[R-G] President Uribe's obfuscations

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Sep 6 14:48:55 MDT 2007


Regarding death squads, vigilantes, and paramilitary politics in  
Colombia
President Uribe leads the cover-up and obfuscation
by Polo Democratico Alternativo
	
September 04, 2007

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[Bogotá, August 20, 2007]

Every Colombian expresses public support for the cessation of violent  
acts which bloody the nation. There is also apparent consensus that  
restorative justice must be the foundation to any peace process, that  
victims should be afforded reparations, and that those involved  
should tell the whole truth about their acts of violence as a pre- 
requisite to becoming beneficiaries of society’s generosity.  
Disclosure of the whole truth in particular appears to be the first  
step towards justice and reparations. All of the ways in which  
violent groups derive their power must be effectively eradicated so  
that Colombians may empower themselves to resolve their economic,  
social and political conflicts without recourse to weapons of war.  
But it is also true that the seeming consensus has been absent from  
the beginning of President Uribe’s peace process with paramilitary  
vigilante groups and that the government, as we shall demonstrate  
below, has not delivered on its promises regarding the importance of  
discovering the whole truth about the activities of paramilitary  
squads and their links with a variety of leading political groups.  
Instead, the government has used its enormous power to cover up the  
truth and obfuscate.

The magnitude of the horrors

 From the outset of Mr. Uribe’s peace dealings with paramilitary  
squads—a process which will benefit them by reducing possible 60 year  
jail sentences to a maximum of 8 years of detention in special,  
comfortable facilities—the President and his supporters have refused  
to recognize paramilitarism as the worst form of criminality, given  
that it is, by definition, exercised with the direct participation of  
State officials or with their backing or complicity. In that sense it  
violates what is supposed to be the primary function of any state  
organization, namely, the exclusive control by the state of  
instruments and organizations of force and weapons under the  
assumption that such prerogative is subject to precise legal and  
constitutional rules and regulations. In this case we are dealing  
with a large scale abuse of the power of the State, which has played  
a crucial role in the emergence and support of vigilante squads that  
have displaced nearly three million Colombians from their homes  
(865,000 between 2002-2005); murdered tens of thousands including  
three presidential candidates, eight members of Congress, hundreds of  
mayors, departmental assembly members, and municipal council members;  
forcefully grabbed between 2.6 and 6.8 million hectares of land from  
peasants and farmers; developed a gigantic narco-trafficking business  
and as a result produced enormous fortunes for death squad  
chieftains. In addition unionists have been systematically  
persecuted: 1,113 unionists have been murdered, 70 have disappeared  
and 896 forced into exile or displacement for a total (including  
other crimes) of 3,388 victims. These numbers reduced labor rights to  
meaningless words on paper as Colombia descended to become the  
world's most dangerous country for union activities.

Responding to President Uribe’s official explanations, Kenneth Roth,  
President of Human Rights Watch in his letter to Mr. Uribe (2/May/ 
2007) refutes Colombian government statements about presumed “great  
strides” in the control of anti-unionist violence and details other  
aspects of reality that official propaganda claims to have changed:

  “You state that only 25 trade unionists were killed in 2006, and  
that so far this year only one trade unionist has been killed in  
Colombia. However, the only way to create these artificially low  
numbers is by excluding unionized teachers from the category of trade  
unionists. In fact, according to your own government’s official  
numbers, if you include unionized teachers, last year 58 trade  
unionists were killed, a substantial increase over the 40 killed last  
year (…) in fact, current rates of killings of trade unionists are  
similar to those that were common in 1998 and 1999 (…) The number of  
extrajudicial executions committed by the Army, for example, is  
skyrocketing—a fact that your own Minister of Defense admitted in  
meetings with me and other colleagues. The United Nations has a list  
of over 150 cases of extrajudicial executions of civilians committed  
by the Army throughout the country in the last two years.”

The great power of paramilitarism within the Colombian State is also  
illustrated by the results of investigations –which are only beginning 
—carried out by the Supreme Court of Justice and the Office of the  
Attorney General: so far fourteen senators and members of the House  
of Representatives are either in jail or fugitives from the law, in  
addition to two governors, six mayors, and fifteen former members of  
Congress, governors and mayors. Also in jail, facing serious charges  
of complicity with paramilitary outfits, is Jorge Noguera, who was  
chief of the DAS, a secret police organization that responds directly  
to the President of Colombia.

