(Translated by Diana Méndez, CSN Volunteer Translator)

By Antonio Caballero, Semana, September 2, 2017

Many powerful people in this country have been complicit with paramilitarism as can be seen through the many, many convictions, but more importantly through the vox populi: we all knew it.

In the maelstrom formed by all the new Ministry of Justice scandals, it seems as if everyone forgot the crime being investigated in the first place.

People forget that the individuals who saved themselves from those same investigations or trials, either by bribing judges (or being blackmailed by them, depending on the point of view), were under investigation for conspiring with paramilitarism; and of this they were absolved. That, or they saw their legal processes delayed by years and years, watching time run out on statutes of limitations. All because of the appearance of false witnesses. Which brings us back to the reason for the mess: the anti-corruption prosecutor of the national justice system, Gustavo Moreno.

The same one who wrote at length on this subject in his well-publicized book, Los Falsos Testigos (The False Witnesses).

Two years ago, Moreno summarized his findings via the site Kien y Ke: “There weren’t just false witnesses, but rather false witness testimony entrepreneurs, people who profit from false testimony,” and he added, “ you can find a fake witness in a prison for 100,000 pesos [about US$35].

Many times I have pointed out that one of the peculiarities of legal life in Colombia is that an offense never comes alone, as is said of misfortune in a popular proverb. It always comes with another, which usually serves to cover up or at least to divert attention from the first. And so, a theft tends to cover up a murder and a bribe is but an agreement to criminality. We are currently seeing how blackmail is covering up bribery and this in turn distracts from paramilitarism, which is itself closely related to the crime of false testimony.

The proliferation of false witnesses is rather recent. It has its origins in the demobilization of the paramilitaries under Alvaro Uribe’s first term as president in 2003. And the coming into effect of the accusatory penal system in 2005. Immediately, those paramilitary soldiers that were not granted amnesty by the Justice and Paz Law began to turn people in, and through their declarations many politicians ended up accused of collusion with the paramilitaries – whether or not the accusations were real or invented. The journalist Juan Gossaín, in an article from 2015 about Gustavo Moreno’s book, wrote that there were no less than 3,000 legal processes ongoing or repressed due to false testimonies before the courts in the country. Although I am not sure if that’s how Moreno tells it in his book, I suppose that the greater part of those processes were due to para-politics, like those that are making difficult the lives of the individuals blackmailed or defended by Moreno himself: Senators Musa Besaile and Julio Manzur, ex-governor  Luis Alfredo Ramos, etc.

In any case, the high number of politicians from all parties who have ended up colluding with paramilitarism, and the high number of cases that dealt with the specialty of the currently imprisoned anti-corruption prosecutor – that is, discovering or inventing false witnesses – all go to show the effort being undertaken so that paramilitarism is not a serious offense, serious enough to garner its prohibition at the constitutional level. The thing is, many powerful people in this country have been complicit with paramilitarism, as can be seen through the many, many convictions but more importantly through the vox populi: everyone knew about it

The defense in a lot of these cases has consisted of the allegation that the witnesses are false, accompanied by fresh accusations that some politician or other bought their testimonies in the prisons (maybe for 100,000 pesos?). This has been the case with former president Uribe against Senator Ivan Cepeda, or the former senator Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez against the also former  senator Piedad Córdoba.

Another matter which needs investigating is the involvement of the DEA in all of this.  The purview of the DEA is in prosecuting the crimes of narco-trafficking, not blackmail or bribery. Nevertheless, it has been the DEA’s declarations about payments made by an ex-governor to an ex-prosecutor in order to blackmail Supreme Court justices that have detonated the scandal. As Francisco de Asís would say, what are the wolves’ motives now?

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