first glance, a negotiation between Colombia’s government and
right-wing paramilitary groups looks easy and uncomplicated.
The South American country’s paramilitary blocs (or “self-defense
forces”) have always claimed to support the government. In particular,
they claim to be ardent supporters of Colombia’s right-of-center
president, Álvaro Uribe, who served as governor of a state where
they are strong, and who owns land in zones under their total
Colombian military itself helped to found the groups over twenty
years ago, as part of a brutal strategy to undermine, through
systematic attacks on civilian populations, the leftist guerrillas
that have dominated much of rural Colombia since the mid-1960s.
Though declared illegal in 1989, the paramilitaries – loosely
confederated in a 20,000-strong national organization, the United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) – continue to benefit
all too frequently from military logistical support, advice,
though their declared mission of defeating the FARC and ELN
guerrillas is far from accomplished, in 2002 the AUC decided
to consider going out of business. Its leaders were quick to
accept President Uribe’s offer to negotiate their demobilization
in exchange for a unilateral cease-fire. Uribe took office in
August 2002; most paramilitary groups declared a cease-fire
in December of that year. Though that cease-fire has been routinely
violated – the Colombian government acknowledges 492 paramilitary
killings, and non-governmental human rights groups claim thousands
more – the talks have continued for over thirty months.2
what many critics call a “negotiation between friends” has turned
out to be far from easy. While both sides at the negotiating
table may share an interest in a quick process that forgives
most crimes and names few names, the same cannot be said of
other stakeholders like victims’ groups, powerful members of
Colombia’s Congress, and most international donor governments.
they have no seats at the table, these sectors reject any deal
that amnesties paramilitary leaders responsible for countless
massacres and extrajudicial killings over the past twenty years.
Many worry that the negotiations may help some of the country’s
most notorious drug traffickers avoid punishment and keep most
of their ill-gotten gains, including millions of acres of prime
land taken by force. While failure to punish abuses or to right
past wrongs risks prolonging Colombia’s generations-old cycle
of violence, critics also point out that a weak agreement will
leave paramilitary command and support networks in place, allowing
the groups to continue to exist in some other form.
“framework law” for the talks: a bitter debate
was expected that the critics’ main leverage over these questions
would be the law to manage the combatants’ demobilization, which
Colombia’s Congress had to pass in order to allow an agrement
to proceed. This “framework law” would determine whether paramilitary
leaders had to serve time in prison for crimes against humanity.
It would determine whether government prosecutors and investigators
would have the time and the tools necessary to locate stolen
assets, to settle victims’ claims for reparations, and to ensure
that paramilitary networks are definitively stamped out.
AUC-government negotiations went on for two and a half years
without such a law in place. Donor nations forced the issue,
however, by requiring that an acceptable “framework law” be
approved before they start writing checks to fund a demobilization
and reintegration process that could cost upwards of a quarter
of a billion dollars.3
Uribe government had already introduced two earlier bills (in
August 2003 and April 2004) that were widely criticized for
being too lenient, allowing near-total amnesty for paramilitary
leaders, and doing almost nothing to require the groups to dismantle
their command and support structures. Uribe administration officials
argued that a law that asks too much of paramilitary leaders
would make it impossible to move ahead in negotiations.
observers have speculated that key sectors of Colombia’s political
and business elite, especially in paramilitary-dominated areas,
would be threatened by a process that reveals too much about
the rightist groups’ support and linkages, thus casting a light
on their own role in backing the AUC’s anti-guerrilla dirty
war. Since these sectors are an important base of President
Uribe’s domestic support, this argument sustains, his negotiators
have a strong incentive to pursue a peace agreement with as
much “forgiving and forgetting” as possible.
late 2004 and early 2005, critics of this weak approach – ranging
from human-rights groups to some prominent members of Colombia’s
traditional political class – had lined up behind a much tougher
alternative proposal, promoted by a coalition of legislators
led by Senator Rafael Pardo, a former defense minister. By June
2005, however, President Uribe, his chief peace negotiator,
Luis Carlos Restrepo, and their most ardent congressional supporters
had thoroughly steamrolled the Pardo coalition’s proposals,
pushing through a bill giving the paramilitary leadership much
of what it wanted. The Colombian Congress passed the weaker
bill on June 21.
of the five to ten years in prison called for by the Pardo bill,
those found guilty of crimes against humanity would serve five
to eight – likely in some form of “house arrest” at rural haciendas
– minus credits for good behavior and time spent negotiating.
