Before Alvaro Uribe was elected as the new Colombian President, we feared the wave of repression that would sweep the country. This fear proved to be justified a few hours after Uribe took up office before Congress. I was in Colombia on the day Uribe was sworn in as Colombia's new President and stayed two weeks after that; I could feel how the fear increased among those people who work for the protection of human rights, community leaders, union members and the people in general. Everybody was expecting measures from the new government.
The new President cleared everybody’s doubts quite soon. Less than 24 hours after his inauguration, on August 8 he travelled to Valledupar at six in the morning to put into practice one of the most controversial measures of the present government, the Informants’ Network. The aim of this network is to have one million watchers. They will inform the army or the police of suspicious-looking people and of strange displacements. They will be paid according to the relevance of the information provided.
According to President Uribe this policy of "Democratic Security" is only asking for “the solidarity of one million citizens so that, voluntarily, they take upon themselves the task to help the State Forces and the Administration of Justice”. The doubt many people have is how much solidarity can actually be expressed and how voluntary it can be when the people that are being used live and act under lots of threat (take the elections for instance). Most of them are unemployed and will receive a large amount of money for the information they provide on the famous “Reward Mondays”.
Besides the Informants’ Network there is another strategy the government is planning to use, which is hiring and providing military training to a million peasants in those areas where the National Army cannot reach or where the number of soldiers is reduced. They will carry on their usual daily activities and will take up arms when military duties are required. They will also be paid.
This reminded me of how the CONVIVIR started in Antioquia, which were actually paramilitary groups financed by the Colombian state. It is relevant to remember that the consolidation of the CONVIVIR occurred during the period Álvaro Uribe was Governor of the area and Pedro Juan Moreno Villa his Interior Secretary. At this moment with the Informants’ Network and the proposal to arm a million civilians, we find the same duet Uribe-Moreno: Uribe as President and Moreno as the sure coordinator of the future National Centre of Intelligence (Cenit). With Moreno Villa as part of the government and his close relationship with the President and paramilitary groups, there is increasing fear that the links between the paramilitaries and the government will get stronger.
I had the chance to talk with several people whose testimonies left me emotionally devastated due to their difficult situation. But the testimony that worried and affected me the most was the one given by a soldier of one of the battalions of the northern coast of the country who told me about Plan 2×2. In this Plan the soldiers will work two months for the regular army and two months for the paramilitary groups. If this information is correct the degeneration of the conflict will be even worse.
I could in fact observe that cities like Barranquilla, where political or social violence had not been present before, are now in crisis due to the assassination of several community leaders.
In Cali, where the workers union SINTRAEMCALI with the support of the community have succeeded in stopping the privatisation of Public Services, I witnessed the army harassing the union on 9 August. On that day President Uribe came to Cali to discuss the future of EMCALI [Cali's Muncipal Corporation], but the union were not invited. While I was talking to some of our friends at the SINTRAEMCALI building we were surrounded by heavily armed soldiers. It was an successful attempt to intimidate the members of the union who were considering holding a picket in front of the corporation's headquarters, the CAM building to reinforce their position against the privatisation of EMCALI.