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Colombia: The disappointing debate on paramilitarism in Antioquia

Categories: Latin America, Colombia, Governance, Politics, War & Conflict

Yesterday finally the long awaited [1] “debate” on paramilitarism in Antioquia department, where President Álvaro Uribe was born and was Governor from 1995 to 1997, was held at the Colombian congress. There was a lot of interest on the topic, because opposition senator and former M-19 guerrilla leader Gustavo Petro had said he would reveal a list of 2,000 figures allegedly involved with paramilitarism. He did not show any list but he indeed did reveal other stuff [2]. From the Washington Post:

An opposition lawmaker on Tuesday alleged that paramilitary death squads met at the ranch of President Álvaro Uribe in the late 1980s and plotted to murder opponents, an explosive charge in a growing scandal that has unearthed ties between the illegal militias and two dozen congressmen.

Basing his accusations on government documents and depositions by former paramilitary members and military officers, Sen. Gustavo Petro said the militiamen met at Uribe’s Guacharacas farm as well as ranches owned by his brother, Santiago Uribe, and a close associate, Luis Alberto Villegas.

“From there, at night, they would go out and kill people,” Petro said, referring to the sprawling ranch owned by Álvaro Uribe, who served as a senator from 1986 to 1994. […]

Uribe, since he first ran for office, has also been dogged by the fact that paramilitary groups grew dramatically during his term as governor in the northwestern state of Antioquia, from 1995 to 1997. During that time, he helped spearhead the creation of Convivirs, legal vigilante groups. Some were later denounced for having morphed into paramilitary death squads or for serving as fronts for paramilitary warlords.

Wow, I can’t wait for Álvaro Uribe’s reaction. But if some of Petro’s accusations were not “precise”, the government’s defence was no better. Before the hearing, Pablo Escobar’s cousin and main presidential adviser, José Obdulio Gaviria, like other Antioquia politicians, had said the debate was an attack against the people of Antioquia. Carlos Holguín, minister of the Interior, and Andrés Gallego, Minister of Transportation, defended Uribe and his democratic security policy.

The AP [3] describes how “government records and statements by members of the security forces revealed that a civilian self-defense program known as Convivir – championed by Uribe when he was governor of Antioquia – was infiltrated by members of the death squads.” Reuters [4] adds that Interior Minister Carlos Holguin accuses Petro of playing party politics by portraying Colombia “as a country of assassins and paramilitaries.” Finally, Bloomberg [5] emphasizes that President Uribe has repeatedly denied his involvement with the paramilitary groups, but that “the allegations threaten the passage of a free-trade accord with the U.S. Likewise, the Washington Post reported [6] that the controversy may influence “U.S. lawmakers as they consider additional anti-drug and military aid this year under the so-called Plan Colombia program, designed to fight narco-guerrillas.”

The 9-hour debate, which was followed with a lot of interest by many Colombians outside the country, who could only hear the audio streaming on Indymedia Colombia [7] for one hour (inside Colombia it could be watched on state-run Señal Institucional), was somewhat disappointing (although this picture [8] depicts Uribe’s younger brother departing with a member of the drug-dealing Ochoa family). The Colombian blogosphere has two remarkable, complementary articles. First, Jaime Restrepo criticized [9] Petro’s way of conducting the debate on his centre-right blog Atrabilioso:

Pero lo mínimo que se esperaba era que la táctica cuestionada (el todo vale) no fuera parte de la estrategia que finalmente utilizaron para condenar lo que ellos mismos estaban utilizando: si el todo vale es lo cuestionado, resulta sucio e incongruente que para señalar esa forma de vivir de los colombianos (el todo vale) se utilice también el todo vale, y sobre todo un todo vale mentiroso y muchas veces sinuoso.

The least expected was that the tactic of “anything goes” was not part of the strategy finally used to condemn what they themselves were doing: if the “anything goes” [strategy] is being questioned, it's dirty and incongruous to point out that the Colombian way of living is also “anything goes”, especially by a devious liar.

Then, centre-left equinoXio’s Julián Ortega Martínez also showed his disappointment [10]:

Triste lo que queda del debate: verdades a medias, indicios mas no pruebas, crímenes por todos conocidos pero aún impunes, argumentos ad hominem, referencias a procesos judiciales inconclusos o pasados, la apelación ridícula al regionalismo pseudo-federal y la satanización del control político, equiparado a “hablar mal del país”. Censurable la actitud del gobierno, que NO QUIERE RECONOCER que el proyecto de las Convivir fue un fracaso rotundo que tuvo como resultado un caudaloso río de sangre, producto de las muertes de decenas de miles de colombianos en muchas regiones del país.

The result of the debate is sad: partial truths, traces but no evidences, crimes we all know happened but still go unpunished, ad hominem arguments, referrals to unfinished or old judicial processes, the ridiculous appeal to pseudo-federal regionalism and the criticism of political control, as equal of “saying bad stuff on the country”. The governmen’t attitude is also the subject of criticism, because it DOESN’T WANT TO RECOGNIZE that the Convivir project was a huge failure which resulted in a plentiful, bloody river, from the deaths of dozens of thousands of Colombians. […]

¿No es incómodo que el único personaje que se atreve a denunciar los crímenes del paramilitarismo y la forma en que éste infiltró y cooptó las instituciones locales y regionales tenga el rabo de paja tan grande como aquellos a quienes denuncia, a pesar de prestarle un gran servicio al país en tanto control político?

Isn’t it a little strange that the only public person who dares to denounce paramilitary crimes and the way they infiltrated and coopted local and regional institutions has a lot of skeletons in his closet just like those he’s denouncing, in spite of performing a great service to the country in terms of political control?

Finally, I must refer to Center for International Policy’s brief [11]. There’s a lot to come, undoubtedly…