Prosecutors would have only thirty days to gather evidence of
responsibility for serious human-rights crimes, a period so
short that the majority of massacres, disappearances, killings
and forced displacements would likely go unpunished. “In 30
days one cannot do what couldn’t be done in ten years,” Senator
Pardo objected in April.4 (The final version of
the bill extended this period to a still-insufficient sixty
Pardo bill would have required all demobilizing paramilitaries
– from leadership to rank-and-file – to undergo a thorough interview
requiring them to reveal not just their involvement in past
crimes, but the assets they illegally obtained, where in the
country they served, who commanded them, and who supported them,
financially or otherwise. While this “exit interview” is far
from a perfect tool for eliminating paramilitary networks, it
was seen as a necessary step for effective prosecutions, location
of stolen land and property, and eradication of paramilitary
demand less would be to subordinate democracy to armed groups,
whether new ones or old ones,” Senator Pardo wrote in February.
“It would be to leave society with the message that crime does
pay.”5 Yet even this requirement was stripped from
the Uribe government’s bill, which merely calls on demobilizing
paramilitaries to provide their names, towns of origin and similar
the government bill declares membership in a paramilitary group
to be a “political crime.” Colombia’s constitution does not
allow extradition to other countries for political crimes. Several
top paramilitary leaders face indictments in U.S. courts for
their role in sending drugs to the United States. If paramilitarism
is considered a “political crime,” and the AUC leaders’ lawyers
can successfully argue that their involvement in the drug trade
was necessary to fund their cause, then they will never be tried
in U.S. courts for shipping tons of cocaine to U.S. shores.
all of these issues, jail terms have received the lion’s share
of attention. On February 23rd, the AUC issued a
communiqué letting it be known that they will quit the talks
– “stay in the jungle and face war or death” – if the “framework
law” includes jail time.6 If the law requires them
to turn in their weapons only to report to prison, top AUC leader
Iván Roberto Duque repeated in April, the paramilitaries will
leave the talks. “If we have to decide to head back to the mountains,
the first ones to feel sorry about this decision will be us,
these bombastic threats, the jail issue is a distraction from
other, more serious issues. Jail time was not a key point of
disagreement between the Uribe government and backers of the
defeated Pardo bill, as both sides’ proposed prison terms differed
by only a few years.
less attention is a far broader and more vital difference between
the Colombian government and its critics: call it the dismantlement
most peace processes, it is safely assumed that the armed group
in question will disappear – or at least cease all illegal political
activity – after negotiations conclude. This is not the case
with the AUC talks. Though paramilitary leaders may end up with
a clean slate and most past crimes forgiven, their power, and
their ability to terrorize, may be largely unaffected. If they
fail to do a thorough job of dismantling paramilitary command
and support networks, then, negotiations with a weak “framework
law” may in fact do more harm than good.
is such an important issue that, if Colombia fails to include
provisions to guarantee it, the Center for International Policy
will be forced to recommend that the United States deny financial
support to Colombia’s paramilitary demobilization process.
illustrate how important dismantlement is, consider two questions
that, perhaps surprisingly, few are asking. First, what would
happen if the talks fall apart? And second, would that outcome
be worse than the result of a “successful” negotiation with
a weak framework law?
of the chainsaws?
the government-AUC talks break down, a common expectation is
that, as more than one Colombian analyst has put it in conversations
with CIP researchers, “volverán las motosierras” – “the
chainsaws will return” – a reference to the tool paramilitary
fighters have employed in some of their most grisly massacres.
