Sketch of an outlaw State

 (Translated by Peter Lenny, a CSN volunteer translator)
Luis Jairo Ramirez H.*
Published in Spanish in Rebelion
On the eve of the 6th March protests in tribute to the victims, Mr. RAFAEL NIETO LOAIZA wrote in SEMANA magazine, issue 1347: “The march on 6th March will be a fiasco. I flatly refuse to accept that the Colombian State is a criminal State, which is the consequence that follows from accepting the crimes of State argument. Delinquent behavior by some cannot be extended to stigmatize the State as a whole. Besides, the organizers are committing another mistake, by placing the offenses of the paramilitaries in the same bag as those committed by the forces of law and order. In doing so, they turn the Armed Forces and the Police into another faction of murderers, equivalent to the former. Such an assertion is, of course, not only false, but unjust.” The sense of what Councilor José Obdulio Gaviria, the distasteful Plinio Apuleyo, former Uribista minister Londoño Hoyos and others wrote was identical.
Well, let’s salvage some relevant historical memory. Already during the debates over the justice and peace law attention was drawn to the State’s responsibility by omission or commission in crimes against humanity, with the observation that application of the law could not be reduced solely to the paramilitary (the material culprits), but that it was necessary that the intellectual culprits of the crimes, the beneficiaries of such horrors, should be investigated and punished with all rigor. Recently the Supreme Court’s “para-politics” investigation and a number of verdicts by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – all serious and documented – have found that there has indeed been a close association between State, the paramilitary and mafias to commit crimes against humanity.
The State’s responsibility in this national tragedy of blood and horror has not been an isolated event, nor a coincidence. History, at least over the past century, is saturated with crimes of State that have gone unpunished.



Not to go too far back, let us recall the events that led to the Las Bananeras massacre 80 years ago. General Carlos Cortés Vargas, appointed civil and military commander of the region militarized the banana producing zone, detained some 500 strikers and subjected many of them to bone-breaking torture. In the early morning of 6 December troops machine-gunned a peaceful mass rally in the square at Ciénaga, leaving over a thousand dead and hundreds of wounded. In conclusion, both the transnational United Fruit Company and the conservative government of Abadía Méndez expressed their support and congratulations for the murderous military.




From 1946, when the conservative party returned to power, Colombia entered its darkest period of violence. Atrocious crimes, pillage, arson and all kinds of violations were unleashed on the population with the participation of the official police. Estimates are that over 300,000 died, thousands were displaced and stripped of their possessions, and these events were never investigated. Not only did all this meet with the most complete impunity, but often was encouraged by the parish priests. Here justice owes Colombia a historical debt.


On 9 April 1948, Jorge Eliécer Gaitan was murdered at a time when, representing the liberal party,  he was the strongest aspirant to the presidency and had just led the silent demonstration in protest at institutional violence. The Gaitan movement was annihilated and only the conservative party candidate ran in the 1950 elections. Gaitan was an obvious obstacle to conservative party plans to hold on to its political dominance. Yet another crime that has gone unpunished to this day.




The Santa Bárbara (Antioquia) massacre, one of the most painful episodes for the Colombian working class, took place on 23 February 1963.


The army infiltrated the company facility among the strikers’ tents to protect the caravans of tip-wagons bringing out loads of clinker – one of the raw materials used in cement production – to the Argos cement plant in Medellín. Under orders of Captain Guzmán and Sergeant Jaramillo, the soldiers opened “fire on these people”. What followed was a dense barrage from rifles pointing in all directions. The first dead and wounded began to fall at once, among them a little girl, María Edilma Zapata (daughter of the cement worker and trade unionist, Luís Eduardo Zapata García).


The culprits for this massacre included the directors of Cementos El Cairo; the President of Colombia, Guillermo León Valencia; Colonel Armando Valencia Paredes; Captain Guzmán and Sergeant Jaramillo, who gave the order to open fire on the strikers; the Governor of Antioquia, Fernando Gómez Martínez, who sowed lies and slander through the El Colombiano newspaper against the trade union organization leading the strike and authorized the army attack on the strikers. This was clearly a crime of State and class against the cement workers.



On 14 September 1977, four trade unions, using the constitutional right to protests and demonstrate, called a national civic stoppage in support of justified labor and popular demands. The López Michelsen government deployed troops which fired on the unarmed protesters, leaving 39 citizens murdered, hundreds wounded and thousands arrested in Bogota alone. To this day not a single authority has been taken to court.




