La Silla Vacia
By: Juanita León
August 19, 2010
(Translated by Deryn Collins, Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, Volunteer Editor.)
Claudia López became famous with her research on parapolitics, which revealed links between politicians and paramilitaries. Currently 97 congressmen have been tried in a court of law.
Today, in the Feria del Libro (an annual book fair) the second chapter of her research has been released. “and the reformation of the homeland…of how the politicians and the ‘mafia’ have reshaped Colombia.”
It is the result of extensive research, coordinated by her, but carried out by 15 researchers from the Corporación Nuevo Arcoiris, the Grupo Método de Luis Jorge Garay, the Congreso Visible, Dejusticia and the MoE. This interview is about their results.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Claudia López: We began because Luis Jorge Garay’s theory on the control and reconfiguration of the State was not what I was expecting. He asks what happens when it is not private companies who try to rule by using economic interests – which is normal – but rather there is a power structure trying to control the State by using violence. My question is that if you have the money and the ability to blackmail to control the State, then the paramilitaries and drug traffickers have been more effective than the guerrillas.
And what did you discover?
That it is not enough to have the arms and money to control the State. There are three differences that define sustained control of the State by the FARC and the ELN: social capital, the vision of political power and an anti- or pro-state character.
It is rare to think of social capital in relation to paramilitaries or guerrillas.
Social capital is defined by who you relate to, who your contacts are and what doors those contacts open for you. The share capital of the guerrilla is poor; their contacts are marginal, both politically and economically. On the other hand, the paramilitaries and drug traffickers are powerful. They are born into the political and economic elite which also gave them legal backing until 1986. This huge power connection allowed them to reach high positions in the State.
The guerrilla is anti-the State, whilst the paramilitaries and drug traffickers are pro-the State and pro-capitalism, plus they know how to operate within it.
And what are the differences between paramilitary politics and FARC politics?
FARC politics is about killing politicians and doing this with impunity. We found that the FARC and the ELN have been responsible for three out of every four killings or kidnappings of politicians in the past 20 years, the paramilitaries put only one candidate up for election in town halls and provincial governments.
How was the State captured?
The theory of State control, assumes that those taking control are private operators… those who work outside of the State. However, this research concludes that it is the reverse. There have been businessmen, politicians, the public military forces and people within the judicial system who have exploited illegal means to consolidate their own power. In an interview with Ernesto Baez, he told me that in 98 could not meet the demand with so many people calling them and that is why they had to create franchises. To me it sounded a little pretentious. But in 2007, Mario Iguarán was asked who had looked for whom. His response was that after analyzing the cases, he thought that it was mostly the politicians who looked for the paras. In the book we look at each Department and analyze who was seeking whom and the conclusion is that it was an inverted trap.
But did the politicians have any alternative?
That was the great discussion between Juan Manuel Lopez and the Court. Lopez, his uncle and his family backed Mancuso, who then became a threat to them. This is what always happens: in an Alliance of this type, those who have the weapons end up being in control of those who have the political power. The same happened with the Communist Party and the FARC. Politicians backed “Jorge 40” and financed it; then in 2002, he said who could run the campaign and then in 2006, he was paid by his allies to let them campaign.
In retrospect, looking at everything that has happened with parapolitics, can you say whether it achieved its goal?
While they could, they reshaped the political map. It was legitimized by the Uribe project and the Court was able to win a few seats. The political spectrum changed dramatically. The country was in the centre-right and it will stay that way for many years. There are always possibilities for change because in politics, nothing is static.
What was the magnitude of the capture? Are we a gangster State?
From judicial data, found through the processes of Justice y Paz and the Supreme Court, it is reasonable to conclude that one-third of the people elected in both the Executive and the Legislative have been captured by illegals. It is not a drug-State but nor does it have just a few bad apples.
What was the role that Uribe played in all this?
There is no evidence so far that he is directly linked with illegal structures. But it is clear that all of the illegal rightwing were inserted into his political project and he did nothing to prevent this. Eight out of every 10 parapoliticians were in his coalition. In the book, Francisco Gutiérrez statistically demonstrates the Uribistas attracts more illegals.
But why is it that the illegals are attracted to those who have the power or is there something in the structure of the Uribistas which attracts?
There is a convergence of political and economic interests. Uribe could choose who he governed with and he sank all the reforms in those who should have been punished. He gave them a deliberate and active reception. He gave them the DAS and the Incoder. He allowed them to participate in many national interests with regional representation: the University of Cordoba and several regional autonomous corporations.
How can this be explained when at the same time there has been a demobilization of paramilitaries, and so many paramilitary politicians have ended up behind bars during Uribe’s mandate?
The merit of Uribe was legitimized by incorporating the parapoliticians into his political force or demobilizing them.
I do not understand how they can be legitimized by extraditing them.
You're thinking of the drug paramilitaries as if they were virus. What the Supreme Court is, however, is an organized structure of power. For example, Álvaro García is in prison and his military partner, Cadena has disappeared. But its power structure has been reinvented. It is the power structure that is important not the people in that structure. Politicians can reinvent themselves.
How do these power structures work exactly?
In the book we redid the power structure of the congressmen who have been investigated. We follow their electoral path from 1997 to 2007. Which mayors, which governors were supported for election and once elected, who was supported? Not all were bandits, but it does give an idea of the ability of political penetration of the person under investigation. We show how they were mutating.
Is Colombia a more ‘mafia-controlled’ country today than ten years ago?