The Arco Iris Foundation concluded, after an investigation funded by  
the Government of Sweden, that in 2002, in regions where paramilitary  
squads wielded great influence, 28 Senators were elected; that in  
local elections in 2003 in the same regions 285 mayors, 6  
departmental governors and 3,500 municipal council members were  
chosen; and that in 2006, a total of 83 Senators and Representatives  
(of a possible total of 268) were elected from those areas. It is  
therefore not an exaggeration when Colombians speak of  para-politics  
and para-politicos to describe relations between these illegal armed  
bands and many political leaders.

Para-politicos and para-uribistas

A thorough understanding of the phenomenon requires knowledge of the  
political allegiance of those accused under the law of paramilitary  
connections. Data shows that thirteen of the fourteen members of  
Congress who have been detained or remain fugitive are uribistas,  
that is, supporters of President Uribe. The Chief of the President’s  
secret police is obviously a President’s man. The two jailed  
governors, the six imprisoned mayors, and almost all of fifteen  
leading politicians detained in jail are also uribistas. 87% of the  
83 members of Congress identified by the Arco Iris Foundation as  
having links with paramilitary groups are militant uribistas. These  
statistics led to the coining of the term para-uribismo as the best  
description of a situation that has also been accurately referred to  
by U.S. news organizations as the para-gate scandal.

Thus, Patrick Leahy (U.S. Democratic Party Senator) was not being  
arbitrary when he expressed his conviction about the links between  
paramilitary forces and the Colombian government. His position is one  
of the reasons why his party has decided to delay the approval in  
Congress of resources for Plan Colombia and not to ratify the FTA  
between the two countries until Mr. Uribe’s administration can  
provide reliable proof of a change in attitude toward the murder of  
Colombian unionists and in the relations between the Colombian state,  
paramilitary groups and para-politicos.  Said Senator Leahy:

"This confirms the concerns that many have had for a long time, that  
the paramilitaries have infiltrated the economic and political  
establishment of Colombian society. It should give some pause as to  
who we are dealing with" (El Tiempo, 19/February/2007). "For many  
years people insisted that the government should take strong action  
against the paras, as it was obvious they would acquire more power  
and wealth (…) What I have said is that the government is not simply  
a victim. It also permitted the flourishing of the paramilitaries,  
sometimes in alliance with them, sometimes providing them with  
support (...) The arrests are the beginning. But if the government is  
serious abut cutting off its links with paramilitary elements it must  
devote more resources and personnel to the investigations" (El  
Tiempo, 4/March/2007).


Especially serious has been President Uribe’s increasingly brazen  
attempt to justify paramilitary atrocities and to plead for society’s  
benevolence towards them. In his July 20, 2007, speech to the plenary  
session of the entire Congress Uribe went so far as to say that:

“It cannot be that guerrillas get a benign reception while  
paramilitaries are the target of vindictive anger.”


The silence of the President

Despite the impressive evidence and the time lapsed, Mr. Uribe has  
still to explain to Colombians why so many of his close political  
allies—more than one hundred if we count those detained, fugitives  
from the law, indicted, or under investigation—turned out to be para- 
politicos. Or why those who managed to deliver an enormous number of  
votes to elect him President—who in turn he supported by handing them  
posts in the national government— turned out to be linked to criminal  
activities which without doubt, included the coercion of voters for  
their personal benefit, the benefit of their political parties, and  
of Mr. Uribe. The votes obtained in the 2006 general election by  
uribista members of Congress currently in detention or fugitives from  
the law reach the figure of 624,580.

One of the facts insufficiently explained by Mr. Uribe was the  
considerable backing --during his tenure as Governor of the  
Department of Antioquia, 1995-97-- which he provided to the Convivir  
groups, organized by rural landowners who played a key role in the  
justification and organization of what later came to be known as  
paramilitarism. According to Jorge Humberto Botero, who was Mr.  
Uribe’s Foreign Trade Minister until December 2006:

“No one should be surprised that the paramilitary phenomenon has a  
political dimension. At its inception, in the nineties, it manifested  
itself in the form of self-defense groups…these armed groups had, at  
the time, a legal dimension, as ‘Convivir’ units” (El Espectador.com,  
9/February/2007).