According to this scenario the paramilitaries will seek to make
the talks’ breakdown as painful as possible, directing greatly
stepped-up violence against the civilian population and demonstrating
their ability to keep the state from governing territory.
renewed wave of massacres, homicides and disappearances would
be a horrifying tragedy. It would also deal a severe blow to
the Uribe government’s signature “Democratic Security” program,
which is credited with bringing reductions in many statistical
measures of violence in Colombia. Since Uribe took office in
August 2002, official data show reductions in murders, kidnappings,
acts of sabotage and attacks on populations. Though the apparent
progress has slowed in 2005, with guerrilla attacks registering
a sharp increase, Colombia is considered somewhat less dangerous
than it was four years ago.
of this positive result owes to two low-cost measures the Uribe
government pursued upon taking office: a greater deployment
of existing troops and police along roads and in population
centers, and the paramilitaries’ declared cease-fire. While
the AUC has not come close to respecting the cease-fire, even
their partial observance has contributed strongly to the drop
in violence levels.8 Should the cease-fire abruptly
end, violence measures could begin to rise again, eroding or
erasing one of President Uribe’s most-cited gains.
“chainsaw” scenario is an entirely possible one. It is unlikely
to last for long, however. A wave of violence aimed at extracting
concessions from the government can be expected to flame out.
The AUC, a barely held-together collection of local warlords,
has no paramount leadership at the moment. Divisions would deepen
after the talks’ failure as many blocs, unwilling to see their
lucrative illegal activities disrupted, will not adhere for
long to a strategy aimed at posing a direct challenge to Colombia’s
government. Due to its inherent nihilism, plus a strong likelihood
that it would inspire a more determined opposition from the
state security forces, a “chainsaw” response cannot sustain
itself for long, if it happens at all.
it follows a “chainsaw” phase or bypasses it entirely, the more
likely scenario is the paramilitary blocs’ disintegration into
mafia-like groups. After a failed negotiation, the AUC can be
expected to devolve into regional structures of violence and
criminality, especially drug-related crime.
has already begun, and it has accelerated since the negotiations
began. The paramilitaries have had ties to the drug trade since
their founding in the 1980s; they always counted drug lords
among their principal donors, and increasingly raised money
by participating in cocaine production and transshipment. Since
about 2000-2001, however, their “narcotization” has reached
top AUC leadership now includes several drug lords with no anti-guerrilla
credentials, who have recently donned fatigues, christened themselves
“comandante” and bought themselves paramilitary “franchises”
– nominal command of small blocs – and seats at the negotiating
table. Among them – there are several – is the AUC’s “inspector
general,” Diego Fernando Murillo (nicknamed “Don Berna” or “Adolfo
Paz”), an old Medellín cartel figure who later led the city’s
feared network of hitmen-for-hire and street criminals; Víctor
Manuel Mejía Múnera (nicknamed “the twin”), who has long been
on FBI most-wanted lists as a high-ranking figure in the Northern
Valle drug cartel; and Guillermo Pérez Alzate, or “Pablo Sevillano,”
who is wanted by U.S. authorities for a shipment of 11 tons
drug-lord-turned-paramilitaries view Colombia’s guerrillas less
as ideological enemies than as a rival crime syndicate. In fact,
as examples of guerrilla-paramilitary combat grow ever scarcer,
they are increasingly doing narco business with the guerrillas.
day we see that the border that existed between guerrillas and
paramilitary groups has dissipated because of the drug-trafficking
interests, the need to survive,” Col. Oscar Naranjo, director
of the Colombian National Police investigative unit (DIJIN),
told the Miami Herald last December.9 In February
2004, when Colombian troops captured “Sonia,” the “financial
chief” of the FARC’s Southern Bloc, they found e-mails on her
laptop asking the local AUC to lend a helicopter “to transport
arms and drugs through the jungle.”10 In May 2005,
Colombian authorities busted their biggest-ever shipment of
drugs – fifteen tons of cocaine belonging to local FARC fronts,
the AUC’s Liberators of the South bloc, and several narcotraffickers.
he been trafficking drugs and killing enemies today, perhaps
Pablo Escobar could have avoided ending up dead on a Medellín
rooftop, surrounded by smiling, photo-snapping policemen. Today,
he could have put on camouflage fatigues, dubbed himself “comandante”
something-or-other, and bought himself a seat at the table in
the Santa Fe de Ralito demilitarized zone, where negotiations
are proceeding between the Colombian government and the AUC
. There, Escobar would have stood a decent chance of winning
amnesty, or at least a vastly reduced penalty, for his past
crimes. His new status would also have stymied any U.S. attempt
to extradite him.
