pepes” gang. ["Pepes" = "People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar," a hit squad formed in the early 1990s by the Cali cartel, whose members included individuals who would become top paramilitary leaders later in the decade.]
  • The President of the Republic orders an investigation of journalist Daniel Coronell for covering up “crimes.” [Coronell had interviewed Yidis Medina, a one-term congresswoman who had confessed to him that her tie-breaking committee vote, which allowed President Uribe to run for re-election in 2006, came in exchange for bribes and favors.]

On the other side the Court, Magistrate Velásquez, Senator Petro, the Prosecutor-General, César Gaviria, Coronell and, behind him, several journalists’ organizations, respond to these aggressions, making use of their legitimate right to presumed innocence. All of these taking place on the same day.

Moreno and Garzón, the representatives of international justice, must have been stupefied by the spectacle… and convinced that the black episodes that shake the country cannot be resolved internally because, under the present circumstances, there are no guarantees that anyone here can act with autonomy and liberty: neither the magistrates, nor the prosecutors, nor the politicians, nor the independent journalists. What a great paradox the President has provided, or perhaps, has crafted for his own enjoyment! Democratic security has allowed him to place the guerrillas on the verge of defeat and to demobilize – albeit partially – the paramilitaries, the reasons why he has awakened – until now – the nation’s almost unanimous admiration. But it was not enough for him to cloak Establishment Colombians, in whose name he serves as head of state, with a climate of tranquility and respect.

In his senseless decision to avoid democratic controls, he has been firing buckshot at anything that moves, and he gives the impression of reacting with the suicidal desperation of someone who has been cornered. Unfortunately his tactic of distraction in order not to contaminate himself with the double scandal covering his government – the shady messengers’ visits to the Palace, which will keep on occurring as we have been notified, and the recently named Interior and Justice Minister’s brother’s relations with the cartel of Don Mario – will not work at all, and will only manage to floor the accelerator on the country’s institutional chaos. When was it that the hero of 90% of Colombians lost his reason?

The International Criminal Court has arrived
By César Rodríguez Garavito (professor, Universidad de los Andes, founding member of DeJuSticia)
El Espectador, August 26, 2008

With the visit of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), I wonder what those analysts who celebrated the government’s decision to extradite the paramilitary leaders must be thinking. At that moment, many of us warned that with the “para-charter” plane’s takeoff for Florida, hopes for truth, justice and victims’ reparation vanished.

This was said to them, and they were also warned that the ICC would not remain silent. That it would not accept the “thesis” that there is no paramilitarism, displacement or conflict here. And that the case of Colombia was in the ICC’s sights because the extraditions, along with the government’s efforts to trip up the Supreme Court, would convince them that we are once again on the road to impunity.

I imagine that Moreno Ocampo’s arrival grounds everyone in this reality: Colombia could be the first country, outside Africa, to arrive in the ICC’s courtrooms. So it makes sense to get to know this institution that has taken these clueless analysts by surprise.

Where are the prosecutor and the ICC headed? It is enough to take a quick look at what they have done since 2003 to extract, for now, five basic points that will be directly relevant in Colombia.

1) The ICC operates under the priniciple of complementarity. In plan language, this means that it begins to operate once a state cannot or will not judge those responsible for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Compared with the four cases that the ICC is considering today (Uganda, Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic), here the problem is more one of political will than of ability. Moreno Ocampo could not have warned it more clearly on his last visit to the country: “The ICC represents a new legal system in which impunity is now inviable. Either the national tribunals take charge, or we will.”

2) The Court aims for the leaders, but does not limit itself to the trigger-pullers. According to the Rome Statute, it also investigates and judges those who finance, cover up or collaborate with the perpetrators of atrocities. And everything seems to indicate that – with his insistence on investigating not just “paras,” but also para-politicians, military personnel and possible accomplices of the self-defense groups and the guerrillas – the prosecutor thinks that Colombia could be a propitious case for putting this attribution to the test.

3) The prosecutor does not wait with his arms crossed until a country has left serious crimes in a state of impunity. As he maintained upon ordering the arrest of the Congolese militiaman Lubanga, the Court has a preventative and dissuasive function. As a result Moreno’s visit should serve as an urgent warning to avoid the failure of the Justice and Peace process and to halt the attacks against the Supreme Court, before it is too late.

4) The ICC has given a protagonistic role to victims. That is why Moreno will surely be interested in knowing the progress of the bill before Colombia’s Congress to favor the victims, and to hear the government’s explanations for opposing it.

5) The Court does not accept parliamentary immunities, amnesties, prescriptions or any of the other loopholes that Colombian law offers. The ICC can wait patiently with its Sword of Damocles until it brings those responsible to The Hague.

So this thing is serious and attention must be paid. If not, the Court could end up damaging more than one official’s retirement plans. And it could expose, once more, those analysts who insist on trying to blot out the sun with a finger [ignore the obvious].

7 Responses to “The International Criminal Court’s visit”

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Recent days in Colombia have been charged with events that transcend all description of awe and dishonor, words could describe. The atmosphere is so thick you could cut through it with a hair pin. So much so that habitual users in your blog, have suddenly gotten mute.

