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Last Updated:4/25/02
CIP memorandum: Álvaro Uribe’s government and Colombian human rights defenders, April 23, 2003

Memorandum

April 23, 2003
To: Interested Colleagues
From: Ingrid Vaicius, Associate, Center for International Policy
Re: Colombia: Álvaro Uribe’s government and Colombian human rights defenders

On April 30, President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia will arrive in Washington for his second visit since assuming office last August. Elected for his promises to intensify the Colombian government’s decades-old fight against guerrilla and paramilitary groups, Mr. Uribe has implemented a series of hard-line security policies in the first nine months of his administration.

Such measures as citizen informant networks and an easing of searches, wiretaps and “preventive arrests” have so far brought few gains on the battlefield. Many Colombian human rights defenders, however, fear that these measures may instead end up targeting the country’s peaceful opposition, which is a necessary element of any healthy democracy. In the past, Colombian governments’ attempts to crack down on guerrillas have had little effect on armed groups, but have brought surveillance, imprisonment, threats, exile and even death to human rights and peace activists, labor organizers, opposition politicians, academics, and journalists.

Though the Uribe government insists that its policies fall within a framework of “democratic security,” public comments from officials and individuals close to the president raise fears that this ugly pattern could repeat itself. On several occasions, we have been alarmed by Uribe government officials’ unfounded accusations that peaceful advocates of reform are somehow tied to, or indistinguishable from, guerrilla groups. Though such comments raise tensions and close political space for civil society, they are rarely retracted or countered by President Uribe.

Several examples follow.

  • “Brigadier General José Arturo Camelo, head of the Military Penal Justice division, while participating in a conference in Washington hosted by the U.S. Army on April 10 of this year, accused Human Rights NGOs of carrying out a ‘judicial war’ against the military. He also denounced that these organizations are ‘friends of the subversives’ and part of a strategy coordinated by the guerrillas.” – from an April 21 Human Rights Watch letter to President Uribe [1]

  • “I wouldn't say this because I have no evidence, but there's a coincidence of what the FARC (guerrillas) say and what these guys [the human rights groups] say. I'm not accusing anyone, but there's a nice coincidence.” – Gen. Carlos Ospina, commander of the Colombian Army, Washington, January 28, 2003. [2]

  • “Intelligence also has to be carried out on NGOs, because they are the ones that have damaged this country. … [S]ubversive groups also work with masks, they work sheltered in those organizations.” – Pedro Juan Moreno, security and intelligence advisor to President Uribe (and Uribe’s former private secretary when governor of Antioquia) [3]

  • “The friends of Mono Jojoy [the FARC guerrillas’ number-two leader] and among them particularly the NGOs that receive the communion of liberation theology or those judicial wanna-be guerrillas … the clergy of CINEP, Father Javier Giraldo, Mr. Gallón and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective.” – Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Colombia’s ambassador to Portugal [4]

  • “Colombia is the victim of an international conspiracy in which environmentalists and communists participate. … [T]his diabolical conspiracy is also carried out when members of the armed forces are brought to court without any proof or evidence. … [P]olitical scientists tell us that communism is dead, but the communists are not and they continue to have their views and their will to fracture contemporary society. Frequently they dress in green, so they are the Green parties, they are no longer the red parties because they do not attract [people], and it doesn’t mean much, instead they are green and they are the environmentalists and they all come together to figure out where they are going to hit and they painfully hit the prestige and the livelihood of Colombians.” – Fernando Londoño, the Uribe government’s “super-minister” of interior and justice, July 10, 2002, upon the release of the book Shearing the Wolf (Esquilando al Lobo), a book alleging NGO links to guerrillas published by Colombia’s “Body of Retired Generals and Admirals” [5]

  • “We are going to get ahead and take an offensive position regarding information about human rights. … [W]e are going to stop the highhandedness and injustice of many NGOs. It is unreasonable that in the last year the embassy in Canada has received five thousand complaints of alleged human rights violations and only 20 are against the guerrillas. … [W]e are tired of having to follow in NGOs’ footsteps, of having to dance to their tune.” – Fanny Kertzmann, Colombia’s ambassador to Canada [6]


[1] Human Rights Watch, Letter to President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (Washington: Human Rights Watch, April 21, 2003) <http://www.hrw.org/spanish/cartas/2003/uribe_defensores.html>.

[2] Pamela Hess, “New Colombian soldiers to join fight,” UPI, (Washington: January 28, 2003).

[3] “Se Destapa Pedro Juan Moreno,” Revista Cromos 4,442 (Bogotá, Colombia: March 30, 2003) <http://www.cromos.com.co/anteriores.asp?edicion=4442>.

[4] Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, “Despedida,” El Espectador (Bogotá, Colombia: November 24, 2002) <http://www.elespectador.com/2002/20021124/opinion/nota7.htm>. The organizations and individuals named are prominent Colombian human rights activists.

[5] “Ministro del Interior acusa a ecologistas de ‘complot mundial’,” EcoNoticias (July 16, 2002) <http://www.iepe.org/econoticias/072002/16072002latin_colombia.htm>.

[6] “Colombia encara la guerra,” El Tiempo (Bogotá, Colombia: August 18, 2002).

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