Colombia: Paramilitary Leaders Extradited to the United States

The last two or three weeks have been quite intense in Colombian politics. After a new scandal for alleged bribery while the presidential re-election was voted on in the Congress on May 13, came some interesting news. In a surprising move, 14 demobilized paramilitary bosses were extradited to the United States, where they will face drug-trafficking charges. This happened a few weeks after the President Álvaro Uribe's cousin was jailed for alleged links to the paramilitary militias (some 30 Congresspeople have been jailed so far, and another 30 are being investigated).

Carlos Cuentero [es] angrily criticizes the Colombian government's decision of extradition:

No creo, como dicen hoy muchos columnistas, que haya fracasado la ley de Justicia y Paz. Más bien, creo que fue todo un éxito. Porque eso fue lo que negociaron en Ralito: una farsa de verdad, un teatro de justicia y nada de reparación. Eso fue lo que pactaron a puerta cerrada, a espaldas de un país que aún desconoce sus alcances.

I don't think, as many columnists are saying today, that the Justice and Peace Law has failed. Rather, I think it was a huge success. Because that's what they negotiated in Ralito: a real farce, an illusion of justice and nothing about reparation. That's what they pacted behind closed doors, behind the back of a country which still is not aware of their reach.

On the contrary, Jaime Restrepo of Atrabilioso [es] applauds the decision and says the justice, peace, and reparation process will not be affected:

But this is an emotional ingredient: the paramilitary bosses will not stay in summer houses (as some government critics described the Itagüí maximum security prison), nor will they serve just eight years in prison (one of the things they most criticized of the Justice and Peace law), because the most useful cooperation for the American justice is the tip-off from the bosses, and the truth is that the extradited are the top and not the bottom of the narco-paramilitarism hierarchical pyramid. They can build their hopes, but they will actually have to serve more than 8 years in prison. Things being so, if they will indeed serve a sentence in maximum security prisons, what is the difference if it is a Colombian or an American prison in favour of the criminals? None. But it is evident that many of the victims see the peace process with the paramilitary as a bitter revenge against their victimizers -something understandable- which does not allow them to see that extradition is not a prize but an even stronger punishment for the criminals. In any case they will not have the privileges or the benefits they could get in Colombia, and that makes the punishment they will get in the United States stronger.

Restrepo also slams the opposition parties on their contradictions:

At the time the opposition hit the ceiling by pointing out that Uribe wanted to give benefits to his “partners” by no extraditing them and they claimed that threat could not be removed from the table. Now, when the Uribe administration decides to extradite them, then it is useless for them, and they find it inconvenient in order to achieve the truth, justice, and reparation. Nevertheless, that is an incoherent position if we take into account that they were (the opposition) who did not wanted to shut the door to the extradition and put so much pressure that they ended leaving open the possibility which is a reality today. They should not be losing sleep over that now, because the Alternative Democratic Pole and the Colombian Liberal Party have fathered the extradition of the paramilitary chiefs, the same which today they find hideous and inconvenient.

But Marsares, at equinoXio digital magazine, after slamming the Justice and Peace “joke”, believes the so-called parapolitics scandal may be over and that the second re-election of Uribe is ahead:

The government alleges that the extradited chiefs broke the Justice and Peace Law by not telling all the truth, not hand all their assets over for repairing the victims, and continue committing crimes from prison. That is true. They were delivering the “truths” little by little to the judicial authorities, containing veiled threats or simply they did not say a word claiming cynical amnesias. Nevertheless, the tip-off of their political allies and the revelation of the location of the common graves where their victims are buried are an evident gain. As for the delivering of their assets, the joke was obvious. Very few of them, if not devalued or in others’ hands. So scarce that, after doing the math, each victim would receive COP7,000 (US$4 or €2.50).
A last play is the perfect finale of the game for the Government: if the paramilitary leaders had broken the Justice and Peace Law why were not they left in hands of the Colombian ordinary justice in order to be prosecuted as any other criminal? The high sentences would have meant that the government did wished to defeat impunity. But it was not done so, perhaps because they wish to avoid new revelations. Though there is the promise that the paramilitary chiefs can continue to telling the truths in the United States, the preparation of the trial can take one year, enough time to stop the damaged caused by the parapolitical scandal, and devote firmly and with a big heart to the second re-election, safe from any danger or threat, with an ad hoc Congress.

Adam Isacson, from Plan Colombia and Beyond, also posted on the issue:

Now that they have little to lose – and probably feel that they owe nothing to Colombia’s political and economic elites – the paramilitary leadership may be more willing than before to talk about who helped them over the years, what their financial and logistical networks looked like, and perhaps what happened to their victims. From a jail cell in Miami with little hope of leniency, they have little incentive to stay quiet and protect those who helped them. The question is whether those who wish to share such information will be able to do so. President Uribe and his government must be held to the statement above. Colombian investigators must have the access to the paramilitary leaders necessary to fully and aggressively comply with the “quest for the truth.”

To Isacson, if the investigators have that access, it will be a victory for the victims. If they do not, it will become a “tragic victory for the politicians, economically powerful individuals and military officers who made paramilitarism possible in Colombia.”

The political blog Colombia Hoy [es] also added its two cents [es]:

Lo que ocurre es que una vez ante los fiscales gringos podrán negociar todo. En realidad en Colombia no les esperaban penas muy altas, por lo que en el país del norte la situación no será muy diferente, aunque es posible que allí consigan algún tipo de amparo frente a la Corte Penal Internacional. Es un buen plus. Más impunidad frente a los delitos de lesa humanidad. Más legalización de las fortunas. Más residencia legal y cambio de identidad. No suena mal.

What happens is that once [they face] the American attorneys they will be able to negotiate everything. Actually in Colombia they would not face high sentences, therefore in the northern country their situation will not be very different, though they would likely get some kind of protection from the International Criminal Court. It's a good advantage. More impunity towards their crimes against humanity. More legalization of their fortunes. More legal residence and change of identity. It does not sound bad.

Days later the extradition, it was learnt that some of the personal computers and SIM cards of the extradited paramilitary bosses were not properly seized [es] by the Colombian authorities, with some of their relatives having access to the hardware [es]. Tienen huevo [es] and Ricardo Buitrago Consuegra [es] refer to the issue.

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