Para-Politics in Colombia’s Congress: updated count Héctor Abad on “Rito’s Rituals”
Sep 052008
  • Colombian authorities yesterday arrested retired General Rito Alejo del Río, charging him with complicity in the 1997 paramilitary murder of campesino leader Marino López. Ever since Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office abruptly and controversially dropped its case against him seven years ago, Gen. del Río’s name has been synonymous with impunity for human-rights crimes.

Gen. del Río ran the Army’s 17th Brigade in northwestern Antioquia department’s Urabá region from 1995 to 1997. During his tenure, the paramilitaries multiplied their presence in Urabá, carrying out one of the most gruesome offensives against civilians in recent Colombian history. (In Marino López’s case, for instance, paramilitaries played a soccer match using the local leader’s severed head as a ball.)  Testimonies from demobilized paramilitaries have confirmed what witnesses – including other military officers – have long alleged: that Gen. del Río played a leading role in the paramilitaries’ campaign of massacres, torture and forced displacement.

(In 1999, after human rights allegations forced Gen. del Río to resign, Álvaro Uribe – the governor of Antioquia during the general’s tenure – was the keynote speaker at a Bogotá dinner held in his honor.)

  • Threats against the Colombian human-rights group Justicia y Paz, mentioned in last Friday’s links post, grew more serious this week. Members of the group, which works with displaced communities in Chocó department, were briefly kidnapped and threatened by “new” paramilitaries, while two men were detected after midnight several days ago while en route to a house where several slept.
  • You know things are bad when the president of Colombia’s Supreme Court says things like this in a public speech: “The Supreme Court will keep complying, with no fear, with the functions the Constitution and the law have assigned to it, despite the constant attacks that are coming from the government, which seeks to discredit and de-legitimize the ["para-politics"] investigations it is carrying out. Just as it did not allow itself to be intimidated by the violent groups who tried to silence it and consume it in flames more than twenty years ago, the Court will not do it now before those who intend to silence it in order that impunity may reign.”
  • President Álvaro Uribe’s post-hostage rescue bounce in Colombia’s opinion polls seems to have faded, though his approval rating is still 78 percent, according to Gallup’s polling [PDF] of residents with telephones in Colombia’s four largest cities.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a measured speech at the every-18-month meeting of the hemisphere’s defense ministers, held this week in Banff, Canada.

[I]n areas such as law enforcement and public administration, civilian capacity may not match the expertise found in many of our armed forces. It is important that non-military capabilities receive adequate manning and funding – a point I emphasize frequently with respect to our State Department’s budget.

The meeting itself – the eighth since 1995 – got almost no attention in the regional media, mainly due to its remote location and its unambitious agenda (not much hope for consensus when the United States and Colombia are in the same room with Venezuela and its allies). The conservative Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser argues that the ministerial summits have little reason to exist today, and that the United States should pursue bilateral relationships instead.

We would argue that while the meetings offer little hope of achieving regional consensus, there is a significant confidence-building and civil-military relations benefit to having the region’s mostly civilian defense ministers meet regularly. Also, these forums provide an increasingly rare opportunity for U.S. and allied officials to have exchanges, formally or informally, with counterparts from Venezuela and other countries whose relations with Washington have grown very distant.

  • Interesting pieces this week in major U.S. papers. The Washington Post documents rising coca cultivation in the Andes and discusses Ecuador’s refusal to renew the U.S. military presence at the Manta counter-narcotics base. The Los Angeles Times writes about “new” paramilitary groups’ dominion over the northeastern department of La Guajira, Colombia.
  • Beautiful column in the Los Angeles Times by author and former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, condemning the Ortega government’s judicial harassment of Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua. Cardenal, one of Latin America’s most celebrated poets, served with Ortega in the first Sandinista government (1979-1990) as minister of culture.
  • Civil-military relations notes from around the region: The head of Nicaragua’s armed forces attacked human-rights groups who alleged irregularities in the military pension fund. Paraguay’s armed forces are openly quarreling with the new government about authority over promotions, nominations and transfers. In Bolivia, the Morales government is seeking to try the governor of Beni and the mayor of Trinidad in a military court, alleging that they were responsible for a protest in which an officer was wounded.
  • Colombian soldiers forced Michael Fabricant, a Conservative Party member of the British Parliament, to eat several spoonfuls of non-dairy coffee creamer during a recent visit to Colombia. Fabricant thus proved that the white powder was not cocaine, though he did give himself a stomachache.

6 Responses to “Friday links”

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    This should not occur in today’s democracies. Howcome such a mean ugly gorilla is able to get so much power, that even justice is complicit with? That fat ass MF should be put in flames along all of those who support the bastard!

  2. El Común Says:

    Jaime said:
    That fat ass MF should be put in flames along all of those who support the bastard!

    This is the type of hateful sentiment that we need to overcome if Colombia is to find peace and the rule of law. Let’s hope that justice is served, not only with Alejo del Rio, but with others who are in custody (ex-governor of Sucre Salvador Arana Sus, for example). But burning them alive makes us no better than the paramilitaries. Let’s give these men their day in court. The whole world (including the ICC) is watching.

  3. Randy Paul Says:

    Stephen Kinzer’s article is dead on. The only person Ortega has ever cared about is Ortega.

  4. MZR Says:

    “…according to Gallup’s polling [PDF] of residents with telephones in Colombia’s four largest cities.”

    This pretty much sums up how unreliable and limited these polls are – one must live in one of the “four largest” Colombian cities and, indeed, own a telephone. Hardly representative of Colombia’s campesino population (or rural population in general), for example. No doubt the para-president is popular, but to assume that he has 78% approval rating across the whole of Colombia is, indeed, ludicrous.

  5. Camilla Says:

    Love the nondairy creamer story! That MP must have looked like a sleazy yellow-toothed European doper and pricked the suspicions right away of the military men on the scene. Maybe next time he can drop the tie-dye and wear a tie. Nice to know the Colombian army is on the job and keeping Colombians safe.

  6. Randy Paul Says:

    The MP is a member of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher’s party. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a doper or at least a dope, like most Thatcherites.

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