of the state
September 26, Colombia’s main Sunday papers and newsweeklies
all ran similar stories about the paramilitary-mafias’ creeping
influence. “Alarms Sound About Advanced Symptoms of Paramilitarism
in Colombia,” read the lead headline in El Tiempo, Colombia’s
to a map drawn up by the Presidency of Colombia,” El Tiempo
noted, “49 paramilitary blocs are present in 26 of the country’s
32 departments [provinces] and 382 of its 1,098 municipalities
[counties]. This adds up to 13,500 men distributed across 35
percent of the national territory.”12 (Estimates
of paramilitary strength range as high as 20,000.)
is remarkable about this presence today is how little it resembles
the paramilitary model of five or six years ago, with thousands
of members wearing uniforms, armbands and insignia, carrying
heavy weapons, living with military discipline on remote encampments,
and carrying out bloody offensives to expand into new territory.
While there still are plenty of these truly “paramilitary” paramilitaries
– especially in strategically (or narcotically) important rural
zones – they are becoming obsolete, a throwback to the era of
Carlos Castaño, the onetime paramount paramilitary leader who
was forced out, and eventually killed, by members of the new
wave of narco-paramilitary leaders.
in the many regions of the country where their military control
is uncontested (by the guerrillas or the military), the AUC’s
blocs are increasingly coming to resemble Italian-style mafias.
“In Colombia we may be entering an ‘a la italiana’ phase,” writes
analyst Álvaro Camacho, “in which control and protection of
illegal activity extends itself and accelerates, threatens free
enterprise, overflows into politics and becomes a new form of
organized crime that must be added to the already long list
of threats to Colombian democracy.”13
Italy’s mafias, the paramilitaries are getting involved in politics
in order to drain money from public coffers. Particularly in
the northern part of the country, the paramilitaries have managed
to get “their” candidates elected to governorships, mayor’s
offices, town councils, university presidencies, and even Colombia’s
Congress and Senate. This allows them to siphon off a lucrative
cut of all government contracts and otherwise tap into municipal
and departmental treasuries. While this is something that guerrillas
have also done to fund themselves (such as the ELN’s access
to oil royalties in Arauca department), the paramili-taries
are taking over politics not in remote, neglected zones, but
in some of Colombia’s principal population centers.
Italian mafiosi, though, the paramilitaries also seem
to be getting involved in politics for its own sake. Many blocs
have developed a social discourse (if not an ideology) that
– while it stresses order, tradition and property – includes
so much populist advocacy for the poor, including calls for
land reform, that it sounds a bit like the guerrillas’ rhetoric.
Paramilitary “foundations,” meanwhile, are paying for road-building,
health services and development projects in much of northern
the 2002 legislative elections, paramilitary leader Salvatore
Mancuso boasted that the AUC controlled at least 30 percent
of the Colombian Congress. While not all of these legislators
are willingly doing the paramilitaries’ bidding, a few are enthusiastic
backers. The most visible are Rocío Arias and Eleonora Pineda,
who represent paramilitary strongholds in northern Antioquia
and southern Córdoba departments. Arias and Pineda were the
driving force behind a controversial July 2004 address to the
Congress by paramilitary leaders Mancuso, Duque and Ramón Isaza.
and Pineda belong to a new political party, “Colombia Viva,”
many of whose members express open support for the paramilitaries.
The party includes thirteen members of the Congress, 27 mayors
and 388 town councilmembers. Many other paramilitary-backed
(or paramilitary-controlled) politicians belong to Colombia’s
mere fact that paramilitary supporters are participating in
the democratic process is not necessarily bad news – a measure
of success working “within the system” could be an incentive
for all armed groups to choose the ballot box over the rifle.
The trouble is, just as guerrilla groups did in the past with
disastrous results, the paramilitaries are choosing both. “The
paramilitaries are forging ties with the Colombian political
class even here, in this Congress, while they kill people along
the length and breadth of the country,” warned Rep. Gustavo
Petro, a former member of the disbanded M-19 guerrillas, in
an October 2004 congressional debate. “What is being built in
Colombian territory are ‘death clubs’ that kill opponents.”14
paramilitaries’ “combination of all forms of struggle” goes
well beyond electoral power and violence against political opponents.
