An opinion article by María Soledad Betancur, Director of the Human Rights Observatory of the IPC (Institute for Public Education)*
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Three justices of the Peace and Justice Branch have ordered an investigation of Alvaro Uribe Vélez:  “This Branch affirms the order to furnish copies so that he (Alvaro Uribe Vélez) can be investigated for promoting, sponsoring, and supporting paramilitary groups and Convivir* connected to them and/or making plans with them, not only while he was Governor of Antioquia, but later, and even while he was the President of Colombia.”

With this decision, the tribunal is providing accurate history and intends to learn the truth about who benefited and who was behind the war that has shed so much blood in this country.  Our society, not just Antioquia but Colombia, can wait no longer; nor can the victims of the conflict and the human rights movement.  It’s urgent that we repair our Democracy and build a civil society for a peace that is firmly based on a No Repetition process.

An Army with at least 120,000 collaborators and 529 organizations in the whole country was the inheritance of the security cooperatives called Convivir, authorized and developed with the handwritten signature of the ex-governor of Antioquia, ex-president of Colombia and now Senator of the Republic ALVARO URIBE VELEZ.

In different confessions by paramilitaries such as Ever Veloza, alias “HH”, and Raúl Emilio Hazbún, alias “Pedro Bonito”, they have asserted that “getting an operating license required approval by the Brigade as well as by the government of Antioquia, specifically by its Secretary-General”.

With that support, they furnished “long-range weapons, advanced technology communication radios, automobiles, motorcycles, submachine guns, machine guns, rifles, revolvers, rocket launchers, rockets and mortars that gave them an important operating capacity”.  These were furnished to attack civil society, intimidate, displace, and appropriate farms belonging to the campesinos and to make fear the main strategy for the effectiveness of their efforts.

In Antioquia 87 of these Convivir were recognized, made up of 6,248 members.  The Convivir Papagayo (Parrot), one of the best known of these organizations, coordinated the 12 that were created in Urabá after Raúl Hazbún received the proposal.

Raúl Emilio Hazbún Mendoza, alias “Pedro Bonito” or “Pedro Ponte”, an important banana grower in the region, supervised the installations of the Antioquia government, where, according to this demobilized individual, Pedro Juan Moreno took part.  When Moreno heard the proposal for the creation of a Convivir for the Urabá region, he answered with a proposal to create twelve of them.  (See:  Decision of the Justice and Peace Tribunal, versus José Barney Veloza García,  Attorney General’s National Unit 17 for Peace and Justice, January 31, 2012, page 87)

How long will we permit this horror to continue, was a question asked by the Group for Historical Memory.  This report shows how in this country between 1985 and 2012, 1,982 massacres were committed; 1,166 of those were committed by paramilitary groups, just to mention one of the bloodiest techniques that marked the horror of the war in our country.  Alvaro Uribe Velez is the promoter of the organizations with the greatest responsibility for these crimes against humanity.  One of them is the El Aro Massacre in 1997, in which the ex-governor is accused of being directly involved.

The development of the Convivir allowed, at the time of their greatest expansion, nearly 87 cooperatives in the Province of Antioquia; they were present in 24 provinces, 529 organizations with more than 120,00 collaborators all over the country.  In Antioquia 87 Convivir were recognized, made up of 6,248 members.  In Arauca there was one Convivir with 17 men, in Bolivar there were 7 Convivir with 268 members, in Boyacá 92 Convivir and 1,826 members, in Caldas 17 Convivir and 64 members, in Casanare two Convivir with 64, in Cauca three Convivir with 38, in Cesar nine Convivir, in Chocó three with 65 members, in Córdoba 18 Convivir and 169 members, in Cundinamarca 120 and 2,970, in Guajira three Convivir and 103, in Huila three Convivir, in Magdalena five with 352 members, in Meta 11 with 472, in Nariño five with 17 members, in North Santander five, in Quindío three  (sic) (See:  Justice and Peace Tribunal, versus José Barney Veloza García, Attorney General’s National Unit 17 for Justice and Peace, January 31, 2012, page 92, citing the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia, Chapter No. IV)

In the IPC human rights report, published in 1997, we stated that “during the year 1996 in Colombia, and particularly in Antioquia, the paramilitary phenomenon achieved a high level of expansion, consolidation, organization and territorial control, placing vast geographic areas under their influence” . . .that situation was consolidating a private process of agrarian reform for landowners, imposed by the elite, who amassed and grabbed entire populations under the aegis of the big landowners who maintained the paramilitary organization and who are formulating new social relations that are moved by the rationale of the war that claims “those who provide protection demand obedience”.

We denounced the unusual development of the security cooperatives Convivir, boosted with great enthusiasm by the provincial administration (we are referring to the Governor at that time, Alvaro Uribe Velez) and welcomed by important business sectors, especially those connected  to the countryside, such as the cattlemen.  Our proposal in the face of this reality was “active neutrality” working toward non-violent approaches to the conflicts.  In the report published in 1998, we reiterated and expanded this approach to the shaping of the convivir and we saw it as the legalization of private justice groups.  Referring to 1997 we said that at that time the paramilitary organizations grew in unison with the convivir.

Jenny Pearce, in the prolog to our report “War, Peace and Human Rights in Antioquia” (July 1998 – six months before the kidnapping of our comrades), said that “this is an ‘uncivil society’ where the force of reason does not prevail among people with guns, and neither do the arguments or the universal rules of justice. In this context, the idea that arming more civilians, for example through the convivir,  could greatly stimulate civility, is wrong-headed”. (IPC, 1998: XXII).

The information recalled here is merely one example of the horror that our society has experienced.  We consider that this is a strong move toward the truth, breaking with the impunity of the real perpetrators and advancing toward No Repetition.

This is more than just and remedial that at thirteen years after Operation Orión, which has left a mark of pain and death on the city, and after the largest common grave in the world where hundreds of young people were disappeared without all of us, as a society, being made aware of the magnitude of the tragedy;  and 18 years after the El Aro massacre, one of those that inaugurated this manner of sowing terror in the society. We only saw paramilitary organizations, while behind these powerful organizations towered the government, the Antioquia Governor’s Office, the Office of the President of the Republic, the Senate and the military brigades, including the 17th and the 4th.

There is no better news for society in Antioquia, for the country, for the victims, and for human rights movements, than that we know, that the complete truth will be known, and society can judge who it was that benefited from this wave of terror.

It was not just paramilitaries raging against the population.  It was a political plan that was imposed by blood and fire and that unfortunately swooped down on a society marked for death and pain.  It’s time to advance in another direction.

Note:  If only the society of Medellín does not enthrone a repetition of this tragedy in these elections.  From a moral perspective, that is their responsibility.

*  The ideas expressed herein are the exclusive responsibility of the author and in no way commit the Institute for Public Education (IPC)

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