By Felipe Morales Sierra, EL ESPECTADOR, June 6, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín prepared a report for the JEP which will be a road map for its investigation of the massacres and displacements provoked by the alliance between paramilitaries and government officials.
Between 1998 and 2019, the Colombian Army had 13 commanders. At least eight of them were shown to be connected to paramilitaries or to false positives. Between 1998 and 2010, the Senate had 12 presidents. Four of them were convicted of “parapolitica”. This data is part of one of the road maps for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to investigate the crimes committed by the Armed Forces or other government officials with paramilitary groups. The document, which this paper has seen, concludes: “The paramilitaries had (at least since 1990) direct and increasing access to decision-making within the Colombian government.”
This is an unprecedented analysis which one of the most respected thinkers in political science, Professor Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, has produced for the JEP. After reviewing dozens of convictions of “parapoliticians”, files of evidence against members of the military, and studies that academics around the world have done about the paramilitary phenomenon, the document begins with a premise: “The paramilitaries were certainly not mere puppets of the government. They always maintained certain margins of autonomy. At the same time, they would not have existed, nor would they have developed in the way they did, without an intimate articulation with the power structures, not just local and regional, but national.”
This document expands what will be Macrocase 08 that the JEP plans to open, which will concentrate on a wider period: from 1978 to 2016. The thesis of Gutiérrez Sanín is aligned with some elements of the order by which the Recognition Branch will open this new case in the coming weeks. For example, at the beginning, they discount the classic defense by those convicted of connections to the paramilitaries, while they give to the phenomenon its appropriate proportions. In the words of the professor, “Paramilitaries and the government were not a sole entity, nor were their interests perfectly aligned.”
The document shows how, in at least 20 massacres committed by the paramilitaries, it has been proven that politicians participated. And how of the 25 departments in which there were paramilitary groups between 1997 and 2010, in nine of those, at least one governor has been convicted of “parapolitica”. Nevertheless, he doesn’t believe that the government was being subordinate to the paramilitaries. In the professor’s view, “there was an ‘interweaving’ between the two: the paramilitaries had wide margins to maneuver in their regions of influence, the private individuals who promoted them had incentives to do it, it was a form of power-building in a large part of the country, and it was not fortuitous.”
Besides the governors and members of Congress, the document notes the relationships that the Armed Forces and agencies like the now-defunct DAS had with the paramilitaries. “The relationships between paramilitaries, Armed Forces, and third parties were both massive and public. There were multiple complaints about it, by multiple actors, including the United States Embassy in Bogotá. One is tempted to talk of a ‘secret known to everybody’, but often what is secret can also be dubious,” wrote Gutiérrez, describing cases like those of the Retired Generals Iván Ramírez, Rito Alejo del Río, or Fernando Millán.
In addition, the professor adds to the whole equation the role of some personages that have been investigated previously as “regional intermediaries”. People in leadership positions in the regions, well connected in the capitals, who “typically had a tentacle in the world of trade associations—for example, associations of merchants or cattle ranchers—one in politics, and another in the security sector.” These personages, Gutiérrez points out, were the “connective tissue” to intertwine the paramilitaries with the government, and he cited examples like Raúl Emilio Hasbún, alias Pedro Bonito, the cattle ranchers Jesús Alberto Osorio, José Joaquín García, or Carlos Clavijo, and even the former Senator Otto Bula.
Finally, in his analysis, the professor dismisses the most common lines of defense used by the military and officials accused of connections with paramilitaries. For example, that they only financed the paramilitaries because they were forced to or threatened. Gutiérrez explains that financing is a minimal argument, as the third parties “repeatedly created the groups, because then they also had a privileged position in managing them, not only organizationally but also informally. They benefited massively from these actions.” The professor adds that the defense that it was impossible to know what was happening falls of its own weight, because the United States warned on different occasions about the relationships of the military and the politicians with the paramilitaries.
Another common defense is that, just as the paramilitaries had infiltrated some sectors of the government, there was also opposition. And even though Gutiérrez believes that this did exist, He himself points out that the infiltration was “devastating”. The professor gives as an example the 24 massacres committed by paramilitaries allied with public officials: “Think about the probability of flipping a coin 24 times and getting ‘heads’ 24 times. Intuitively, you can guess that that probability is minimal (. . .) That is precisely the plausibility of the statement that the government tried to protect the population from atrocities—massacres in this case–, but it couldn’t.” All of those elements led Professor Gutiérrez Sanín to recommend to the JEP that part of the “potential responsibilities (of the suspects) go much beyond financing or tolerance of extortion, and even omission,” in view of what the paramilitaries actually did. In the same manner, that “there are responsibilities related to the creation and design of the groups, their management, their active promotion and incentivization.” That means, that the Special Justice system has to understand the conspiracy between the government and the paramilitaries as a relationship in which both parties obtained fruits and influenced the violence directly. According to what this newspaper has learned about the new Macrocase, those will be the premises, exactly.