Like any proper mafia, the AUC’s blocs have increased their
control over much of Colombia’s illegal economy. Not just the
drug trade (of which, according to U.S. Ambassador William Wood,
they control about 40 percent), but a big share of contraband
smuggling, counterfeiting, prostitution, and gang activity.15
is a major illegal income source. A “high-level security-force
source” told El Tiempo about this phenomenon in the Caribbean
port city of Santa Marta, which extends “from the 1,000 pesos
(40 cents) they charge each street vendor in Santa Marta to
the 250,000 to 500,000 ($100 to $200) that every truck that
enters the port must pay … and we’re talking about ships that
need 70 trucks to unload them.”16
the paramilitaries have begun to expand their income from Colombia’s
legal economy. They are increasing their share of local-government
contracts, especially funds from the Subsidized Regimen Administration
(ARS), a program of block grants from the central government
to provide health care for the poorest. Colombian authorities
are investigating as many as 63 cases of ARS funds being diverted
to the paramilitaries.17
drug cartels before them, paramilitary groups are setting up
their own companies to provide services like private security
and cable television in urban areas. Competitors are being run
out of business – and not by the paramilitary companies’ superior
service or low prices.
model of encroachment on the state and legal economy, combined
with continued violent territorial control in league with longtime
supporters, may point the way to the future of right-wing violence
in Colombia. As mafias in league with landowners, ranchers,
drug lords and other monied interests, ex-paramilitaries may
no longer need to maintain costly “self-defense groups.”
the near future may see the AUC’s component blocs evolve into
dangerous hybrids of organized-crime syndicate and death squad,
something similar to the so-called “hidden powers” that have
come to dominate much of post-conflict Guatemala.18
Loose networks of wealthy individuals, sectors of the military,
criminals and former armed-group members will benefit from corruption,
threaten and kill would-be reformers such as human rights activists
and union leaders, dominate local media, carry out “social cleansing”
campaigns against street criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes
and other “undesirables,” and even provide social services through
their own non-governmental organizations.
of rural Colombia is already represented by corrupt political
bosses who govern through patronage and backroom, machine politics.
If the AUC’s new version of “combination of all forms of struggle”
serves them well, this old guard may soon be replaced by a new
class of corrupt political bosses.
new congressmen, senators, governors and mayors they elect would
be quite different from the political-machine hacks of old.
They would be part of a national political project: one that
is vaguely right-wing, intimately tied to the drug trade and
other criminal networks, represents the interests of a Paleolithic
large-landholding class, and freely uses violence when the political
process gets in the way of their agenda. If their “armed campaigning”
allows them to increase their share of control over government
institutions – if the “para-state” is allowed to grow within
the state – Colombia will finally become the “narco-democracy”
that U.S. drug warriors have worried about for so long.
a breakdown better than a bad peace agreement?
the mafia scenario suggested here describes what might happen
after a breakdown of negotiations, it may be the exact outcome
that the paramilitary leadership hopes to gain from a peace
strains the imagination to think that AUC leaders with long
histories in Colombia’s criminal underworld – figures like Don
Berna, “Jorge 40” or “Macaco” – truly plan to retire and pursue
new lives as gentleman farmers or local politicians. If that
were their true goal, it would not be greatly hindered by a
negotiated settlement that first puts them in jail for several
years, takes away their ill-gotten assets, and requires their
rank-and-file to reveal details about their organization.
the paramilitary leadership vociferously opposes such measures;
its communiqués have nothing but angry words for Senator Pardo
and others who have pushed for tougher measures.
the paramilitary leadership gets most of the impunity it wants,
with no questions asked, from the negotiations, its transition
to a mafia or “hidden powers” model will face few obstacles.
The same hard-right landowning and narcotrafficking interests
that helped establish today’s paramilitaries would continue
to seek a way to keep guerrillas at bay and the political left
weak and intimidated. The warlords who comprise today’s AUC
leadership – including the recently arrived narcotraffickers
who would most benefit from a non-extradition guarantee – would
continue to profit from illegal activity (drugs, counterfeiting,
smuggling, kidnapping and extortion) and to make inroads into
the state and the legal economy.
