(Translated by Chuck Summers, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Law of Justice and Peace has failed in Colombia
The paramilitaries have confessed to killing 22,130 and using crematory ovens and are reorganizing their armed structures
Isabel Coello/Friday, July 2, 2010
“The entire town knew they were going to kill them. My sister’s murder happened like it did in Garcia Marquez’s novel, “Chronicle of a Foretold Death:” everyone saw the paramilitaries arrive, go to the town square, and enter the restaurant. There were about six of them. They sat down and waited. And when my sister and the three rural leaders who had been dining with her finished their sodas and sandwiches, the stood up, opened fire and killed all of them. There, in the restaurant La Tata, in the center of Cimitarra. At nine o’clock in the evening, in front of everyone.
Sylvia Duzán had just turned 30 and was a reporter. She had specialized in urban violence and was a pioneer in revealing the phenomenon of the assassins in Medellín. This was her first experience in a rural area and in hot conflict. She was producing a documentary for Britain’s Channel 4 that showed an initiative, put in place in 1987, to build a peaceful and neutral community in a region that had been in the cross fire between guerillas, paramilitaries, and the army. Their supporters were threatened with death for challenging the authority of fact. Three of them were assassinated with Sylvia the 26th of February 1990.
“It’s been 20 years and nothing has happened. The situation remains in total impunity,” says the sister of Sylvia, the well-known reporter María Jimena Duzán, who is now 49 years old.
Maria Jimena is one of the 281,661 affected by the violence that have been recorded as victims in Colombia since the government of Alvaro Uribe released the Law of Justice and Peace, that enables the disbandment of combatants and offers reduced sentences of five to eight years for those who confess their crimes.
“As victims, we thought that this was an opportunity for the truth to be known and to obtain justice. But Uribe has finished his eight years without giving us justice or reparation, only a little bit of the truth,” declares Maria Jimena five years after the law had been introduced.
It was only last Tuesday that they dictated the first sentence against two paramilitary leaders. Diego Vecino and Juancho Dique were convicted at just 39 and 38 years old, respectively, switched for the alternative sentence of eight years for the massacre of 11 peasants and the displacement of 300 families from Mampuján in 2000.
More than a thousand massacres
The phenomenon of paramilitarism immerged at the beginning of the 1980s, driven by large rural landowners and drug traffickers interested in protecting their territories and defending themselves from guerilla kidnapping.
With the support of active members of the army and police that looked the other way and even gave them guidelines about what goals to pursue, the paramilitary groups expanded rapidly and in 1997 were integrated into the United Self-Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC), which marked one of the bloodiest periods in the history of the country.
Their methods didn’t include so much direct encounters with the guerillas but brutal attacks against the civil population. There were more than a thousand massacres, thousands of deaths, tortures, and disappearances, and millions were displaced, leaving behind their lands assumed by the paramilitaries and drug traffickers.
In 2003, President Uribe began to negotiate the demobilization of the paramilitaries. Fruits of these negotiations created Law 975 on June 25, 2005.
“Elderly, unemployed, and whores listed as demobilized,” denounces the ICTJ
“It is a law that was promoted to give impunity to paramilitaries”, affirms the director of the Colombian Commission of Lawyers, Gustavo Gallón. “It was subject to important corrections by the Constitutional Court.” The court made changes to the initial version so that the paramilitaries completed their sentences in prison, and not in house; that the time of the negotiations not count towards their completed penalty time; and that the reduction of the punishment be revoked if they lie or return to take up arms.
Since 2003 31,671 paramilitaries have been demobilized, according to government figures. Of those, 3,854 voluntarily came forward to confess their crimes in the so-called “Free Versions”. More than one thousand have been able to do it, several of those largely responsible for the AUC being among them.
Their revelations shocked the country and allowed the identification of more than 2,500 mass graves. The ‘paras’ confessed to 22,130 homicides and 1,853 forced disappearances. They spoke of tortures, the use of venomous snakes to kill the victims, of the construction of crematory ovens to make the bodies disappear and they also spoke of their links with political and economic leaders.
“The AUC is not a group that has opposed the State, but rather has symbiotic relations with it. That which was revealed in the confessions goes beyond casual encounters. The association between paramilitarism and State was structural,” affirms Javier Ciurlizza, of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ.)
The confessions pacified the parapolitical scandal, in which more than 80 members of congress have been investigated or processed for their alliances.
45 activists have been assassinated for reclaiming the land that had been stolen from them
“When there began to be some truth, the process was thwarted by the extradition of 14 paramilitary leaders to the United States for drug trafficking,” adds Gallón.
For Gustavo Petro, former senator of the left-wing Polo Democrático, “the paramilitarism is the essence of political power in Colombia and these confessions were reaching the Government and to the economic elite. This flow of information ceased with the extradition. There they have accused of drug trafficking. Here, of something much worse: crimes against humanity. But this is going to remain in impunity and the victims without their right to the truth,” he adds.
In the case of Sylvia Duzán, Maria Jimena couldn’t hear the paramilitary leader from Cimitarra admit to the assassination of her sister. “In his open version, Ramón Isaza [presiding in the eighties, the association of breeders of the Middle Magdalena] said that he didn’t remember any massacre. I was so furious, I seemed so worthless.”
Duzán recognizes that there has been “a little truth,” and that the locating of the graves to exhume and return the bodies is very valuable to the victims. “But there hasn’t been any reparation. Here only a few paramilitary drug traffickers stole the lands of the peasants in the last 25 years. These peasant leaders, still displaced today, are trying to recuperate their lands and are being assassinated.”
10,000 active ‘paras’
According to the Commission of Reparation, there are 45 persons that have claimed restitution of property and have been assassinated since the created the process of Justice and Peace, that obligates the former AUC to return what they took to the victims. According to the president of the Commission, Eduardo Pizarro, the so-called “Emerging Bands” are the instrument of the elite criminals so that the victims cannot make claims.
“The government says that the paramilitarism has died. It’s not true,” says Gallón. “There are studies that figure there are 10,000 active ‘paras’.”
Camilo Bernal, coordinator of Justice of the ICTJ, agrees with him. “The politics of demobilization and disarmament is a resounding failure. There are a great number of armed structures and they are not demobilized. They made their leaders more visible. This doesn’t mean that that they will follow them from behind. Today we know that the unemployed, whore, and elderly swell the lists of those that are officially demobilized,” he affirms.
According to Bernal, “the groups that are there are ‘paras’, even though the government, in its statement of denial, says that they are misguided criminal gangs. The mission to support the peace process notes that they are the same as ever, but without uniforms. The ‘paras’ remain. To take care of business.”