Colombia's drug untouchables.

Language matters in the war on terror. Since George Bush launched his global crusade against evil, there has been an opportunistic rush by less than democratic governments to rebrand their internal problems as local adjuncts tothe Bush project. One of the most vocal of these opportunists will be in London today, where he will be received by a British government that now reportedly ranks second among his sources of military aid.

The visitor is President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, who will claim that his pacification plan for Colombia deserves further support from the British taxpayer and, as his supporters argued at a London conference in June, that the British investor should pitch in to a country that appealingly combines the smack of firm government with a sound commitment to free markets. Uribe's visit offers the unusual spectacle of a British red carpet being rolled out for a man who, as mayor of Medellin, the drug barons' "sanctuary", allegedly accepted funds from the notorious trafficker Pablo Escobar. Uribe's father, Alberto, was wanted in the US on drug trafficking charges when he was killed in 1983.

Coincidentally, no doubt, Uribe's presidential campaign manager, Pedro Moreno Villa, was named by US customs as the biggest importer of potassium permanganate, a chemical used in cocaine production, between 1994 and 1998, though he insisted it was for innocent purposes; at that time Uribe was governor of Antioquia department, of which Medellin is the capital, and Moreno was his chief of staff. It was there that Uribe also devised his policy of encouraging the armed rightwing terror groups that he now seeks to legitimise.

President Uribe calls his plan Justice and Peace, a fine piece of newspeak which the Colombian Congress approved in June; under it he offers amnesty and cash rewards to rightwing paramilitary fighters, many of whom are guilty of human rights abuses and cocaine trafficking.

President Uribe's solution to this unhappy situation is to pardon them, allowing some to change their uniforms for those of private security firms, and others to sign up for duty in Iraq. Both options provide continuing career opportunities for killers. Justice and peace, as the UN commissioner for human rights in Colombia, Michael Frühling, observed, is hard to achieve without truth. President Uribe is well aware of the importance of perception. Colombia has been mired in civil war for 40 years, but for its present government the problem is simply one of terrorism.

A set of guidelines issued by Uribe in June, addressed to UN agencies, ambassadors, development agencies and humanitarian groups, laid down the terms by which the conflict must be defined. Out go such terms as "internal armed conflict", "armed actors" or "parties to the conflict" to describe the security forces. Out, too, go "non-state actors in the conflict" to refer to the leftwing rebels or extreme rightwing paramilitaries; or "peace community" or "humanitarian zone" - expressions used to describe Colombians who attempt to stay neutral. It is not, the government insists, civil war or armed conflict, but a terrorist threat posed by leftist guerrilla groups. The document so enraged the UNHCR director in Colombia, Roberto Meier, that he warned that the UNHCR would consider pulling out of Colombia if Uribe did not back down.

In the last five years the US has spent $3bn in the war against drugs in Colombia, a trade with which the paramilitary armies are intimately connected. The money is dispensed under Plan Colombia, due to end in September but now renewed for a further year. It is reasonable to ask whether it was renewed because it was considered a success or a failure: it has had no effect on the availability, street price or purity of the drugs that continue to arrive in the US. And though the US and Colombian officials claim that one million acres of coca have been eradicated in Colombia, the UN testifies that the area under cultivation in the Andes grew by 3% last year.

Washington has listed 18 paramilitary commanders as responsible for trafficking most of the cocaine reaching US cities. Now the US would like to extradite them, but many, including the cocaine trafficker and paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, have successfully attached themselves to President Uribe's plan and have become untouchable. While in Britain, Uribe has been promised a photo opportunity with Tony Blair and a visit to parliament. MPs might care to glance at Washington before lending themselves to his image.

Last July Senator John Kerry and 22 other senators signed a letter urging Uribe to prosecute officials who collaborated with paramilitary units. Administration officials may liken Uribe to Abraham Lincoln, but the Senate appropriations committee last week said it would freeze finance to the justice and peace plan unless Uribe guaranteed the dismantling of paramilitary groups and the extradition of the commanders. Neither is likely to happen under plan.

[Source: Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, London, UK, 13Jul05]

Tienda de Libros Radio Nizkor On-Line Donations

DDHH en Colombia
small logoThis document has been published on 14jul05 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.