Manipulation from the start

President Uribe and his followers have claimed that due to their  
initiatives, such as the so-called Law of Justice and Peace –Law 975  
of 25/July/2005 which presumably will do away with the paramilitary  
phenomenon—the relations between politicians and paramilitaries are  
being uncovered and legally punished.  But that is not true as can  
easily be shown.

First of all, the Supreme Court of Justice, which has carried the  
burden of investigations and rulings, has not done so at the behest  
of the Executive branch. In fact, one has to wonder whether from the  
beginning of the process the government actually respected the  
principle of separations of power because the President used all of  
his influence to obtain the designation of Mario Iguarán as the lead  
counsel in the investigations. The obvious goal was to have in Mr.  
Iguarán, then-Vice Minister of Justice, a prosecutor friendly to Mr.  
Uribe. Neither is it exemplary that the previous prosecutor, Luis  
Camilo Osorio, who was the target of serious accusations of  
complicity with --or at least neglect of-- the paramilitary  
phenomenon during his tenure, is now Colombia’s Ambassador to Mexico.

Second, because from the start of the peace process with paramilitary  
groups, it was known that the office of the Attorney General could  
not handle the thousands of complex cases it was about to receive.  
(It has already been charged with handling 2,800 cases, never mind  
the 28,000 paramilitary cadre that were demobilized who are roaming  
free and will not have to appear in any court to account for their  
activities.) Nevertheless, four years after the Santa Fe de Ralito  
Accord when paramilitary leaders agreed to demobilize their troops,  
and two years after the passage of a relief law to their benefit, the  
government has not increased the budget of Attorney General’s Office  
so that it may handle its increased load. According to the chief of  
the section in charge of processing cases, he only has 23 attorneys  
and 150 investigators who are supposed to handle at least 2,800  
cases. Just two of the paramilitary chieftains involved have  
announced that they will make statements about 2,567 murders, in  
addition to other crimes. The risk of the process ending up in a  
farce (in the sense that the reduction of detention time might be the  
only part of the law that will be complied with) led to the El Tiempo  
editorial “Collapse Foretold?” of June 24, 2007, which sounded the  
alarm:

“With the process in danger of collapsing, the government and  
judicial authorities have been late to grab the bull by the horns and  
establish emergency measures. It is imperative to assign more  
attorneys, investigators and a larger budget (…) If this is not done,  
the country will have to resign itself to knowing only what the  
paramilitary bosses wish to tell, amidst the mass of contradictions  
and inconsistencies that have already emerged. In such event, there  
will be no justice, no disclosure of the truth, no reparations, much  
less reconciliation, which were precisely the objectives of these  
controversial negotiations with the AUC (paramilitary squads).”

And third, the law first proposed by the government for the benefit  
of paramilitary chieftains was quite different than the one approved  
in the end by Congress, and particularly different than the one  
authorized by the Constitutional Court. In the first instance the  
paramilitary elements were not to be punished or made to pay for  
their crimes in any way, nor were they required to reveal the whole  
truth about their barbaric activities in order to receive legal  
protection and benefits. National and international pressure forced  
the uribista forces in the Senate and Chamber of Representatives – 
which enjoy a near 70% majority—to add periods of detention as a  
precondition for paramilitary cadre to enjoy the benefits of the law,  
although they still won't have to serve their sentences in jail but  
rather in special facilities.

And if today the detainees can only receive legal protection by  
telling the truth about the crimes committed, this isn’t because the  
initial government proposal required it, but rather because a  
Constitutional Court ruling so determined. In the same decision the  
Court declared illegal the article that defined paramilitary  
chieftains as 'seditious', which would have turned their behaviors  
into political crimes, permitting the government to issue amnesty and  
pardons to them.  The government’s unhappiness with the Supreme  
Court’s decision to modify the Law of Justice and Peace was expressed  
by Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt de La Vega, who claimed to be  
“extremely worried and befuddled”. Later, after grumbling his  
acquiescence to a government of laws, he added in a resigned tone:  
“Now we’ll have to ask for God’s help” (El Espectador, 21/May/2006).  
God’s help is sought because the paramilitary chieftains would have  
to testify to their crimes and could not be protected under the  
charge of sedition! For his part one of the uribista Senators  
arrested for links with paramilitary squads blurted out: “The law of  
justice turns out to be worthless.”

