(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator )
Interview with Javier Giraldo, human rights defender: “The future in Colombia is one of domination by paramilitaries wearing ties.”
Eugenia Garcia Raya
Frontera Cero (“Frontier Zero”)
While violent deaths continue for opponents of the government in Colombia, President Álvaro Uribe works for the “legalization” of the paramilitaries, whose links with military and political figures are being proved in the courts, and whose cries continue to be the principal cause of internal displacement and exile of Colombians. The human rights defender, Javier Giraldo, a Jesuit priest and winner of the third Juan María Bandrés Price in 2003, continues struggling for the rights of the victims of the violence, especially the more than three million displaced persons.
FC: After decades of crimes, the complicity between the paramilitaries and Colombian military and political figures are being made public. But the projects to “normalize” these paramilitaries also move forward, to prevent their being judged for their atrocious crimes, as if everything could remain as one more “scandal” for the country to avoid. To what point can this paradoxical process go?
JG: In reconstructing the history of paramilitarism in Colombia in order to gat a glimpse of its future, we uncover a strategy of domination as intelligent as it is perverse, with a first phase of massacres and displacements, which later aligned itself with the structures of organization and power and always with a monstrous economic power which is being legalized an capable of buying the State. Such a strategy applies doses of violence according to its needs. There was even a moment in which diminishing the violence served to avoid the international censure that the monstrous nature of their crimes might produce.
Today, the impunity that Uribe is offering to the paramilitaries seeks to allow a legal access to state control via elections. In this current phase of “legalization,” we imagine that networks of close relations with the traditional and emerging political classes have been woven, especially with the parliament, the public safety forces, the judicial branch, the political parties and the mass media, all through the medium of their unusual economic power, which makes it possible to have manageable “scandals” that help to exorcise the past. I hope I am wrong, but what we can see of the future in four or five years is a legalized domination by the paramilitaries wearing ties, fully co-opted by society and able to express themselves through the “mass media.”
FC: Is this process understood by Colombian society? How to do evaluate the fact that according to the media, President Uribe has majority support?
JG: The matrix through which the great masses understand the process of legalizing the paramilitaries has many components. One is the “equalization” of the violence and the intensive demonization of the insurgency. An equivalency was drawn between guerrilla violence and paramilitary violence in order to transfer to the paramilitaries the judicial and ideological treatment that the insurgency gets, when in reality the paramilitaries were a semi-clandestine arm of the state. Then they deny that the insurgency had any political character, in order to define it entirely as “terrorist” and thereby negate the existence of a social armed conflict. Once the fictitious paramilitary “demobilization” was under way, with the boldest mechanisms for impunity, the necessity to “reinsert” these violent people in economic and security projects was declared. IN this way, in not a few cases, they were converted into the flag bearers of “social and economic justice” projects through the management of economic firms. In all of this the drug traffic, “laundered“ fortunes and internationals play a primary role. Meanwhile, the repression of any opposition is legitimized through the policy of “democratic security,” which justifies deaths and disappearances as the outcomes of “combats” with what remains of the insurgency and tries social leaders as “undercover insurgents.”
War weariness leads the great masses to support whoever has “succeeded” in lowering some indicators of violence and proclaims “democratic security.” On the other hand, the social movements have gotten t this point practically extinguished, because of the barbarity of their extermination and the terror of the survivors. Further, the very high levels of poverty have provided the government a fertile field for a new populist model; several million families receive checks from the Office of the President for signing up with programs that interest the government or as social support, such as eradicators of coca, forest wardens, members of network of informers or collaborators with the pubic security forces. While the income is very little, survival comes with a political endorsement. Along with this, the monstrous economic power of the paramilitaries, one of whose elements is the in no way repressed narco-traffic, and the avalanche of transnational capital that euphorically invades the country, irradiating projects for “progress” to which the great masses of unemployed are connected, and they later thank them with political support. But if anything has become clear in recent months, it is that Uribe’s electoral power was based on monstrous frauds carried out by the paramilitaries using terribly violent and extortionist methods. Everything points to the fact that such a mechanism remains intact and will define the electoral processes for a great deal of time to come.
FC: What role is being played by the organizations of victims of this violence?
We must not deny that the victims’ movement has become stronger, at east numerically, in the shadow of the “confession” rituals of the paradoxically named “Justice and Peace Law”—perhaps I order to hide its subtle and effective mechanisms to provide impunity. This law contains elements that proclaim, but do not make operational, “truth, justice and reparation,” which has made thousands of victims shake of the silence to which they had been reduced by terror, to militantly identify themselves and demands their rights. Some have risked so much that they have been murdered, displaced, exiled or once again reduced to terror and silence. But others stubbornly persevere.
By now several meetings have been organized and the work of recovering historical memory has spread/ Some have decided to participate in the trials of the paramilitary leaders with the expectation, almost always unrealized, to gain some datum that would allow them to discover the mortal remains, or at least some clue about the fate of their loved ones. Many more victims now no believe in those rituals and do not expect anything. One of the elements that most influence the skepticism is the corrupt backgrounds of high functionaries in the prosecutor’s office, who guaranteed impunity for horrendous crimes. In any event, among the victims alternative paths are opening. Like truth commissions and public opinion tribunals, which leave the corrupt judicial apparatus on the side, and also appealing to international organs that make universal justice effective.
FC: Colombians are the most numerous group in petitioning for asylum in Spain. On the other hand, one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world is being experienced by the internally displaced Colombians. You yourself have been displaced and have had to go into exile in the face of the grave threats you received. What does it mean to be forced to leave one’s home?
My memories of exile are extremely painful, despite the enormous privilege of being fraternally welcomed by my Jesuit brothers and of taking advantage of the time in research projects. The moral and psychic wounds are found in domains such as the blocking of your liberty and your most cherished life projects, which affect your most intimate identity and what is most human in our humanity. I’ve known many refugees who showed physical symptoms of these blockades in moving ways. I think that the refugee appeals not only to the generous compassion of god people, but is also the subject of rights that transcend national borders, whenever the governments of the world tolerate and support regimes, like the Colombian regime, that produce millions of victims in order to defend the privileges of minorities and in the majority of cases in order to guarantee the exploitation of resources by transnational capital, which reaps the benefit of those forms of barbarity.
FC: There is a lack of knowledge about the immense gravity of the human rights violations in Colombia. At this time, what should be the role of the international community, and especially of some European governments that seem to be ambiguous about the Uribe government?
It is very sad and worrisome that the truth about our tragedy is almost universally unknown. But I do not believe that the European governments, nor the North American ones, are unaware of what is going on. Nor are the big press agencies unaware. It is a problem of will and ethical principles, that world “public opinion” is regulated by enormous economic conglomerates for whom “the truth” is a commodity. The enormous business of international capital in Colombia block the denunciation of the regimen that opens the door for them and guarantees their transactions. The conscious population in solidarity is smaller and smaller, but at the same time richer in humanity. I profoundly admire the humanitarian organizations, the associations and individuals in solidarity who denounce our tragedy.
–Eugenia García Raya es the Public Information officer of the Spanish Commission to Help Refugees (Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado—CEAR)
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621