SEMANA, January 15, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In a recent column publicized on the los Danieles site, Alberto Donadío accuses President Barco (1986-1990) of being intellectually responsible for the massacre of the members of the Patriotic Union Party, a tragedy that left, over the years, a terrifying wake of victims. We can’t deny reality. The identification of those most responsible is a task entrusted to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, while it’s up to the Truth Commission to furnish its analysis of the cases, and the dynamics of the political violence we have suffered, and the recommendations for overcoming it.

Regardless of these institutional dimensions, what’s important now is to find out if the designation of a now-dead President as the planner of such a slaughter is supported by solid evidence. If the pedestal on which we have placed Barco is not deserved, we need to know that. Besides, the examination that Donadío suggests has political consequences: Barco’s legend is also the legend of the Liberal Party; he governed in its name. Other parties come from that same ideological matrix. The coalition of the center, which will have to be coordinated as the Presidential campaign advances, will have in its liberal philosophy valuable young talent for the elaboration of its proposals. The evaluation of Barco and his administration is important from all of those angles.

According to the los Danieles site, Donadío “reveals a secret that the Colombian government has guarded jealously for 34 years.” Note, please, the reach of the term “reveal”: to make clear and evident what was previously unknown. Newton, for example, “revealed” that apples (and, in reality, any heavier-than-air object), fall according to inflexible rules. The epiphany that Donadío gives us is of that same caliber: Barco met with an Israeli “spy”, and, in his presence, gave an unidentified military officer the order to murder the members of that political party.

“How awful, the reader will think before going on reading.” “And how did that prize-winning journalist find that out?” The answer is very simple: It was told to him with absolute certainty – Newtonian – the only living witness to the meeting that they decided to keep secret. It’s the only evidence we are provided. We can’t ask Barco, Montoya, his Secretary-General, or the Israeli “spy”, we can’t ask them anything. The dead are silent. Consequently, it’s fair to say that Donadío’s verdict and that of the alternate judges that join him have no credibility, without creating doubts, questions, and the presence of another party in the courtroom of los Danieles. An Anonymous, all by himself, proves nothing, only in the Inquisition Tribunal. That’s not how quality journalism works.

We have to say, on the other hand, that if there had been indications that Barco was that evil genius profiled by Donadío—a kind of tropical Hitler—Malcolm Deas, doubtless one of the foreign academics that have studied Colombia with the most rigor, would not have compiled a book on Barco’s administration, in which the prologue does not stint on accolades of the President; and years later would not have written a biography based on the idea that he was a great governor and human being; and, least of all, would have come out strongly in his defense as he did this week. Another great foreign scholar—Daniel Pecaut—in his book In busca de la nación Colombiana (Searching for the Colombian Nation) makes a very positive evaluation of Barco with a minor and subjective reservation: “It seems to me that Barco was neither entirely aware of the overlaps that had been established between the drug trafficking, the armed conflict, and the decomposing of society.” A final annotation: the leaders of the radical left who, scandalized, had announced complaints to international agencies, were equally surprised by Donadío’s conclusion; if not, they would have expressed it years ago.

I don’t know if Barco met with that expert or not and, still less, the content of his hypothetical conversations (such as the detectives don’t wear uniforms, government security matters are confidential). It’s safe to assume, nevertheless, that Barco met with multiple security experts throughout his administration. To understand this affirmation you need a quick look at the situation in this country at the beginning of his administration in 1986:

In 1984, through the Uribe Agreements, President Betancur had arranged a cease-fire with several groups whose compliance was impossible to verify. The military was excluded from those decisions, a circumstance that caused a deep split between civilian and military authorities. During a good portion of his administration he maintained a policy of not extraditing the drug dealers, which was the only tool they feared. All of this translated into an enormous expansion in the guerrillas and the mafias, along with a relationship of distrust with the military establishment.

That was the heavy burden that Barco received when he took over. In spite of his efforts, those vectors of violence were increasing, reaching unprecedented heights in 1989.

Governments have to be judged by their results, not by their intentions, even though keeping in mind the factors that limit their actions. Barco suffered from enormous limitations and in spite of them, he negotiated the demobilization of several guerrilla groups, including the M-19; he called together meetings that created a Constitution that became a great tool for the strengthening of our institutions; he created a vigorous agenda for the defense of human rights; he complained for the first time in the United Nations that Colombia is the victim, not the beneficiary of the worldwide anti-drug policy centered in the repression of the supply. And what’s most important: he managed to maintain the democratic government intact.

It’s true, the President could not avoid the massacre of the UP, a phenomenon that had multiple causes and multiple actors, but to say that he was the author of that magnicide is a mistaken and unjust conclusion.

Poetic fragments. From the great Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco: “el instante se ha llenado de azul. / Caminamos bajo la monarquía del sol. / Hay un total acuerdo / entre el estar aquí y estar vivos.”

“This moment has turned blue.

We are walking under the governance of the sun.

The agreement is complete

Between being here and being alive.”  

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