The Regime of ÁLVARO URIBE VÉLEZ
In Colombia 68% of the population lives below the poverty line, 70% of peasants own only 5.6% of the land and in the last 10 years 40,000 people have died through the repression, 97% of these unpunished. Colombia has been declared the most violent country in the world and a “genocidal democracy”: in the last 50 years of government, Colombia has been in an almost permanent “State of Exception”.
The latest report from the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights refers to “grave, massive and systematic violations of human rights in Colombia and noted an “evident deterioration of the situation”. It also clarifies that “the principal factor in the violation of these rights was constituted by acts of members of paramilitary groups that implicated, by action or omission … the responsibility of the State”.
Unfortunately, since the new President’s arrival in power, the prognosis for the human rights situation in Colombia couldn’t be more sombre. We already knew about Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s past as governor of Antioquia from 1995 to 1997, where he initiated the establishment of dozens of CONVIVIR units, the legal face of paramilitarism, which participated extensively in the most serious wave of terror ever in the region. We knew of his open support of Generals Rito Alejo del Río and Fernando Millán, retired from service for their links with paramilitary groups accused of committing massacres and other atrocities between 1996 and 1997. We also knew of his promises of a ‘strong hand’ and certain fascist characteristics noted during his electoral program.
The first warning of the line he was to follow came with his choice of government team. People from the most authoritarian right were appointed to the highest offices. Fernando Londoño Hoyos became the new Superminister of Justice and the Interior. General Jorge Mora Rangel (deeply involved in the dirty war) was designated Commander of the Armed Forces and Uribe’s old friend ex-General Rito Alejo del Río will lead the new National Intelligence Council. But it has been the first acts of his government that have most clearly demonstrated the character of his presidency.
Four days after coming to office and with the incidents during his inauguration as a pretext, the new president decreed a national “State of Internal Unrest”. This allows him freely to construct his authoritarian project on the basis of decrees of exception, without needing parliamentary approval. As a first step, he gave the military forces authority to make preventative detentions, raids and collection of evidence on crimes committed in “zones with perturbed public order”.
Under this legal protection, Uribe Vélez announced new rules limiting press freedom, restricting freedoms of movement and meeting, and permitting indefinite detention, raids and the interception of communications without judicial order. All these rules will form part of the “Anti-terrorist Statute”. Already, Internal Unrest has been used as a cover for the recent raid on the home of the director of the human rights department of the CUT.
Other measures announced are contained in a true “Constitutional Counter-Reform”: limitations of the powers of the Constitutional Court and of the exercise of protective action/guardianship; the combining of the Offices of the Attorney and Public Defence, prejudicing the defence of human rights; modifications to the States of Exception to transform them into the well-worn State of Siege, and the elimination of the Council of State, the Public Auditors and the Defenders of the People.
Even though all these measures have been adopted under the excuse of counter-insurgency, their immediate application will be against the social movement. It is difficult to see how the movements of the guerrillas could be affected by restrictions on meetings and the press. They are measures clearly designed against social protest, against mobilisations by trade unions, neighbourhoods and peasant farmers. They are designed to suppress the struggles to defend public services against privatisation, or to put down resistance against the pernicious effects of the free market on agriculture.
As his solution to the conflict, the new president has already designed a strategy of all-out war. Careful to exclude the many voices insisting that a negotiated settlement is the only real solution to the armed conflict, Uribe Vélez has discounted any possibility for diplomacy or peace and has thrown himself wholeheartedly down the path of war.
He has ensured a source of finance through the new war tax of 1.2% of liquid assets, which is expected to yield 2 billion pesos. He also obtained authorisation from the US Congress to use funds designated for counter-narcotics in the struggle against the insurgency.
He has put in place concrete projects to involve the civil population in the conflict. Thus, he announced the incorporation of 15,000 peasants into the security forces, who will become rural soldiers with uniforms and guns, charged with impeding the movement of guerrillas in the areas where there are no public forces. In addition, he has put in place the first phase of the creation of the much crowed-about network of one million civilian collaborators in the struggle against the insurgency. This project is a resurrection of the disgraceful paramilitary experience of the CONVIVIR.
The new government has also suggested, in an echo of a US proposal, the formation of a multinational Latin American force to combat the insurgency. Brazil, Ecuador and Panama have rejected any military intervention in Colombia, however Chile and Peru are already making plans for an eventual multinational operation.
However, the most revealing indication of preparations for all-out war are the exceptions Colombia has established in its adherence to the International Criminal Court (ICC). For the next 7 years Colombia will not respect the ICC’s competency to judge war crimes or grave infringements of human rights in its national territory. In addition, Colombia is preparing to sign a bilateral agreement with the US, guaranteeing the impunity of US troops operating in Colombia with respect to any possible actions of the ICC.
Javier Moya Equiza