Several days ago, on June 20, David Ravelo Crespo, a very important advocate for human rights in Colombia and a leader of the organization CREDOS (Corporacion Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos) for many years, was released from prison. CREDOS has long worked to protect people from violence and David’s work in the human rights field with CREDOS provided support to people in Barrancabermeja who needed it. He should never have been imprisoned, with his conviction based upon evidence that was false. The Colombia Support Network has appreciated and supported the work of CREDOS for many years. We are pleased that David has been released and call upon the government to acknowledge the error it made in incarcerating him, charging him with a crime he did not commit. While prosecutors relied upon the testimony of a former paramilitary leader who organized massacres in David’s home city of Barrancabermeja and is now in prison, David was a founder of the city’s human rights organization, CREDOS, and carried forward its work. His conviction amounted to punishment for his political views; he was a member of the Patriotic Union and served for a time on the Barrancabermeja City Council.
With respect to other prisoners, the Colombian Government is well behind schedule in releasing FARC members who are imprisoned and who, under the provisions of the Peace Agreement between the FARC and the Government, should be freed. A large number of prisoners have gone on a hunger strike protesting their continued presence in prison, where some 3,400 supposedly were to be set free under the amnesty provisions of the Peace Agreement. The Government also needs to complete the provision of services in the Zonas Veredales, neighborhood zones, where the demobilized FARC guerrillas are being located, and to pay the subsidy agreed upon for support of the demobilized FARC troops to be concentrated while waiting to rejoin civil society.
The Government’s compliance with the obligations it has undertaken through the Peace Agreement depends upon the availability of funds to make its required payments. As we pointed out in an opinion piece several days ago, Colombian officials could have requested more money from the United Nations Security Council. The amount of the commitment of the United States Government to help pay the costs of implementing the Peace Agreement appears unclear at this time. The Trump Administration is more likely to approve money for military support and for coca crop spraying—which it likely will insist upon—than for infrastructure and subsidy payments to help reintegrate the demobilized FARC guerrillas into civil society. One wonders whether any commitments were made by the Trump Administration to Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana, at or after their Florida encounter.
One of the most important obligations of the Colombian Government is to combat the paramilitary forces which threaten civilians—including human rights workers and local community leaders—and have mushroomed in the countryside. According to a report by the Fundacion Ideas para la Paz (FIP) (http://www.ideaspaz.org/publicaciones/posts/1539) the paramilitary organization Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, AGC),have established a military and political structure which controls different social and economic spheres, providing protection for different sectors of society and of international crime, requiring payment to the AGC by these different parts of society and the economy. As Diana Duran Nunez describes the analysis of this arrangement by the FIP in a July 16, 2017 article in El Espectador, http://colombia2020.elespectador.com/pais/saboteadores-armados-la-mayor-amenaza-de-la-paz, “the AGC has achieved the establishment of a complex criminal network with territorial effect by means of subcontracting…” In Uraba, in the South of Cordoba and in the Lower Cauca region the AGC has a direct armed presence, while in other regions it operates through subcontracting networks involving regional criminal structures, such as drug traffickers, collection offices and even local criminal gangs. These structures will likely be very difficult to dismantle.
The FARC leadership of course remembers how more than 4,000 members of the Patriotic Union Party were murdered after the demilitarization of guerrilla forces from the mid-1980’s through the 1990’s. It is imperative to avoid another genocide now. And the failed, terribly destructive “War on Drugs” must give way to new ideas, such as legalization of drug marketing and management, and treatments which take the profits out of the drug trade. It will not be easy for the Colombian government to destroy the structures established by paramilitary organizations like the AGC, but a genuine, lasting peace requires that it do so. Hope can, however, be a great resource and we should not be pessimistic about the prospects for peace and justice, no matter how difficult and complicated the path there may seem.
John I. Laun for the Colombia Support Network
July 18, 2017