U.S. Policy of Ambivalent Support
for peace should be the easiest of decisions. But in Colombia
it is not, U.S. Ambassador William Wood said in
June 2004. Washington is adopting a tricky position of
modest support and strong criticism, of moving toward
helping to demobilize paramilitary fighters while simultaneously
seeking to extradite their leaders on drug charges.
shows of financial support have been relatively small
and tentative. In 2003 USAID spent $150,000 in Andean
Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) funds to advise the
Colombian government as they design demobilization/reintegration
programs. This sort of logistical support continued
in 2004, while an underfunded and heavily questioned OAS
verification mission got hundreds of thousands of dollars
for its launch.
the U.S. contribution to the AUC process has been small,
its outlays exceed those of other donors Sweden,
the Netherlands, and the Bahamas whose support
has mostly gone to the OAS mission. Like the European
Union, the United States has indicated that the overall
process will be easier to support once Colombias
Congress approves a framework law to cover
those accused of serious abuses, dismantle paramilitarism,
and compensate victims.
the U.S. Justice Departments requests to extradite
paramilitary leaders on narcotrafficking charges are often
referred to in Colombia as a sword of Damocles
hanging over the talks. The official U.S. position is
that these extradition requests are not negotiable. Less
clear, though, is whether the Bush administration would
choose to downgrade relations with the Uribe government
if, after a negotiation concludes, the requests for AUC
extraditions go unfulfilled.
Bush administration wants to give a different treatment
to rank-and-file paramilitaries, expressing some interest
in funding their demobilization, disarmament and reintegration
(DDR). For 2005, USAID has set aside $3.25 million in
Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) funds (under the Democracy
category) for this purpose.
U.S. contribution may increase little in the near term,
for two important reasons. First, giving aid to demobilized
paramilitaries may be illegal. Section 803 of the USA-PATRIOT
Act makes those who harbor or conceal terrorists
subject to fines or up to ten years in jail. The Justice
Department has advised the State Department that it could
be a jailable offense to fund the demobilization even
of those who have renounced membership in terrorist groups
like the AUC. Discussions continue between Justice and
State about, in the words of Washington Post columnist
Marcela Sánchez, whether a terrorist can
stop being a terrorist.
the U.S. Congress is not enthusiastic about supporting
the AUC talks. The House-Senate Conference Committee that
drew up the 2005 foreign aid bill made clear its belief
that the costs of demobilizing illegal armed groups
should be borne by the Colombian Government, not the United
States. The conferees signaled their concern that
the demobilization process is being undertaken without
adequate safeguards to ensure the dismantling of Foreign
Terrorist Organizations, to deter members of such groups
from resuming illegal activities, or to prosecute and
punish those involved in drug trafficking and human rights
violations, adding that they do not believe
the Administration should request funds in fiscal year
2006 for the demobilization/reintegration of members of
such FTOs unless it is for limited activities.
other words, a lenient negotiated agreement – one based on
a weak “framework law” that gives the paramilitaries much of
what they want – would have virtually the same result as a premature
rupture in the talks. The main difference would be in the short
term, as a rupture carries a risk of a short-term burst of violence
(the “chainsaw” scenario) in its immediate aftermath. Otherwise,
a weak peace agreement that fails to stop Colombia’s paramilitarization
would yield the same outcome as no peace agreement at all.
importance of a clear U.S. (and international donor) position
implication of all this is clear: if the paramilitary leadership
shows no flexibility on issues like punishment, accountability,
reparations and dismantlement, it would not be tragic to
let the talks collapse. It makes sense for the Colombian
government to take a far tougher negotiating position than it
has to date.
Colombian government’s top peace negotiator, Luis Carlos Restrepo,
has said that to do so – for instance, to adopt the Pardo bill’s
provisions – would have made it impossible for him to negotiate
with the AUC leadership: “Simply through mere persuasion, I
cannot convince people to come to a concentration zone and demobilize
if all of them, without exception, are to be judged.”19
Though he threatened to resign in February rather than be forced
to negotiate under a tougher law – a gambit that apparently
helped win him a weaker law – Restrepo’s complaint was off the
mark. If a weak agreement is likely to bring roughly the same
result as a collapse, Restrepo need not bend so far to keep
the talks alight.
a tougher line on paramilitary dismantlement, and risking a
breakdown in talks, of course carries a political cost. The
penalty for failure at the negotiating table grows ever higher
as May 2006 elections approach and President Uribe seeks a second
term (if Colombia’s Supreme Court upholds a constitutional change
allowing him to stand for re-election).
cost can be reduced – and the Uribe government’s resolve can
be strengthened – if the United States and other international
donors send a clear message that they will not support a process
that legalizes a new mafia-plus-death-squad power structure
in Colombia. By doing so, they can offer badly needed leverage
to Colombians doing the difficult work of trying to prevent
a negotiation process that ends up legitimizing paramilitariz-ation.
