Colombia and Irish Government Policy

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Grupo Raices and Justice for Colombia will be hosting a film screening on Thursday July 28th in Liberty Hall at 6pm.

We will be showing the documentary “El Baile Rojo” (The Red Dance). The film is about the experience of the Patriotic Union, a left-wing political party which tried to challenge the dominant oligarchy in Colombia but saw 4000 of its members killed by right-wing death squads.

Our guest speaker will be Aida Abella, a former member of the Patriotic Union who now lives in exile. Jack O’Connor of SIPTU will chair the meeting.

We hope you can join us!

The article below is taken from the latest edition of the Colombia Solidarity newsletter published by Grupo Raices. If you want us to join the email list for the newsletter, just drop us a mail at raices2007@gmail.com

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Colombia and Irish Government Policy

The first statements made by the new Irish Government on Colombia indicate that it has fallen in behind the US-EU line of unconditional support for the Colombian state as it wages war on social movements that challenge a status quo based on injustice and oppression. It is urgent that activists in this country put pressure on our government to break ranks with this immoral policy and support peace and democracy in Colombia.

Finian McGrath TD, who has an excellent record when it comes to raising Colombian issues in the Dail, tabled a question at the beginning of May this year, asking the new foreign affairs minister Eamon Gilmore if he would “propose that the UN appoint a special adviser on Colombia with experience in peace processes in other parts of the world, in order to support and advise the Colombian government in the development of a peace process.” In response, Gilmore claimed that “the Government of Colombia has repeatedly stated its determination to bring an end to violence in Colombia within the framework of the Justice and Peace Law, which provides an overall legal framework for the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of illegal armed groups into Colombian society … I do not consider it appropriate to seek the appointment of an UN official to advise the Government of Colombia on the development of a peace process in that country.”


This is a breathtaking distortion of reality. Far from providing an “overall legal framework” in which Colombia’s long conflict could be resolved, the mis-named “Justice and Peace Law” has merely enabled right-wing paramilitary death squads to evade prosecution for their crimes. The deal between the former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and his paramilitary supporters has not brought Colombia one inch closer to peace: on the contrary, it has aggravated the conflict and made it harder to end violence. Paramilitary groups continue to murder and threaten ordinary Colombians while the state turns a blind eye.

Impunity is not justice

At the time when the “Justice and Peace Law” was first passed, the New York Times gave a damning verdict:

“It should be called the “Impunity for Mass Murderers, Terrorists and Major Cocaine Traffickers Law” …the new law, which reflects the paramilitaries’ considerable political power, will block the extradition of paramilitary leaders wanted for trafficking to the United States, and allow them to continue their drug dealing, extortion, land theft and other criminal activities undisturbed. Even those responsible for the most heinous crimes against humanity may go free because of strict time limits for prosecutions. The few who are convicted will likely serve sentences of only 22 months … the current law will bring neither justice nor peace. No confession is required to get the shortened sentences offered by the law. Paramilitary leaders are supposed to disclose their illegal assets and describe their criminal organizations. But there is no credible penalty for lying or hiding their wealth.”

6 years on, that judgement has been vindicated. To understand why, it is important to remind ourselves of the nature of Colombia’s civil war. There are three belligerent parties: the Colombian army, the right-wing paramilitaries, and the left-wing guerrillas (today, chiefly the FARC-EP and the ELN). The army and the paramilitaries have been at war with the guerrillas, but not with each other. Since paramilitary groups first emerged on the scene, there has been extensive collaboration between their members and the Colombian army. Many death squads have been made up of off-duty soldiers. Massacres have been carried out by paramilitaries while government troops waited nearby, refusing to intervene and protect the civilian population. The army, for its part, has repeatedly murdered civilians, then dressed their corpses in guerrilla uniforms so that they can be presented as dead combatants – the so-called “false positives” scandal.

The army and the right-wing paramilitaries must be seen as allies, not enemies. Their “dirty war” has not merely been waged against the left-wing guerrillas and their alleged supporters. Civilian social movements have also been targeted systematically: trade unionists, human rights defenders, peasant activists and journalists have all been murdered in an attempt to silence demands for genuine democracy and social justice in Colombia. The paramilitaries have been responsible for the largest share by far of political violence in Colombia over the past two decades. Between 1995 and 2001, 76% of political killings were carried out by paramilitaries – a total of 9,114 people (state forces were responsible for 5%, guerrillas for 19%).

The “demobilisation” agreement between the paramilitaries and the government of Alvaro Uribe was greeted with intense suspicion by human rights observers from the start. Few trusted Uribe to bring about a real demobilisation: his presidential campaign had been supported by the death squads, who described Uribe as “our candidate” and murdered people campaigning for his opponents. They repeated their support during Uribe’s re-election bid in 2006. A “peace” between Uribe and the paramilitaries would be a peace between friends.

