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The Collective
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: Colombia orders the arrest of 19 politicians

The Colombian government ordered the arrest of 19 current and former officials Monday who are accused of signing a 2001 “devil’s pact” with outlawed paramilitary groups in which they promised to work together to “re-found Colombia.”

The orders represent the government’s biggest move yet to bring to justice politicians it alleges were complicit with the right-wing militias in Colombia’s decades-long civil war. Farmers and businessmen formed the militias for self-defense against leftist guerrillas in the 1980s, but many of the groups evolved into mafias engaged in killings, drug trafficking, extortion, land grabs and election fraud.

The document, known as the Treaty of Ralito, came to light this year. Prosecutors here have described it as a “devil’s pact” that candidates signed to obtain political and financial advantage from association with the paramilitaries.

Paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso presented a copy of the document during court testimony he gave earlier this year.

This is one of those situation where on the one hand it is a positive that the justice system appears to be working, but also a radical negative that a substantial number of elected officials have been in secret alliance with paramilitary groups.

The arrested:

Warrants for the arrests of five sitting congressmen were issued by the Supreme Court because only the highest court has the power to file charges against national legislators. Four of the five are in custody, including Sen. Miguel de la Espriella, who first disclosed the existence of the document in January.

The others in custody are Sen. Reginaldo Montes, Congressman Jose de los Santos Negrete and Sen. Juan Manuel Lopez. Still at large is Sen. William Montes. All except Lopez are Uribe supporters.

The other 14 politicians are ex-officeholders who were indicted by Colombia’s attorney general Monday because they have lost their immunity. They include former senators, congressmen, governors and mayors. Eleven were in custody as of Monday evening, including Eleonora Pineda, who frequently defended paramilitaries as a congresswoman.

Among the paramilitary leaders who signed the 2001 pact were Mancuso; Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40; and Diego Fernando Murillo, known as Don Berna. Mancuso and Murillo are wanted on drug-trafficking charges in the United States.

This is not the first set of arrests of sitting congressmen in the current scandal:

Eight sitting members of congress, all Uribe supporters, were arrested in November and February on charges of consorting with paramilitaries to commit crimes that ranged from electoral fraud to mass murder. Among them were the brother and cousin of former Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo.

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