One of the things needing clarification is who recruited whom.  
According to Attorney General Iguarán: “It was not the paramilitary  
squads that recruited the politicians, but the politicians who  
recruited the paramilitaries,” a statement that was immediately, and  
curiously, rejected by Interior Minister Carlos Holguín Sardi, who  
said: “Those are undue generalizations” (Caracol Radio, 15/March/2007).

Even all the boasting by Uribe and his supporters over the “great”  
success of the Law of Justice and Peace, presumably because --they  
say-- 30,915 paramilitary cadre were demobilized, serves to hide  
other aspects of the situation: even though that number appears in  
the government rolls, only 17,540 weapons were actually handed over;  
Frank Pearl, the man charged with re-inserting the vigilante  
combatants into civilian life reported that he has no idea of the  
whereabouts of 4,731 cadre (El Tiempo, 13/February/2007); there were  
squads that did not turn themselves in under the relief law; and many  
of those who committed to stop their activities resumed their violent  
ways. These facts explain why the OAS calculates that there are 3,200  
new active paramilitary cadre. For sure it is unlikely that there is  
a single Colombian convinced that the paramilitary chieftains who  
obtained cover under the relief law have completely stopped the  
coercion-related conduct they agreed to give up.
Therefore it did not come as a surprise when the United Nations High  
Commissioner for Human Rights issued the following statements on  
March 5, 2007:
“Particularly disturbing is the fact that many middle-level  
paramilitary cadres did not demobilize, or rearmed, and are now  
leading the new illegal and armed groups that have been emerging in  
various parts of the country. These are characterized by close  
identification with organized crime and drug trafficking. It is a  
source of concern to the High Commissioner that political and  
economic structures created by paramilitaries in various areas and  
sectors of society remain in existence.”

“Complaints were received about cases in which freedom of opinion and  
expression was affected by the risk involved in the work of those who  
report or express opinions on issues relating to the process of  
demobilization of paramilitaries, the actions of public servants  
involved in acts of violence or corruption, or paramilitarism itself.  
Cases of this sort occurred in Bogotá, Atlántico, Bolívar, Santander,  
Sucre, Córdoba, Magdalena, Arauca, Antioquia, Cauca and Valle.”

The lax attitude of the President and all uribistas

The lax attitude of President Uribe and all uribista political  
organizations regarding political leaders with links to paramilitary  
organizations can be documented in many ways. The situation reached  
such extremes that even the U.S. Embassy exerted pressure to exclude  
from uribista organizations several members of Congress who hoped to  
be reelected in 2006 and to get President Uribe to request an  
investigation of one of the groups that supported him. But with the  
elections over and Mr. Uribe safely reelected, the Minister of the  
Interior, Sabas Pretelt de la Vega took care to dismantle the farce,  
as he himself explained in an interview with the newspaper El Tiempo  
(9/July/2006):

“-- What will happen to those individuals expelled from uribista  
parties who were elected to Congress?
-- The government always respected decisions by parties. They have  
the prerogative to decide who works, or not, in their organizations.  
Once elected all members of Congress will receive the same respect  
and treatment by the government.
-- Will the government accept the support of members of Congress that  
the government sought to investigate?
-- The President did not take sides. When he heard of the  
accusations,   he did what any good democrat would do: ask for an  
investigation by the Attorney General.  If someone has now obtained  
credentials as a member of Congress, that person merits our respect.  
As Minister I will work with each and every one of them. If they are  
in the opposition I will try to reach understandings with them. If  
they are not, I will try to gain their enthusiastic support for the  
approval of legislative projects. The support of all members of  
Congress is welcome” (El Tiempo, 9/July/ 2006).