Since a truce and the La Uribe agreements were signed between the Betancourt government and the FARC guerrilla in 1984, the insurgents attempted a political transition and set up a party, Unión Patriótica, thus to advance towards achieving peace. The establishment felt its centuries-old privileges threatened and unleashed a brutal manhunt against the leaders of the UP and the Communist Party, resulting in a genocide with over 5,000 leaders murdered. Most cases involved the military acting alongside paramilitary forces. Once again the justice institutions proved incapable of acting and the crimes continue unpunished.




On 6 November 1985 the insurgent group M.19 broke into the Palace of Justice with the intention of passing judgment on the President of Colombia. The army attacked the palace, ignoring pleas for a ceasefire and, in the 28 hours the struggle for the palace lasted, one hundred Colombians were sacrificed, among them 11 Supreme Court judges. During the disappeared persons process, Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega, Sergeants (r) Antonio Jiménez and Ferney Causalla, were arrested as members of the group that retook the palace. Retired General Iván Ramírez Quintero is also under investigation.



As a result of the “para-politics” scandals, no-one is in any doubt today that the paramilitary groups were created, promoted, given cover and financed by the Colombian State, as declared in any number of penal, disciplinary and administrative investigations, which nonetheless are far from meeting international standards in terms of truth, justice and reparation. Both UN and OAS bodies have signaled clearly the State’s responsibility by commission and omission in the development and consolidation of the paramilitary structures. The paramilitary leaders themselves have acknowledged publicly that the Colombian State and its agents have fostered and supported them permanently with arms, training and financing in exchange for their pressuring the population in the regions to vote for para-politicians.


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has conducted a number of investigations and condemns the Colombian States for its responsibility for the massacres at El Aro (Antioquia), Trujillo (Valle), the 19 traders of Magdalena Medio, the La Rochela massacre, the massacre at Mapiripan, which took place between 15 and 20 July 1997. Orders have been given for the arrest of 15 members of the military involved in the massacre at San José de Apartadó perpetrated on 21 February 2005. Other murders include Jesús Maria Valle, the Communist Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas and Miller Chacon etc. In all these cases, there is a clear and close association between the State and the paramilitary groups to commit these crimes. These atrocities have been and are committed systematically and with planning against grassroots sectors of society and politicians who have taken action in opposition and to claim their rights in full.


The para-politics case papers mention 161 political leaders who were members of parliament, governors, mayors, councilors or deputies. Of these, 60 are, and 19 were, members of parliament, that is to say, more than half those mentioned are under investigation by the Supreme Court or the Attorney-General. Among the 32 members of congress arrested is Senator Mario Uribe, the President’s cousin; Luís Alberto Gil, leaders of the political party, Convergencia Ciudadana, with a great deal of power in several regions; Luís Humberto Gómez Gallo, a prominent conservative politician, Roció Arias, and Mauricio Pimiento, all of the coalition supporting Uribe. The arrest of Jorge Noguera, former director of [President Uribe’s intelligence and security service] DAS, and Rafael García Torres, former IT director of DAS, as well as former ambassadors, leaders, high-ranking members of the military and civil servants investigated and warrants issued for their arrest, are all evidence of the paramilitaries’ connections in all the institutions of State.


There can be no doubt that what confronts us is a State and a government outside the law. Uribe Vélez’s “Democratic Security” policy is responsible for worsening the human rights crisis by increasingly involving the civil population in the armed conflict, militarizing civil life, forming networks of informants, recruiting peasant soldiers, conducting widespread arbitrary mass arrests, extrajudicial executions of peasants subsequently presented as guerrilla fighters, driving “Plan Colombia” and “Plan Patriota”, encouraging impunity under Law 975 of 2005 without demobilizing the paramilitaries, indiscriminate fumigation, reforms to the National Constitution, and promotion of laws that further impunity and contravene the international principles that guarantee human rights and humanitarian law.


Messrs Nieto Loaiza, José Obdulio and Londoño Hoyos, it could only occur to you alone that more than 70,000 crimes against humanity committed since 1966, 3,500 common graves, 5,000 murders of the UP and the Communist Party, 2,550 trade unionists murdered, 955 extrajudicial executions committed by the national army on the orders of President Uribe, 15,000 disappeared persons and 4 million displaced are isolated events!! No-one has a right to that much lack of shame!!


*Political scientist. Leader of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights

Colombia Support Network
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