“He is a much different person than I thought” The new narco-paramilitary mafia
Feb 182009

Liberal Party Senator Juan Fernando Cristo will be in Washington for a series of events and meetings next week. Over the past year, Sen. Cristo has become the legislature’s leading advocate of legislation to provide reparations to the victims of Colombia’s conflict.

In the Senate, Cristo has been the principal sponsor of a Victims’ Law: a bill compelling the state to provide “dignified, effective and integral” reparations to those who suffered “physically, morally or economically” as a result of the conflict, without regard to the identity of the victimizer.

This bill has been making its way through Colombia’s Congress; in the House of Representatives, however, supporters of President Álvaro Uribe – who have a commanding majority – gutted the Victims’ Law’s provisions so completely in November that Sen. Cristo now opposes the House version of the bill he helped to create.

Here is a translation of a column Sen. Cristo published in Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, in January. (Thanks to CIP Intern Stacy Ulmer for translation help.) We look forward to welcoming him back to Washington next week.

Reparations: a Right, or a Handout?
Sen. Juan Fernando Cristo, El Tiempo, January 13, 2009

The scene last December 16, near midnight in the full House of Representatives, when the government literally locked up more than 80 legislators with the single and exclusive goal that they approve an initiative to perpetuate the Head of State in power, caused many Colombians to feel pain for the fatherland. It has been decades since we have seen such demonstrations in Colombia of power used for personal benefit and authoritarianism.

The pain for the fatherland is even worse when we realize that the government considered it to be “crucial” for the country that the House of Representatives approve, in the second debate, an initiative that benefits just one person, though at the same time it openly promoted the postponement of a bill that seeks to benefit more than 3 million compatriots who have suffered the rigors of violence.

It is sad to recognize that the victims’ law, which had its last plenary debate after a long discussion, became an obstacle that had to be removed to fulfill the reelection obsession, so with no decency and even less discussion, they decided to postpone its approval until next March. Without thinking of the millions of Colombians, without remembering the mothers of Soacha who will not be able to get reparations, without attending to the more than 3,000 victims of the FARC, “paras” and ELN who expressed themselves at 10 public hearings throughout the country demanding a worthy treatment. In sum, they could not care any less about these victims’ suffering and their mistreatment and abandonment by the state.

The basic issue that impedes an agreement between the bill’s authors and the government is not the well-publicized attempt to exclude the victims of state actors, much less the vaunted fiscal problem, nor is it the government’s refusal to accept international principles like the victims’ good faith or the law’s interpretation in their favor. No. Here there is a gigantic difference, from a conceptual and human point of view, which makes agreement difficult, and while it is not removed we will keep going.

International organizations with expertise on this matter, like the UN and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the Inspector-General’s Office [Procuraduría], the Ombudsman’s Office [Defensoría del Pueblo], the bill’s authors and the organizations representing the victims, consider reparations to be a fundamental right of victims, independent of who the victimizer is. The government does not recognize that right, it sees the victims as an obstacle to any peace process, perceives them to be a “problem” for the state and its institutions, and considers that they should be “helped” so they don’t “bother us so much.”

The rest are legislative technicalities: whether reparations are given for “duty of guarantee” or “solidarity” reasons; what the definition of “victim;” whether there must be a judicial reparation, or at what moment the state’s responsibility is accepted. These disagreements can be summarized by saying that we have a different vision of the victim. For us, he is a citizen who suffered physically, morally or economically as a consequence of the conflict, and who has every right to receive reparations in a dignified, effective and integral manner. The government considers him to be a poor person who lives in a conflictive zone and the state, according to its possibilities, must attend to him with its assistentialist programs.

Reparation and alms are two sides of the same coin. Only when Colombian society, not just the government, recognizes that there should be an aggressive and effective state policy to provide reparations to these three million compatriots who have rights – not just a handout whenever that’s possible – can we hold the hope of achieving peace and reconciliation in Colombia. The Victims’ Law, in its Senate version, should be the first step and nothing else.