Yes, clearly. We can measure this: in 1982 when Pablo Escobar reached Congress with 16.650 votes which was less than 0.2 per cent of the Senate at the time. We can measure how the representation of the mafia grew. We turn to the 8,000, who had between 12 and 16 percent of seats, to the parapoliticians, who had 35 percent of the Senate. The political representation of the mafia had tripled. The book deals with the period up to 2009. In recent elections, the political representation of the mafia has not grown in Congress. Of the Congress members investigated, they had candidates to occupy 40% of the Senate, but only managed to win 29 percent of the seats. For the first time since 1982, the mafia representation did not grow.
What has changed? Why is this good news?
It has changed the level of legal and social control and Justice now impedes them. Prosecutions, processes of Justice and Peace, the Supreme Court of Justice and especially the Constitutional Court are dealing with paramilitary politicians and have slowed the Bills with which they were going to reconfigure the State.
What did the paramilitary politicians really do in Congress?
Elizabeth Ungar with Visible Congress found that the paramilitary politicians did not have legislative Bank initiative. They were not more active or more successful in passing their bills and found a substantial difference between the activities of the investigated congressmen and those not investigated. So, how was Congress made up? We discovered it was a band of Uribistas. Thirty-five percent of the Senate accounted for 53 percent of the Uribe band in the Corporation. That is they were the majority and a majority is paradise for any Government. The ministers don’t speak, do not make suggestions, and vote as they are told. Giving them the power to change policy bank is a structural part of the Government. We studied eight laws that were of interest: the four agrarian economy laws, the justice and peace law, the two political reforms laws and that of re-election.
When the formality of these laws of Government initiative is scrutinized, it is found that what happens is that norms were approved whose application could benefit both illegal and legal interests. Laws which overtly benefited the illegals sank, such as that of Rocio Arias which was designed to stop extradition. But the suspension of extradition law was approved when presented under Justice and Peace, which was a Government initiative.
How is this homeland re-founded by them?
It is a society that went from intolerance of illegals, to the legitimization of them. The Right wing center included the illegal rightwing; the part of the country that benefited from drug-trafficking was able to legitimize itself, with anti-FARC and anti-leftwing speeches. A third of the enemies of democracy are within the government. More harm is done by a third party nestling within the State than within a state openly taken by a dictatorship, at least in terms of lives. One hundred and sixty-five thousand Colombians have paid with their lives for this ‘little joke.’
It has had brutal humanitarian and corruption costs. During this 20-year long process, Colombian democracy has suffered three times more violations than the dictatorships of the Latin American countries combined. A total of 10,000 disappeared and 31,000 in Colombia alone. No other country in the continent, not even Guatemala, has reported 1,300 massacres.
In terms of corruption, economists say that drug trafficking represents two points of the Colombian GDP. If one adds up the estimates of the Comptroller on what corruption costs Colombia it amounts to between 1.1 and 1.5 percent of the GDP. It is as profitable as drug trafficking. It is the result of using your advantageous position within the State. Garay has a theory that there is a vertical integration between corruption and drug trafficking.
Well, corruption has become a form of laundering the drug trafficking money. Before, a building was constructed with black dollars. But if they can make a backbone through a grant, it is much more efficient to launder money. A duty free zone can launder billions of pesos and it is very difficult to uncover.
Why did they do all this?
There are separate but converging interests. One wonders what leads Caballero, Vives or Araújo to do this, when they already have power, when they are the elite. Our hypothesis is that it was a resistance to the democratic reforms of the Constitution of 1991, a reaction to maintain the status quo and not cede power. The national constituency of the Senate threatened regional feuds; the Senate was reduced from 114 seats to 100; not only competing among those already there but anyone could create a political party. And also citizens could demand their rights through tutela (A legal resource granted to individuals by the 1991 Constitution. It grants Colombians the right to allege that a law is unconstitutional as it applies to them, and to seek compensation). All this threatens ones power. In a boo kin which you find Jorge 40, he was quoted as saying when he went to a hearing, he explained that the Constitution was Communist.
Its other aim was not to modify the scheme of land. And above all it was believed that the guerrillas would seize power by the use of weapons or through negotiation with Caguán.
The last reason is that there are more and more crimes committed that require impunity and so you cannot give up political power, because you need to influence the judicial processes to ensure impunity.
What does Santos represent in all this?
From this right wing plan, he offers a more modern, more global vision. The PIN treats him as a lover, and that takes his power away. While Uribe was making the already dismissed Abadía as governor, Santos is not going to meet with them. They are used, but as Turbay would say, "In their real proportions". If the legal Centre-right has any sense of class and survival it has to go through this process, if not, others can replace them as the elite.
What comes next?
I believe that this election gives a right forces reconfiguration within the Project Center. The legal right won the elections. Uribe was right when he said that he was the only one who could carry out the project created by the legal and illegal right. The candidate who was asked to represent that unit was 'Uribista' but lost. Santos was ‘plan C’. But he quickly distanced himself from the project. The illegal right had less representation in Congress. What this shows is that all the newspaper articles, books, and judgments have helped.
What does this book mean to you on a personal level?
As researcher it gives me satisfaction because I came across parapoliticians by chance. I found the names that were at the tip of the iceberg, but with this book I have understood the whole iceberg. But the bad thing about being a researcher is one answers one question and ends up with two others.
And what is the biggest remaining question?
The relationship between drug trafficking and corruption. There is also the issue of what the participation of a sector of the public force has in all of this. It is a black box and if society does not face up to the impunity of this, another war could result, in part to maintain the impunity. This war is not only about disarming the FARC but also disarming the military sector linked to the paramilitaries.
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