Colombian senators scorn victims of guerrilla and paramilitary violence [video]

The above Caracol TV news report compares the way Colombian Senate treated pro-Cuban ELN leader Francisco Galán and paramilitary leaders Salvatore Mancuso, Ramón Isaza, and Iván Duque alias Ernesto Báez three years ago, with its scorn and indifference towards 30 victims of the violence by these groups, FARC, and some members of the Colombian Army this week. While Galán and the Mancuso boys were listened and applauded, the relatives of the dead Colombian common people puts to this “40-year low intensity war” weren’t even heard by almost 80 of the 91 Senators (from 102). Most of them were from pro-Uribe parties, even though some of the victims have suffered from attacks, massacres, death threats and murders perpetrated by FARC or ELN guerrillas (Uribe’s enemy number 1), such as El Nogal car-bomb in 2003, or the violence from the drug-dealing cartels, as former police officer Ricardo Gómez. Victims from Machuca and Bojayá massacres, relatives of FARC hostages and people murdered by paramilitaries because they belonged to the Patriotic Union party in the 1980s narrated their tragedy, but around 24 July at 20:00 only 35 of the 91 Senators who signed the attendance list were listening their testimonies.

Several forums and blogs, based in information provided by media such as Caracol Radio, published the list, either of the Senators who attended, or the ones who didn’t do it or left. The session was called by Liberal senator Juan Fernando Cristo, who, of course, attended with all the 18 senators of his party but two, as well as the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA), whose 10 senators remained in the building, along with the two indigenous senators. On the other hand, most of the Uribista ruling coalition senators left or didn’t want to listen the people who elected them and who pay their high wages: Radical Change party (only one attended, Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, probably because she’s the brand new president of the Senate so she had to be there anyway), Party of the U (four out of 20), Conservative Party (1 out of 18), ALAS-Team Colombia (2 out of 5), Democratic Colombia (1 out of 3), Colombia Viva (none out of 2), and Citizen Convergence (none out of 2), as well as the 2 senators for Christian centrist MIRA party.

Lisinia Collazos, an indigenous leader, said in front of the attending senators (she appears in the video above):

I’m worried about seeing so many chairs empty because what do we win with talking among ourselves? It would be the repetition of our own stories.

Luz Marina Hache, wife of a “disappeared”, said:

It’s so sad to see that in the room where the impunity laws are made, we the victims aren’t heard

In the blogosphere, the outrage was widespread:

This time, the Senator’s empty chairs were the majority. And the few ones taken were slowly getting empty. That hurts. That’s the interest they show on the solutions for our problems. The question is why do we Colombians keep electing them?

Nevertheless, not everyone agreed with the session in the first place:

I think it’s shameful what PDA and Liberal Party are doing with the pain the victims of the violence are suffering. If we see the list of the ones who left and the ones who stood, “misteriously” only the judicious PDA and Liberal Party Congresspeople stood, who cited the victims to the Congress… it’s so strange!… We should put on the spot the lazy ones who left and the PDA/Liberal Party crooks who stood because of everything but social sense…

As this happened, demobilized paramilitary chiefs gave another blow to Colombians seeking for justice:

Colombia’s peace process with far-right paramilitaries was close to collapsing Wednesday after jailed militia warlords halted their confessions to prosecutors.

The paramilitaries are fuming over a Supreme Court decision this month to disavow the 2003 peace pact that led to the demobilization of 31,000 right-wing irregulars. (…)

In a rebuke to the government, the Supreme Court ruled the paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, is a criminal — not a political — organization.

The ruling came in a decision in a case involving a disarmed paramilitary fighter in Antioquia state who the court ruled was not entitled to special benefits under the accord, including a reduced jail sentence and protection from extradition.

President Alvaro Uribe, trying to defuse the latest crisis in an already faltering peace process, criticized the court’s July 11 ruling. He said he will introduce new legislation in Congress to restore some of the benefits.

Even though the government “warned” the paramilitaries to continue their cooperation or else they’d lose the huge benefits they’re enjoying (as HRW’s José Miguel Vivanco told The New York Times: “Under Colombia’s lenient rules, Mancuso could end up spending much less than eight years in a prison where he is already allowed amenities like satellite television in his cell, bodyguards, regular visits each weekend from his wife and son, and a laptop computer with Internet access, said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch”.), Uribe, who said the Supreme Court had an “ideological bias”, hurried up and drafted a new bill (for a future “Sedition Law”) in order to make paramilitaries “seditious” and therefore political criminals, which was uploaded to the Presidency website on Friday so Colombians “give their say” about it. The Court accused Uribe of “censorship” and explained that the ruling also goes for guerrillas. This is another ongoing debate.

For now, and as usual, most Colombians have slammed the Senators they elected this time. But it’s quite unclear if they’ll remember it the next time, in 2010, they go to the polls. As for the victims, it seems nothing will change and their suffering will go on.

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