6 Responses to “Juan Fernando Cristo: Reparations: A Right, or A Handout?”

  1. Pages tagged "colombia" Says:

    [...] bookmarks tagged colombia Juan Fernando Cristo: Reparations: A Right, or A H… saved by 2 others     jds943 bookmarked on 02/18/09 | [...]

  2. maremoto Says:

    sorry guys, I posted this on the last entry but I really had to make sure you guys got a dose of maremoto… how could i not ? :P

    maremoto Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 8:58 pm
    i have just one thing to say about the perfidious carpetbagger myles frechette: may God truly shed his Justice on him and his family

    and marcos, nobody here wants the farc or chavez or uribe to win…..

    we want good governance, transparency in government, CIVIL SOCIETY EMPOWERMENT (u know real DEMOCRACY) and above all no violence…BY ANYBODY !!!!

    we have all suffered and we should all pay for our crimes and be rewarded for our diligence or good deeds… and that includes your little scumbag Uribe, and his past foreign associations with neocons such as this piece of human feces frechette who now it “appears” is being blackmailed again…LOLOLOLOLOL

    maremoto Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 9:05 pm
    sorry, the carpetbagger frechette & co are blackmailing the drug dealer president…well actually that’s just the same blackmail they’ve been practicing ever since the DIA report surfaced….

    you know what? good for uribe…if he’s finally getting off his knees in front of the rapacious neocon gringo with the gun uribe is so scared of, well its about damn time mr uribe…

    and remember marcos…the other souther LatAm leaders have created the political space to throw off the chains of the “war” on drugs…. do it now that we have a decent person in the white house…now is the moment pequeno tirano….

    as to Mr Cristo’s legislation, I think it’s the best idea i have ever heard…make these crimes expensive for the State, coupled with an armored and fully funded IRS, then maybe the top income earners will find common cause to bring peace and finally put their country before their profits and force an end to the narcotics black markets created by the mendacious US Congress

  3. Chris Says:

    Reparations are a handout… you’ll never convince me otherwise.

    Now, I’ll agree to discern between good and bad handouts… ok, this is a good handout.

    If we are to consider reparations as a right… I could think of billions of people that then have the right to a reparation of sorts… which then leads to the real question: how do you quantify it? What a mess we’d be in if we had to right every wrong ever done in history.

  4. maremoto Says:

    Chris Says:
    February 19th, 2009 at 5:51 pm
    Reparations are a handout… you’ll never convince me otherwise.

    Now, I’ll agree to discern between good and bad handouts… ok, this is a good handout.

    If we are to consider reparations as a right… I could think of billions of people that then have the right to a reparation of sorts… which then leads to the real question: how do you quantify it? What a mess we’d be in if we had to right every wrong ever done in history.

    spoken like a true little despot

  5. Marcos Says:

    It’s the principle that counts, let’s forget about everything else.



  6. Will it work? Says:

    In principle, and in the version approved by the Senate, the Victims’ Law marks a welcome development in Colombia. The recognition of people who have been victimized by paramilitary, guerilla and state forces, and the attempt to offer meaningful reparations is an obligation which has been ignored for too long in Colombia. Reparations go beyond economic aid, it needs to encompass social, cultural and political spaces. The damage inflicted on Colombia and its’ people is immense and reparations have to be accompanied by measures which address the whole person. They have to be both practical and symbolic. The psychological resistence of Colombia’s victims is low and recognizing what they have experienced now, and for future generations, is in my view essential. Great work authors.

    However, I have grave concerns about the future of this bill and these go beyond the damage that has already been inflicted by the government. Beautifully written laws that have been informed by international bodies, the experiences of other nations, and that promise a great deal but lack the mechanisms to actually put them into practice end up being empty gestures which risk inflicting further damage on people who have suffered enough already.

    It’s important to ensure that Colombia’s victims are not victimized further by the Victim’s Law.

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