Among the analysts who have denounced Mr. Uribe’s pandering to the  
maneuvers of para-politicos, is César Gaviria Trujillo, former  
President of Colombia, Chief of the Liberal Party, and ex-Secretary  
General of the OAS. His statements on the topic stand out:

“Uribe has been lax with the paramilitaries” (El Espectador, 4/ 
February/2007). “The President did not use all the mechanisms at his  
disposal for finding out about the misdeeds of individuals with a  
record of possible involvement with the paramilitaries. He did not  
use them so that his friends could construct their lists [of  
electoral candidates]” (El Tiempo, 19/November/2006). “During the  
campaign I asked him to declare that he did not want any support from  
sectors linked to paramilitary activities. I said it many times.  
Unfortunately, I failed to get an answer…the President should have  
said explicitly that he did not want paramilitary support…” (El  
Tiempo, 19/November/2006). “The President maintained a passive  
attitude toward the issue of links between members of congress and  
paras. He cannot be a mere spectator, much less look the other  
way” (Cambio, 20/November/2006). “The President and the government  
should declare that the entire investigative power of the government  
will be involved in the process initiated by the Supreme Court, and  
that the DAS, the police and military intelligence will participate  
in it” (El Tiempo, 19/November/2006).


The case of the Director of DAS (Colombian Secret Police)

One of the most serious cases concerning paramilitarism and state  
institutions is the one involving Jorge Noguera, former Chief of the  
Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), a secret police  
organization that answers directly to the President of Colombia.

For starters, besides Noguera, four other important officers of this  
intelligence outfit were charged with links to criminal paramilitary  
organizations leading to their dismissal; DAS internal corruption  
forced the President, in October of 2005, to speak of closing it  
down, after a government-appointed ad hoc commission pointed to  
serious anomalies, in which Noguera was “seriously implicated.” (El  
Espectador, 25/February/2007). Despite these and other subsequent  
events, President Uribe’s attitude has been to engage in the most  
shameless backing of Noguera, disregarding in practice the autonomy  
of the judicial branch from the executive as per the Constitution  
he’s sworn to uphold.

When the news media protested against President Uribe’s naming of  
Noguera as Colombia’s Consul in Milan, Italy, after the latter left  
DAS because of accusations against his conduct as Chief of the  
organization, the President, on television, verbally abused the  
editor of Semana, a respected political analysis weekly.

The following are among the things an irate Mr. Uribe told the editor  
to his face: that “we are not playing dolls”; that he was not going  
to allow a “little Bogotá clique” to cast doubt on his decisions;  
that the press was “frivolous and comical” and their news reports  
were undermining “higher national interests” and the “upswell of  
foreign goodwill” about Colombia; and that “because of some hidden  
political agenda journalists are creating scandals, engaging in  
yellow journalism as well as profiting from it.” The evident tone of  
intimidation is used habitually by the President against anyone who  
dares to raise concerns about his decisions regarding paramilitary  
activities and para-politics.

To complete a picture of the President’s unrelenting support for  
Noguera, Mr. Uribe also described him as a “pure and good person.”  
Said Uribe: “I will continue to believe in Noguera, I know him to be  
an honest and forthright man…” “I will put my hands in the fire for  
him” (Semana, 12/April/2006; 22/Noviembre/2006). Human Rights Watch  
also informed that “Mr. Noguera’s lawyer visited the Casa de Nariño  
[presidential palace] on nine occasions during the last few months— 
including eight visits in February and March of the past year—to talk  
about the Noguera case. We also know that at least during some of  
those visits, Mr. Noguera’s lawyer met personally with His  
Excellency,” President Uribe. How can the uribistas claim that Mr.  
Uribe respects the doctrine of separation of powers, one of the  
pillars of democracy as practiced in Colombia, when he so openly  
supports his protégé with the full force of his office?

Another facet of the cover-up

President Uribe’s first reaction to the detainment measures that the  
Supreme Court of Justice enacted against uribista members of Congress  
was one of cynicism. At the inauguration of the Sixty Sixth National  
Congress of Coffee Growers in Bogotá, on November 29, 2006, he declared:
  “We cannot allow the political crisis to become a pretext for some  
to sabotage the legislative agenda. I am asking all congressional  
members who support us to vote, as long as they are not physically in  
jail, to vote for the transfers of funds, for the capitalization of  
Ecopetrol, for tax reform. To make it seem as if it were immoral on  
my part to ask for these votes is a little trick by the opposition so  
that they can torpedo our legislative agenda. No way will I let that  
happen.
In response to public protests by many Colombians against the  
replacement of Congressional members incarcerated for their links  
with paramilitary squads by other members of the same parties, even  
though the spurious methods utilized to elect those at the head of  
party electoral lists would obviously benefit the replacements as  
well, President Uribe shamelessly answered:

“If a congressional member has committed a crime or if there are  
doubts which force the authorities to detain the individual or  
something of that nature, let the person be replaced in congress by  
the next in line in his party’s list of candidates, in order to  
preserve the institutional order.”(Caracol Radio, SNE, 29/November/ 
2006).

It seems inconceivable—three years after one prominent paramilitary  
leader noted that 35% of Congress was elected with their backing,  
four years after the beginning of the accord between the government  
and paramilitary forces, two years after the approval of a law that  
offers them relief, and eight months after the first para-politicos  
were put in jail—that no legislation has been enacted protecting  
against the possibility of coercion by armed squads against voters.  
Indeed, rules are still in place that allow the replacement of  
congressional members, convicted of forcing voters to cast votes in  
their favor, with members of their own party.

The Interior Minister joins in obfuscation

At a time when the future of peace in Colombia depends in good  
measure on fulfilling the legal obligation of establishing the true  
facts regarding paramilitary activities and their links with national  
political leaders, the Minister of the Interior and Justice, Carlos  
Holguín Sardi, who should be leading this effort, is, next to the  
Head of State himself, one of the architects of the obfuscation  
strategy. If the matters at stake were not of such great importance  
to Colombians, the impudence he has exhibited would lend itself to  
some good jokes. In one of his opening salvos against the effort to  
get to the truth about paramilitary violence, he appealed to the pact  
of silence from fifty years ago, which resulted in no one being held  
responsible for the death of nearly 400 thousand Colombians during  
the period referred to as Violence in Colombia. The pact was a  
monstrous accord which no doubt helps explain the origins of the  
current violence. Said Holguín:


“I belong to the National Front generation, I can speak with  
authority: where would we Colombians be if we were still looking for  
the whole truth about the violence between Liberals and  
Conservatives. Where would we still be? What would have happened if  
it wasn’t for the greatness of Laureano Gómez and Alberto Lleras who  
said the past is past, let’s get a new start with the National Front  
towards a new nation, let us not think again about what we did to  
each other” (Senate Session, 18/October/2006).

Holguín has gone so far in playing down the gravity of the vigilante  
and death-squad problem and para-political connections, in his effort  
to minimize the importance of the need for full disclosure of the  
facts, that the weekly Semana wrote an article about his statements  
which it titled “Famous Quotations of Holguín” (6/March/2007). Around  
the time that parties where discussing whether to run people  
implicated in military activities, and in particular anyone in  
prison, as congressional candidates, the Minister, who was President  
of the Conservative Party, the main pillar of uribismo in Colombia,  
offered that “You cannot keep anybody from running as a candidate,  
even if he were the son of Al Capone” (Semana, 6/March/2007). When  
asked: “Did you know about the meeting of Ordosgoitia with  
paramilitary elements?” (a high level official of Mr. Uribe’s  
government, who is also in jail because of that meeting) he answered:  
“I heard him say something, something anecdotal, the kinds of things  
that you wouldn’t pay attention to.” He added: “In the past  
presidential elections, there was no paramilitary infiltration at  
all;” stating further that “All the guarantees for the October  
elections are in place.” (Ibid.)  With regard to the Pact signed in  
Santa Fe de Ralito between prominent Colombian politicians and the  
high command of the paramilitary groups, the investigation of which  
led to the imprisonment of five members of Congress and another  
fifteen leading politicians by order of the Supreme Court of Justice  
and the Office of the Attorney General, the Minister of the Interior  
judged that: “The pact document is a synthesis of the Constitution  
and from that point of view it’s nothing improper (…) I would approve  
of it.”

Under these circumstances, it should not come as a surprise that when  
it came time to recount events Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos  
Restrepo, charged with the entire process of negotiations and accords  
with paramilitary elements, would blurt out: “This is the moment of  
truth and I’m not sure to what extent the country is prepared to take  
this step” (Colprensa, 3/September/2006; El Tiempo, 25/February/2007.