A former supporter of the president, Senator Rafael Pardo, described the Justice and Peace Law as “a farce of justice” which would “lead to the legal establishment of a political model based on organised crime.” Another Uribe ally in the Colombian congress, Gina Parody, was equally negative: “This gives benefits to people who have committed the worst crimes, and we get nothing in return … the message we are sending to Colombian society is that crime does pay.” Under the terms of the law, the vast majority of death-squad members would be given an amnesty without having received any punishment for their crimes. A handful of leaders were to be given light sentences, and would have the chance to legalise the fortunes they had accumulated through drug trafficking, prostitution, land theft and other criminal activities.

Paramilitary terror continues

The denial of justice to victims of paramilitary violence and their families was presented as a necessary evil to secure a more peaceful future. Yet several years after the “demobilisation”, paramilitary violence continues unabated. The death squads merely disbanded their umbrella group, the AUC, and re-organised under new labels. As Human Rights Watch concluded in a detailed report on these new militias:

“Almost immediately after the demobilization process had ended, new groups cropped up all over the country, taking the reins of the criminal operations that the AUC leadership previously ran. Today, these successor groups are quietly having a dramatic effect on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Colombia … the successor groups are engaging in widespread and serious abuses against civilians, including massacres, killings, rapes, threats, and extortion. They have repeatedly targeted human rights defenders, trade unionists, displaced persons including Afro-Colombians who seek to recover their land, victims of the AUC who are seeking justice, and community members who do not follow their orders. The rise of the groups has coincided with a significant increase in the rates of internal displacement around the country from 2004 through at least 2007. And in some regions, like the city of Medellín, where the homicide rate has nearly doubled in the past year, the groups’ operations have resulted in a large increase in violence. To many civilians, the AUC’s demobilization has done little to change the conditions of fear and violence in which they live.”

Human Rights Watch also note that “the government has yet to take serious steps to address the problem … only four prosecutors are charged with investigating them. In many regions, members of the public security forces appear to tolerate the groups.”

The paramilitary campaign of terror continues under the new administration of President Santos. A few examples among many will give a sense of the terror endured by ordinary Colombians. In August 2010, three young men from the town of Puerto Asis were murdered by paramilitaries: Diego Ferney Jaramillo Corredor, Silver Robinson Muñoz and Norbey Álvarez Vargas. Their names had all featured on “death lists” of ninety young people from the town circulated on Facebook by the local paramilitary group, warning them to leave Puerto Asis or face death. On February 16th 2011, paramilitaries in Bugalagrande from the self-styled “Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia” distributed a flyer threatening to murder four trade union activists, describing them as “guerrilla partners”. And on March 23rd, Eder Verbel Rocha, a farmer in the San Onofre municipality, was gunned down by paramilitaries in front of his son as he returned from work. The dead man’s brother Guillermo Verbel Rocha had already been murdered in January 2005, after he condemned links between local politicians and the death squads.

These are the fruits of the Justice and Peace Law and its “overall legal framework”. Ordinary people live in fear, wondering if they will be the next victims, while the paramilitary gangs operate with impunity, terrorising opponents and gathering profit from their many criminal enterprises. For Eamon Gilmore and the Irish Government to express their support for a process that has delivered this outcome, and suggest that it offers the basis for a lasting peace in Colombia, is grotesque. This would be the peace of the graveyard, a “peace” secured by cowing all opposition to the status quo in Colombia and liquidating those who believe peace and justice to be inseparable.

For too long, commercial and strategic interests have led Washington and Brussels to approve this travesty of peace. Irish politicians have a duty to raise their voice against this ugly consensus and defend the right of the Colombian people to live their lives free of violence and oppression. That is the only peace worth talking about, and the only way Colombia’s long conflict will be ended.

Notes


“Colombia’s Capitulation”, New York Times July 6th 2005 – www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/opinion/05iht-edcolombia.html?scp=4&sq=colombia%20AND%20justce%20and%20peace%20law&st=cse

“Colombia’s false positives”, Council on Hemispheric Affairs June 10th 2009 http://www.coha.org/colombias-false-positives/

Grace Livingstone, Inside Colombia: drugs, democracy and war (London, 2003) p.30

Forrest Hylton, Evil Hour in Colombia (London, 2006) p.115

“New Colombia law grants concessions to paramilitaries”, New York Times June 23rd 2005 – www.nytimes.com/2005/06/23/international/americas/23colombia.html?scp=1&sq=colombia%20AND%20justce%20and%20peace%20law&st=cse

Human Rights Watch, Paramilitaries’ Heirs: the new face of violence in Colombia http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/03/24/colombia

Amnesty International reports:

www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/colombia-urged-protect-young-people-named-paramilitary-death-lists-2010-09-13

www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR23/003/2011/en/fcf1100c-34d6-41c2-ad8b-484af6c47489/amr230032011en.pdf

www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR23/007/2011/en/33e55d64-570d-4bc2-8177-302883fdfd66/amr230072011en.pdf