While the prospect of disarming and reintegrating thousands
of paramilitary fighters – most of them poor young men with
few opportunities – is a promising one, donor nations must make
clear that it must not go hand-in-hand with a deal that fails
to dismantle paramilitarism. Peace will not result if murderers
and drug-dealers are able to legalize their de facto power.
of mid-2005, the Bush administration has not said this clearly.
Some officials have insisted, as now-retired Undersecretary
of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman did in February,
that the Colombian framework law “should guarantee the dismantlement
of the AUC, stop its financing and confiscate its properties.”
But the administration is clearly anxious to avoid disagreements
with Álvaro Uribe – its closest ally in Latin America – and
its tone softened as it became evident that the “framework law”
coming out of Colombia’s Congress would be a weak one.
to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ summary
of U.S. Ambassador William Wood’s remarks at a June 14 event,
the ambassador “described the Uribe government’s goal in the
AUC peace process as reducing violence against the innocent.
He argued that the human rights debate in Colombia had shifted
away from the protection of the innocent to the punishment of
the guilty. ‘Bad guys’ were going to get more out of the peace
process than they deserved, he maintained, but innocent people
were also likely to get from the peace process what they so
desperately needed. To what degree were people willing to put
peace at risk, he asked, for stricter standards of justice?”
line of argument, which focuses more on punishment than dismantlement,
misses the point entirely. By failing to dismantle paramilitarism,
the negotiation process in its current form will do far more
“to put peace at risk.” Greater hope for peace lies in an agreement
creating strong mechanisms for dissolving the shady nexus of
paramilitaries, drug lords, large landholders, crooked politicians
and military hardliners for whom a weak peace agreement will
be a key step toward greater power. Not to mention avoidance
of extradition to the United States.
U.S. line on paramilitarization must become significantly tougher,
even if it means open disagreement with President Uribe. In
fact, the Bush administration would do well to heed the advice
of the U.S. Congress, including prominent Republicans in both
believe it is crucial that paramilitaries seeking benefits from
demobilization be required to first disclose fully their knowledge
of the operative structure of these FTOs [Foreign Terrorist
Organizations] and the role of individual members in illegal
activities, and to forfeit their illegally acquired assets,”
read a bipartisan February 2005 letter to President Uribe signed
by the Republican chairmen of both the House International Relations
Committee (Henry Hyde of Illinois) and the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee (Richard Lugar of Indiana). Senator Lugar followed
up in May with a letter to Uribe expressing concern “that the
Colombian Congress is on the verge of approving a version of
demobilization legislation that would leave intact the complex
mafia-like structures and wealth of FTOs such as the AUC paramilitary
is the sort of clear, unequivocal message about paramilitary
dismantlement that should be coming from the executive branch.
If the Bush administration ultimately lacks the political will
to send this message, it will be up to the U.S. Congress to
make sure that no taxpayer dollars go to support a demobilization
process that whitewashes paramilitary power and sets back the
rule of law in Colombia.
President Uribe reportedly maintains 1,000 head of cattle and
sixty purebred horses at his ranch, “El Ubérrimo,” located in
the municipality of Montería, the paramilitary-dominated capital
of the paramilitary-dominated department (province) of Córdoba.
Reporter Gonzalo Guillén of Miami’s El Nuevo Herald notes
that several paramilitary leaders, “among them Salvatore Mancuso,
own large extensions of land in Córdoba department, and some
are neighbors of ‘El Ubérrimo’ hacienda.”
See Marco Palacios, “A Cowboy President,” first appeared in
El País (Madrid, Spain), translated by Vietnam Veterans
Against the War (Washington: Fall 2002)
See Gonzalo Guillén, “Uribe logra un primer
acuerdo con los ‘paras,’” El Nuevo Herald (Miami: May
14, 2004) <http://www.sanluisobispo.com/mld/elnuevo/8661126.htm>.
