News broke on 27 November 2002 that the Catholic Church had been facilitating secret negotiations between government envoys and the paramilitaries of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). The paramilitaries then declared a unilateral ceasefire to start on 1 December, with a view to opening direct negotiations with the government towards the end of January 2003. The Colombian press, and the US government were quick to welcome the development. As part of their ceasefire, those paramilitary groups involved in the process (about 60-70% of the national total) have agreed to release all hostages in their power and to suspend their involvement in the drug trade, in return for a pardon, immunity from prosecution, political status, government funding to cover their losses from withdrawing from drugs trafficking, and the possible ceding to paramilitary control of a demilitarised zone, similar to that ceded to Colombia’s main guerilla movement the FARC during their peace negotiations with previous president Andres Pastrana. The paramilitaries will however reserve the right to continue their operations against the guerrilla and their supporters.
At first glance, this may seem a very generous offer on the part of the AUC. However, two factorscombine to ensure that the paras will be able to continue with all their current activities (both repression of the social movement and civilian population, and the drug trafficking that funds this) within the framework of the ceasefire. The first is the “internal division” that AUC leaders Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso have been engineering within the paramilitary movement over the last few months, denying their own well documented links with drug trafficking, and blaming rogue elements within the AUC for carrying out this trade. Since several thousand paramilitaries under Castaño’s control remain outside the ceasefire and negotiations, his organisation is perfectly able to continue as Colombia’s largest drugs cartel, all within the parameters of the agreement.
Secondly, all paramilitary operations directed against the civilian population and the social movement, are justified by Castaño and his supporters in government, as part of the war against the insurgency. The tens of thousands of innocent civilians, trade unionists, human rights defenders and campesinos who have lost their lives through paramilitary violence, have all been accused by their killers of belonging to guerrilla groups. As such, they will remain a legitimate target for the paramilitaries in their supposed defence of the state against the insurgency. Since many believe that the paras and the Colombian army have always enjoyed an unofficial ceasefire, it is difficult to see what Colombia will gain from these negotiations. It is also difficult to see what exactly will be negotiated, as the paras and successive Colombian governments, especially the government of Uribe, have always maintained almost complete agreement.
Pardon and Amnesty
Arguments are currently raging in Colombia as to the constitutional legality of negotiating with and pardoning the paramilitaries, a group who have no officially recognised political status, and in the eyes of the law are nothing more than delinquents. Congress, dominated by uribista representatives, is currently discussing changes to the Constitution that will allow for the omission of recognised political status as a prerequisite to a Presidential pardon. In this case, Colombia will find itself the first country to offer a blanket amnesty for drug trafficking. All crimes against humanity that the paras have committed will also be covered by any such agreement. Congressman Gustavo Petro has pointed out that an amnesty from crimes against humanity committed in defence of the state (as the paras continually claim) would also have pardoned Hitler and Pol Pot, amongst others. Until now, such pardons for such horrendous crimes have only ever been extended to the torturers and assassins of the Southern Cone.
So who is to gain from these negotiations? Certainly not the Colombian people, none of the thousands of those struggling for social justice who make up so many of the victims of the paramilitary organisations. Clearly the AUC leadership will escape the numerous arrest warrants against them, and Castaño and Mancuso will be able to avoid extradition to the US to face drug trafficking charges. Uribe will benefit from the de facto legalisation of his “clandestine wing” of the armed forces, and their probable incorporation into the 150,000 strong force of campesino soldiers, an organisation of paid and armed civilians that the government is currently setting up alongside its million strong informers network. Uribe will also benefit from the propaganda coup at international level that will greet his concerted attempts to bring peace to the country. George Bush will also gain – no more embarrassing explanations of why US tax money is ending up in the hands of drug trafficking terrorists. Perhaps a spokesperson for the FARC summed up the situation best – “the paras are the bastard children of the establishment, they have nothing to negotiate.”
Reinsertion of Narcos
An interesting legal case looms over the horizon in Miami. The defence team of Fabio Ochoa, one of the leaders of the Medellin cartel currently facing drugs charges in the US, has filed a 1000 page document exposing a CIA/DEA plan of drug traffickers reinsertion.
Ochoa claims that in return for a $30 million donation to the CIA (which he refused to pay) he was offered a lenient prison term and quick release from a US gaol. The scheme was apparently set up by Colombian national and CIA operative Baruch Vega, and taken up by 114 Colombian drug traffickers. Vega, a former CIA assassin during the Pinochet coup in Chile, claims to have learned that the proceeds of the reinsertion scheme were to be used by the CIA to fund their covert operations, in a similar way to the Iran-Contra system. One alleged beneficiary was the AUC paramilitaries in Colombia.
Impunity Stop Press
El Tiempo newspaper reported on 6 January 2003 that the Attorney General has suspended warrants for the arrest of Castaño and Mancuso, which would also include dropping any authority to deport the paramilitary leaders.