Colombia: para commanders break off peace process
Colombia's imprisoned paramilitary warlords July 24 announced an end to cooperation with prosecutors investigating massacres and other atrocities, throwing into question the country's peace process. The move was taken to protest the July 11 ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice that paramilitary fighters and "parapolíticos" (politicians who collaborate with the paras) are not automatically charged with "sedition"—meaning politically motivated violence, carrying reduced penalties under the legislation establishing the peace process. The peace process has led to the disarmament of some 31,000 paramilitary fighters, but has not yet secured reparations for their victims or won major confessions from some 60 imprisoned warlords.
"With this decision the reconstruction of the historical truth, the handing over of mass graves and other legal obligations assumed under the peace pact are frozen," said Antonio López, once-commander of Medellin's feared Bloque Cacique Nutibara and now appointed spokesman for the imprisoned warlords. "We can't allow our fighters to be treated like common criminals."
López said he was speaking for some 30 top commanders of the Self-Defense forces of Colombia (AUC) and 30 other mid-level commanders, held at Itagüí maximum security prison in Antioquia department.
President Alvaro Uribe also spoke out against ruling, commenting that "if the sedition of the guerilla is recognized, the sedition of the same elements paramilitarismo should be recognized, and if the sedition of paramilitarismo is denied, the sedition of the guerilla should be denied for the same reasons."
The ruling came in the case of Orlando Cesar Caballero, an Antioquia AUC commander accused of arms smuggling and other crimes. The court's decision denies him benefits such as a maximum eight-year sentence in exchange for renouncing violence and confessing crimes to special prosecutors.
"To accept that instead of criminal conspiracy, paramilitary members committed treason not only supposes they acted with altruistic aims for the collective good, but also flaunts the rights of victims and society to obtain justice and truth," the court wrote.
Interior Minister Carlos Holguin said he hoped to convince paramilitary bosses to return to the peace process at an Aug. 14 meeting at Itagüí. "They have other institutional and legal mechanisms at their disposal and acting in this manner puts at risk their continued participation in the peace process," Holguin said.
Several of the AUC warlords have been indicted on drug charges in the US, but Uribe has suspended their extradition orders as long as they continue to cooperate with the peace process. (El Tiempo, Semana, Bogotá, July 26; La Jornada, Mexico, July 25; AP EFE, July 24)