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The Collective
Friday, August 3, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombian court defends “para” ruling, slams Uribe

- Colombia’s Supreme Court on Thursday stood by its decision to stop former paramilitaries from holding public office, despite cries from the government the ruling will torpedo the country’s peace process.

A Supreme Court ruling in July shook the foundation of Uribe’s paramilitary peace accord by saying demobilized fighters must be charged with common crimes like drug trafficking and murder rather than with political crimes, which can be pardoned.

Uribe’s plan was based on the idea of pardoning paramilitaries not directly involved in atrocities so they could later run for political office, an avenue closed to anyone with a serious criminal conviction.

To bypass the court’s decision, Uribe proposes a law allowing former paramilitaries the same rights as some demobilized Marxist rebels who faced charges of sedition, a political crime, and then went on to win seats in Congress.

This is a rather difficult situation. On the one hand, both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries have engaged in criminal activities-and the FARC’s reliance on kidnapping and drug-related activities hardly make them idealistic fighters. As such any type of amnesty program for any of the armed groups will result in outrage from some sector of Colombian society. The problem with the paramilitaries is that they have been brutal in their application of violence. For example, a key tactic of the AUC (the umbrella group for Colombian paramilitaries) has been to terrorize villages in areas where the FARC and ELN are active. If the AUC believes that a village has been cooperating or helping guerrillas in any way, the AUC treats the village as if it is just as guilty as the FARC and are more than willing to massacres peasants and displace the survivors.

For example, there were cases were the FARC had stolen cattle from land owners (in many cases linked to narcos, who used profits to buy large ranches) and then the FARC traded or gave the cattle to peasants, who then took the cattle to local butchers to prepare the animal for eating. The AUC targeted butchers in guerrilla areas, killing them (and not just killing them, but beheading them, castrating them, burning them with acid and so forth) on the logic that they should have known they the cattle were stolen.

There is also the issue of state complicity in paramilitary activity. While it would be inaccurate to say that the paramilitaries have been officially sanctioned state-directed actors, it is also the case that there is ample evidence that demonstrates substantial cooperation between elements of the state with these groups (ranging from turning a blind eye to providing material and even coordinating activities). As such, there is the question of whether amnesty to paramilitaries isn’t just the government, in some cases, forgiving itself after a fashion.

Uribe has the votes in the congress to pass the new law. However, there is also a significant opposition presence, so the debate on this topic should be interesting.

Ultimately the problem is that the alternative to any kind of peace agreement (whether with the guerrillas or paramilitaries) is simply more fighting. Of course, a key criticism of the peace process with the paramilitaries is that they aren’t all quiting the fight once they “demobilize.”

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Filed under: Latin America, Colombia | |

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