2 “Van 492 homicidios durante tregua de Auc,” Efe, El Colombiano
(Medellín, Colombia: June 18, 2005) <http://www.elcolombiano.terra.com.co/BancoConocimiento/V/van_492_homicidios_durante_tregua_de_auc/van_492_homicidios_durante_tregua_de_auc.asp?CodSeccion=7>.
Colombian Comisión of Jurists, Violaciones a los derechos
humanos e infracciones al derecho humanitario presuntamente
perpetradas por grupos paramilitares fuera de combate (Bogotá:
October 2004) <http://www.coljuristas.org/documentos/documentos_pag/viopar082004.pdf>.
3 See, for instance, Presidency of Colombia, “Texto de las conclusiones
del Consejo de la Unión Europea sobre Colombia“ (Bogotá: December
13, 2004) <http://www.presidencia.gov.co/sne/2004/diciembre/13/06132004.htm>.
4 “Proyecto de justicia y paz llevará a un modelo político basado en
el crimen organizado: Rafael Pardo,” El Tiempo (Bogotá:
April 9, 2005) <http://18.104.22.168/coar/NEGOCIACION/negociacion/ARTICULO-WEB-_NOTA_INTERIOR-2032331.html>.
5 Rafael Pardo, “La esencia del paramilitarismo no se está desmontando,”
El Tiempo (Colombia: February 2, 2005) <http://eltiempo.terra.com.co/opinion/colopi_new/columnas_del_dia/ARTICULO-WEB-_NOTA_INTERIOR-1959450.html>.
6 United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, “Nuestra verdad ante el país
y el mundo” (Colombia: February 23, 2005) <http://www.colombialibre.org/detalle_col.php?banner=editorial&id=10577>.
Javier Baena, “Proposed law endangers talks in Colombia,“ Associated
Press, The Miami Herald (Miami: April 11, 2005) <http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/world/americas/11361806.htm>.
8 “Denuncian 342 violaciones al cese al fuego por ‘paras’,” Colprensa
news service, El País (Cali, Colombia: October 3, 2004)
Colombian Commission of Jurists, En Contravía de las Recomendaciones
Internacionales sobre Derechos Humanos (Bogotá: CCJ, October
Dudley, “Paramilitaries ally with rebels for drug trade,” The
Miami Herald (Miami: November 25, 2004) <http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/front/10268889.htm>.
10 “Computador decomisado a las Farc contiene indicios de red internacional
de narcotráfico,” El Tiempo (Bogotá: March 10, 2004)
11 “Se prenden las alarmas por síntomas avanzados de paramilitarización
de Colombia,” El Tiempo (Bogotá: September 26, 2004)
12 “Se prenden las alarmas,” El Tiempo, op.cit.
13 Álvaro Camacho Guizado, “Paramilitarismo y mafia,” El Espectador
(Bogotá: October 3, 2004) <http://www.elespectador.com/2004/20041003/opinion/nota16.htm>.
Constanza Vieira, “Paramilitaries Extend Their Tentacles,” Inter-Press
Service (Bogotá: October 16, 2004) <http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=25838>.
Amb. William B. Wood cited in International Crisis Group, Demobilising
the Paramilitaries in Colombia: An Achievable Goal? (Brussels:
ICG, August 5, 2004) <http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=2901&l=1>.
16 “Se prenden las alarmas,” El Tiempo, op. cit.
17 “Raponazo de los paras al erario público,” El Espectador (Bogotá:
September 26, 2004) <http://www.elespectador.com/2004/20040926/periodismo_inv/2004/septiembre/nota4.htm>.
See Susan Peacock and Adriana Beltrán, Hidden Powers in Post-Conflict
Guatemala (Washington: Washington Office on Latin America,
December 2003) <http://www.wola.org/publications/guatemala_hidden_powers_full_report.pdf>.
19 Government of Colombia, High Commissioner for Peace, “Entrevista del
alto comisionado para la paz, Luis Carlos Restrepo en ‘Pregunta
Yamid’” (Bogotá: February 4, 2005) <http://www.altocomisionadoparalapaz.gov.co/noticias/2005/febrero/feb_09_05b.htm>.
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