Ominous silence

On March 14, 2007, the 14 main leaders of paramilitary squads who had  
obtained relief under the Law of Justice and Peace wrote an extensive  
letter to President Uribe questioning the wisdom of going further  
toward the disclosure of the whole truth about paramilitary  
activities because, in their view, this could have negative  
consequences toward the “ability of the government to function and  
the credibility of democratic institutions as well as the country’s  
politicians and leaders.” In response to that letter, Mr. Uribe  
opened up the possibility that the prisoners could be active  
politically from their jail cells and failed to reject a notion that  
implies the dismissal of what the legislation meant to its authors,  
who had left no doubt as to the purposes of the law. Uribe stated:

“About this business of the truth and its relation to the ability to  
govern, we should think in terms of what’s reasonable at this moment,  
and that reasonableness should prevail over questions which cannot be  
handled merely in moralistic terms, as some wish to make absolute the  
value of knowing the whole truth, making it into a sort of god that  
would prevail over everything else.”

Launching attacks to intimidate critics

If one thing defines Mr. Uribe it is his obsession to heap abuse on  
anyone who dares to question his policies toward vigilantes and death- 
squad members or who raises doubts about his decisions in cases like  
the Director of DAS.   Without doubt his goal is to intimidate  
critics into silence and to keep others from joining in to critique  
the President. His aggressiveness reaches a peak when issues are  
raised that link either him or his close relatives with paramilitary  
activities. Then, Mr. Uribe literally takes over the country’s mass  
media to rile against and insult their opponents, a behavior  
seriously at odds with democratic norms of conduct.

“I will not allow the status of the Foreign Minister to be affected  
by cheap political debates,” (El Tiempo, 18/November/2006) said Mr.  
Uribe to millions of Colombians who clamored for the resignation of  
foreign relations minister María Consuelo de Araújo, after her  
Senator brother was called for questioning by the Supreme Court of  
Justice (which later put him in jail) to respond to accusations of  
links with paramilitary groups. While there were never any ‘reasons  
of state’ to maintain the minister in her post, the President agreed  
to replace her only when the Colombian Vice-President brought back  
the bad news that the President’s stubbornness did not sit well in  
Washington, D.C.

Particularly scandalous has been Mr. Uribe’s habit of libeling and  
slandering the leadership of the Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA),  
the most important opposition force in the country, which it has  
falsely accused of having links with armed guerrilla outfits. The  
goal behind Mr. Uribe’s slanders is to try to silence his critics  
using the perverse logic that those who don’t support the government  
are ipso facto allies of the terrorists. In order to discredit PDA  
congressional members, and in particular Senator Gustavo Petro, whose  
courageous investigations and denunciations played a fundamental role  
in putting behind bars the first congressional members implicated in  
para-politics, Mr. Uribe claimed that the PDA congressional members  
“had changed from terrorists dressed in camouflage fatigues to  
terrorists wearing civilian clothes” (El Tiempo, 5/February/2007).  
And in reference to Carlos Gaviria, President of the PDA, ex- 
President of Colombia’s Constitutional Court, who obtained 2.6  
million votes in the last presidential elections, Mr. Uribe stated:  
“What doctor Gaviria needs to tell the country is about his pro- 
guerrilla bias (…) what is the nature of his friendship with the FARC  
and the ELN” (El Tiempo, 24/February/2007).

President Uribe, in his efforts to persecute the PDA to attempt to  
silence it and dissuade others who might be willing to challenge him,  
ordered all Colombian TV channels to broadcast an appearance in which  
he stated, among other things, that he was maintaining “military and  
police surveillance” of PDA congressional members, adding for good  
measure that “they are not as careful as they should be” (19/April/ 
2007). It became known weeks later that the government had wiretapped  
the phones of hundreds or thousands of Colombians without a court  
order, a police-state procedure expressly prohibited by Colombian  
laws, an action for which the Minister of Defense expressed  
satisfaction before a Congressional plenary.



