Yesterday finally the long awaited “debate” on paramilitarism in Antioquia department, the one where President Álvaro Uribe was born and was its governor from 1995 to 1997, was held at Colombian congress. There was a lot of interest, because opposition senator and former M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro had said he would reveal a list of 2,000 personalities allegedly involved with paramilitarism. He did not show any list but he indeed did another stuff:
An opposition lawmaker on Tuesday alleged that paramilitary death squads met at the ranch of President Álvaro Uribe in the late 1980s and plotted to murder opponents, an explosive charge in a growing scandal that has unearthed ties between the illegal militias and two dozen congressmen.
Basing his accusations on government documents and depositions by former paramilitary members and military officers, Sen. Gustavo Petro said the militiamen met at Uribe’s Guacharacas farm as well as ranches owned by his brother, Santiago Uribe, and a close associate, Luis Alberto Villegas.
“From there, at night, they would go out and kill people,” Petro said, referring to the sprawling ranch owned by Álvaro Uribe, who served as a senator from 1986 to 1994. […]
Uribe, since he first ran for office, has also been dogged by the fact that paramilitary groups grew dramatically during his term as governor in the northwestern state of Antioquia, from 1995 to 1997. During that time, he helped spearhead the creation of Convivirs, legal vigilante groups. Some were later denounced for having morphed into paramilitary death squads or for serving as fronts for paramilitary warlords.
Wow, I can’t wait for Álvaro Uribe’s reaction. But if some of Petro’s accusations were not “precise”, the government’s defence was not better. Before the hearing, Pablo Escobar’s cousin and main presidential adviser José Obdulio Gaviria, as another Antioquia politicians, had said the debate was an attack against Antioquia people. Carlos Holguín, minister of Interior, and Andrés Gallego, minister of Transportation, defended Uribe and his democratic security policy. The same did another ruling coalition congresspeople, maybe deviating the debate.
Petro, citing government records and statements by members of the security forces, revealed that a civilian self-defense program known as Convivir – championed by Uribe when he was governor of Antioquia – was infiltrated by members of the death squads. Convivir has been since shut down.
“Convivir … ended up bringing paramilitaries to the farm of the current president of the republic, who apparently had no idea while he was governor,” Petro claimed.
Petro presented no concrete evidence of illegal activity by Uribe, who was first elected president in 2002.
Interior Minister Carlos Holguin took the floor of the Senate after Petro spoke, accusing him of playing politics.
“He is painting Colombia as a country of assassins and paramilitaries,” Holguin said. “And people believe his nonsense.”
Uribe, who governed central Antioquia province from 1995 to 1997, has repeatedly denied involvement with the groups. The discussion in congress of Uribe’s past comes amid a broader investigation into alleged ties between lawmakers and paramilitaries that led to the detention of 14 members of Uribe’s ruling coalition.
“These were rural organizations that organized to defend themselves, and most of them were unarmed,” Interior Minister Carlos Holguin said following Petro’s address.
The allegations threaten the passage of a free-trade accord with the U.S., said Bertrand Delgado, an economist with IdeaGlobal Inc. in New York. Michigan Democratic Representative Sander Levin, chairman of the House trade subcommittee, said the developments are “very worrisome” and Colombia can’t count on passage of the agreement, the Washington Post reported Feb. 17. […]
Political uproar may factor in the debate among U.S. lawmakers as they consider additional anti-drug and military aid this year under the so-called Plan Colombia program, designed to fight narco-guerrillas.
“This will create a lot of noise, but it will pass,” said Delgado.
The 9-hour debate, which was followed with a lot of interest by many Colombians outside the country, who could only hear the audio streaming on Indymedia Colombia for one hour (inside Colombia it could be watched on state-run Señal Institucional), was somewhat disappointing (despite of the picture depicting Uribe’s younger brother departing with a member of the drug-dealing Ochoa family). Colombian blogosphere has two remarkable, complementary articles. First, Jaime Restrepo criticized Petro’s way to conduct the debate on his centre-right blog Atrabilioso:
The less we could wait that the tactics [Petro was] questioning (“anything goes”) was not part of the strategy finally used to condemn what themselves were using: if the “anything goes” [strategy] is being questioned, it turns out dirty and incongruous that in order to point out this Colombian way of living (“anything goes”), the “anything goes” is used too, specially a liar and many times devious “anything goes”.
Then, centre-left equinoXio‘s Julián Ortega Martínez also showed his deception:
It’s sad the result of this debate: partial truths, traces but no evidences, crimes we all know but still unpunished, ad hominem arguments, referrals to unfinished or old judicial processes, the ridiculous appeal to the pseudo-federal regionalism and the criticism on political control, as equal of “saying bad stuff on the country”. The governmen’t attitude is also subject of criticism, because it DOESN’T WANT TO RECOGNIZE that the Convivir project was a huge failure which had as result a plentiful, bloody river, because of the deaths of dozens of thousands of Colombians. […]
Isn’t uncomfortable that the only public person who dares to denounce paramilitary crimes and the way they infiltrated and coopted local and regional institutions has a lot of skeletons in his closet just the same way the people he’s denouncing, in spite of performing a great service on this country as political control?
Finally, I must refer to Center for International Policy’s brief. There’s a lot to come, undoubtedly…