Here are excerpts from two recent articles about the same theme: the Colombian government’s security policies and the ongoing realignment of the country’s paramilitary groups and drug mafias. The first is a column in yesterday’s El Espectador newspaper by columnist, former peace negotiator and left political leader Daniel GarcÃa-PeÃ±a. The second is a February editorial [PDF] by Alejandro Angulo, S.J., the director of the Jesuit-run Center for Research and Popular Education, CINEP.
(EDIT: Alejandro Angulo’s term as CINEP’s director ended last year. The new director is Mauricio GarcÃa, S.J.)
Poorly named “emerging groups”
In recent days President Uribe launched an offensive against the “emerging groups,” the name being given to the same paramilitaries as always.
This is a new term in the dictionary that the illusionists in the “Palacio de Nari” are editing. ["Palacio de Nari" refers to the way that paramilitary leaders referred to the presidential palace, or "Palacio de NariÃ±o," when a 2008 scandal revealed that they had paid a visit.] In Colombia, they say, there is no armed conflict, just a “war against terrorism;” the dispaced are “migrants;” national security is now “democratic security;” the neoliberal model is called “investor confidence;” anybody who thinks differently belongs to the “intellectual bloc” of terrorism.
This mania for not calling things by their names seeks not only to distort reality in order to make it fit in narrow mental schemes, but also above all to create new virtual “realities” based on lies. In this case, the fallacy is the supposed “end of paramilitarism.” According to the fable, thanks to the “peace process,” 32,000 men were demobilized, we all saw the photos and, abracadabra, paramilitarism now doesn’t exist. The hero of the story is the outgoing “High Commissioner for Peace,” now about to use his heavy magic to unite the pro-Uribe parties.
That is why it was important to have a new name for the extinct paramilitaries. “BACRIM” (criminal bands) is what appears on the wanted posters. Another genius had the idea of calling them “new generation organizations” (NGOs), in order to stigmatize still further the true NGOs.
Past governments have always had a hard time calling paramilitaries by their real name. Between 1965 and 1989, they existed legally as “self-defense groups.” The Barco government, which declared them illegal, spoke of “hitmen” and “private justice” groups. In the Samper government, [Defense Minister] Fernando Botero gave them the prettiest alias, “Convivir” ["to coexist"]. At first, Uribe always called them the “poorly named paramilitaries.”
The truth is that the mass demobilization did not mean the dismantlement of paramilitarism, but instead formed part of its consolidation. Such a large number of armed men was no longer needed. They had already killed the political and social leaders who had to be eliminated, and chopped up and displaced all the campesinos who had land that needed to be stolen. Mission accomplished. In addition, to maintain an army of mercenaries, at 500,000 pesos per month (about US$200) times 32,000 heads, requires a respectable amount of money. As a result, the business was an all-around success: the “reinserted” passed into the care of the public treasury and the paramilitary leaders remain with all the treasure they accumulated as a fruit of their terror, keeping only the strictly necessary number of armed men.
After years of complicit silence, the final report of the OAS [verification] mission warns that 7,000 of the 32,000 ex-”paras” are disconnected from the Reinsertion Program and that some “continue to commit crimes even as they remain in the Program.” By the way, what happened to [fugitive, presumed dead top AUC leader] Vicente CastaÃ±o and why does he not appear on the wanted posters?
While the same paramilitaries as always still exist, plus the rearmed and recently recruited ones, whatever you want to call them, will still be killing. And the victims will still be inhibited from denouncing the crimes and demanding their rights to truth, justice and reparations.
The Rearrangement [PDF]
By Alejandro Angulo S.J.
The true victory of Democratic Security [the Colombian government's security policy since 2002] is paramilitary consolidation. Whether it was sought or not is disputable. But that it has not been avoided is certain. Combat against paramilitaries is being carried out by other paramilitaries. The “negotiation” with paramilitaries put para-politics on the table, an old hidden vice in of our vulnerable democracy. But victory over para-politics is still uncertain, since its conjunction with narcotrafficking has made it invulnerable.
Instead, what has been achieved is to conserve and increase a model of political action and economic development that maintains discrimination against ethnic minorities much more effectively than it did during the conquest and colonialism. At the same time, it also manages to shut down any protest against that model of slave economy that privatizes the state and makes work contracts precarious. This protest, which has taken the form of popular demonstrations and has been brought to its violent extreme by guerrillas, has been defeated. That is the deepest meaning of the triumph of Democratic Security.
A dialogue of analysts held at CINEP on Monday, February 2 documented two pieces of news, one good and one bad, which also clarify much that underlies official versions and justifies the clamor of the victims: (a) Democratic Security won the war, and (b) Violence in Colombia has not decreased. Adding the two together yields a very worrisome piece of news: the battles have been won but the war has been lost. Which means that in Colombia, politics is still an accepted form of waging war. In other words: murder is still thought of the most effective strategy at the ballot box, and armed bands are more convincing than political campaigns.
To recognize that the war was won means, as the studies themselves demonstrate, that the guerrillas have been beaten but not extinguished, and that murders are less numerous. Using some likely, if inexact, statistics, it is observed that from 2001 to 2008 civilian killings decreased from more than 1,500 to a little more than 400. The FARC’s unilateral actions decreased from 400 in 2001 to less than 50 in 2008. That is why violence continues on that side. Nonetheless, this is good news.
Now the bad news is that paramilitarism is the victorious power. And here comes the most terrifying part. The paramilitaries, even with their leaders in jail, have consolidated themselves to the point of going from being violent assassins, to generating political and economic violence that functions through the mechanism of excluding minorities, powered by terror.
The massacres that in 2000 were 47% carried out by paramilitaries, in 2004 were 8% and in 2007 were 3%. That is, threats are now the primary means: in 2004, they made up 4% of “para” actions, but in 2007 they were 57%. Conclusion: the “paracos” now don’t massacre, they threaten. Is this a moral gain? It doesn’t seem that clear to me, because the violence continues. We find ourselves in a rugged landscape of continued violence in social relations. It is what in the above-mentioned event was referred to as “the rearrangement,” using an expression that was much debated among the colleagues present, but seems to me to be quite accurate. A rough but gloomy indicator of this rearrangement for many Colombians is that in 2007, 8% of paramilitary “actions” were revelations of locations of mass graves!
Nor is rearrangement new, as such. They have not taken on the same forms of organizing and perpetrating violence, but they are all paramilitaries. Once they take over public posts, thanks to the terror they manage to inspire, the illegal bands re-establish extortion, in the clientelistic manner of traditional politics, but strengthened by the fear that massacres leave floating in the short memory of public opinion. It is a metamorphosis of armed violence into economic and social violence.