    In the meantime only aljazeera, presstv, dominionpaper and radio Neatherlands (and you Adam) have dare report on the severe comings and goings this week. It seems that the MS American media, are crossing their fingers before they have to confess that the image campaign they were selling off about Colombia in their reports, was a misleading falsehood, and that the “staunchest South American US ally” turned out to be another rogue state, only comparable to Saddham’s or El Congo.

  2. Kyle Says:

    I started school again this week; I’ve been quieter as of late anyways.
    Also, a rogue state can still be an ally (like Saddam in the 1980s). There’s quite a list we’ve got in the US history of this. Also, I would add that Colombia in the American press has never gotten much coverage, though usually it is solid. And I’m not sure if I ever say that American media selling an image of Colombia, especially one that Colombia is perfect or anything of the sort, though the coverage, at times, can be what I’ll loosely label “Bogota biased.” Colombia, rogue state or not, is still our staunchest ally in the region, by far as well.
    You are right, Jaime, that the atmosphere is incredibly thick politically. None of the issues are really anything new; just some new actors and situations.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    yes, kyle , admirable remarks, which I do adhere to. The Only thing different is that Mr Uribe has already acknowledged to receiving thugs in the palace in order to conspire against judges. I know who Alvaro Uribe is since probably a lustrum, but for the masses nothing’s real until they can see it or hear it on the media.

    Yeah! Colombia is still the US staunchest ally by far, but if the BBC, NYT and WP weren’t selling the story that a superguy with 102% of acceptance amongst the population, and with a charisma only matched by John F. Kennedy, and that was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, rules the country where he wiped out crime and has the economy thriving at unprecedented rates, I think they’d think twice before calling Colombia the “staunchest ally” and not a simple petty US colony. :mrgreen:

  4. David Sketchley Says:

    This is a copy of an e-mail I sent the NYT reporter Simon Romero copied to the Public Editor. Of course they have not replied.

    Your recent article “Court Looks at Supporters of Rebels in Colombia” (NYT 15 August 2008 is highly deceptive and misleading to your readers. The entire article is weighted to give the impression that Moreno Ocampo’s concerns are mainly about the FARC. You aportion one paragraph only to concerns about the paramilitary.
    That is certainly not the impression the Colombians themselves got as this article from El Espectador shows.
    This shows that the main concerns are actually the paramilitaries. Indeed the ICC itself, in a press release posted on its website, refers specifically to the paramilitaries while never even mentioning the FARC once by name:
    “In accordance with the Rome Statute, Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo and his team will continue the ongoing examination of the investigations and proceedings in Colombia, focusing particularly on the people who may be considered among those most responsible for crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC. As stated by the Prosecutor during his last visit: “With the International Criminal Court, there is a new law under which impunity is no longer an option. Either the national courts must do it or we will.”
    The Prosecutor will also seek further information on the investigations and proceedings being conducted in Columbia against soldiers and politicians­ – members of Congress among them – allegedly involved in crimes committed by paramilitaries and guerillas. In this context, he will seek further information on the extradition of 15 former paramilitaries being tried under the Justice and Peace Law to the United States of America in May 2008.
    The ICC Office of the Prosecutor is also looking into allegations on the existence of international support networks assisting armed groups committing crimes within Colombia that potentially fall within the jurisdiction of the Court. Letters requesting information have been sent to Colombia’s neighbours, to other States and to international and regional organisations.”
    How about rewriting the article to fairly represent Moreno Ocampo’s real concerns? A copy of this e-mail will be forwarded to the Public Editor.
    Yours Sincerely,

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Hello David! It’s people like you that make the difference. Going through Colombian history, you can see it’s true that the US has submitted this rich and beautiful piece of land to scornful procedures of subjugation and mental slavery. However it’s also true that were it not for valiant American people, we would not know of the level of corruption the south American country has undergone or the tepid conduct of this community of Spanish ancestry, that are made believe to be Anglo-Saxons, and whose lives eke away pathetically in deception, not able to break free from the chains of colonialism and subserviantism and the denial of their own roots, interests and culture.

  6. Roger Says:

    All this might be promising signs for social justice in Colombia, but there is still a terrible amount of naivity (or avoidance?) surrounding the investigations. Alvaro Uribe, his father Alberto Uribe Sierra, and his entire biography is surrounded by the cocaine drug trade and paramilitarism. The U.S. government has known this at least since 1991 when Uribe was identified as an important “narcoterrorist” in 1991 by the DIA. See
    Call me negative, but considering how important Uribe is to the US government, I think it will take a lot of political will by the ICC itself to proesecute this wicked man and his many supporters (fascists?). Political manipulation of “90% of Colombians” (even if the polls are elitist and do not count for the 60% of the the country who are poor…) is a crime comparable to the “failures of democracy” in Europe during the 1930s.

  7. Patrick Higgins Says:

    Kyle, If you read this send me an email at I hope all is well.

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