Cover-up tactics fail once more

Given the increasing number of people implicated in relations between  
politicos and paramilitary elements as well as the very high  
percentage of these who are important uribista chieftains, events are  
making the President sweat under an authentic legal and political  
siege. His situation could deteriorate even more if closer links  
between his activities and those of para-uribistas are uncovered.  
Many are of the opinion therefore that the irresponsible manner in  
which Mr. Uribe has handled the freeing of a sizable number of  
imprisoned FARC guerrillas, a maneuver never satisfactorily  
explained, is a way to lay the groundwork for introducing a law that  
will free his incarcerated friends. Such a law would be approved  
under the guise of being of general application for both guerrillas  
and paramilitary elements, in order to give them amnesty or pardons,  
once paramilitary activities are declared acts of sedition. Mr.  
Uribe’s proposal, which was strongly rejected at home and abroad, was  
couched thus:

“I do believe that in the case of atrocious crimes, if not offering  
amnesty or pardons, we should be preparing to offer the benefit of  
release from prison to those who confess the truth” (Casa de Nariño  
[presidential palace], 22/May/2007).

Weeks later the Supreme Court of Justice denied the application of  
the charge of sedition to a paramilitary individual seeking relief  
under the Law of Justice and Peace because “the offense of conspiracy  
to commit a crime cannot under any pretext be interpreted as an act  
of sedition.” (El Tiempo, 27/July/2007). In response, the vigilante  
chieftains incarcerated in the Itagüí prison attacked the Court and,  
as a pressure tactic, announced that they would no longer participate  
in the process of application of the Law of Peace and Justice. For  
his part Mr. Uribe cried out for new legislation to “breath life into  
[the notion of] sedition,” or that can “give us some other way to  
permit the release from prison” of those implicated in paramilitary  
activities. Worse, the presidential demand was couched as so much  
bold-faced pressure on the Supreme Court of Justice that the plenum  
of its full chamber released an official document declaring that:

“The Supreme Court of Justice, while cognizant of the rights of  
citizens to disagree with its judicial rulings, categorically rejects  
recent statements by the national government regarding the manner in  
which our institution complies with its constitutional duties. Such  
expressions amount to an undue and unacceptable interference with  
judicial activity because they become a way of usurping the national  
court's authority to interpret and apply laws, and of imposing in a  
veiled manner extraneous criteria that would influence judicial rulings.

Such an attitude ignores that the Republic's Judges are bound only by  
the juridical order and threatens the independence of judicial  
procedure, encouraging not only a baseless mistrust of the Supreme  
Court, but also seeking without reason to de-legitimate proceedings  
that are carried out with full impartiality and objectivity. It also  
exposes the Court to grave dangers and threats.

Therefore, the Court emphatically rejects the unfair assessments used  
against it. There cannot be even the slightest insinuation that the  
Court is guided by an alleged ideological bias in its rulings which  
have been based on the juridical order. Neither can the Court be  
accused of being an obstacle to the peace process: it must not be  
forgotten that the work of the Judicial Branch of government is  
essentially the interpretation and application of extant laws,  
without the power to change or develop them, and without any  
responsibility for the gaps, deficiencies or weaknesses the laws may  
contain.”

Even though the Presidential webpage had announced a proposed law  
that would permit the treatment of paramilitary vigilantes under the  
rubric of sedition, recent news indicate that Mr. Uribe will not go  
forward with the idea. Nevertheless what remains clear are the  
serious implications of this latest attempt to block disclosure of  
the truth about paramilitary crimes and para-politics.

Conclusions

While more reasons and more facts could be cited, those listed above  
are sufficient to demonstrate that Mr. Uribe and his close supporters  
have not complied with their legal and political duties. They have  
failed to bring the full weight of government in the search for the  
whole truth about paramilitary activities in Colombia and the ties  
connecting political leaders and other segments of society with  
vigilantism and death squads, knowledge that is a sine qua non for  
the application of the Law of Justice and Peace.

Thus, the contradiction remains between the leaders of the  
obfuscation and cover-up and the many Colombians that advocate  
disclosure of the whole truth, not in a spirit of revenge, but as a  
fundamental element toward the achievement of peace. A peace which  
also demands justice and reparations, two additional elements which  
can hopefully open the way for the time when Colombians will cease to  
use armed force to resolve their economic, political and social  
differences. The PDA hopes that the above analysis will contribute to  
further these goals.




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