Colombia: “Not Ready for Truth”

by Julián Gutiérrez Castaño

Colombian CPTer Julián Gutiérrez offers this mini-primer on the role of paramilitary groups both historically and in the current face of violence in his country.

In recent months, officials of the Álvaro Uribe Government have said that “the nation is not ready to know the whole truth” about the Paramilitary Demobilization Process. This statement exposes the extent of the collaboration between paramilitaries and elected politicians – a phenomenon known as "parapolitics."

In Colombia, paramilitarism originated in different times and places. Founding groups include the “Death to Kidnappers” band (“Muerte a los Secuestradores” or MAS), formed by the Medellín Drug Cartel in the Magdalena Medio region in the 80s; the “social cleansing” groups, known as “The Black Hand,” founded by intolerant civilians and members of public security forces; the private security forces created by the ranchers and agro-industrialists; and mercenary troops paid by narco-traffickers to take control of strategic territories for cultivating coca and trafficking narcotics and guns. Later, these groups united under one umbrella – the “United Self-defense Forces of Colombia” (“Autodefensas Unidadas de Colombia” or AUC).

The work of the paramilitaries was not limited to protecting private property or the murder of kidnappers and people deemed undesirables – homeless people, drug consumers, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Their work extended to the extermination of the Patriotic Union (a legal political party formed after agreements between the government and guerilla groups); the elimination of union leaders, intellectuals and activists; and the displacement, murder, disappearance and massacre of rural populations in order to take over their territories. The government, public security forces, and powerful economic groups – including multinationals such as Coca Cola, Nestle and Anglo Gold Ashanti – have supported this work.

Since 2006, the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court have linked congresspeople, governors, mayors, ambassadors and officials with the “parapolitics” investigations. All the accused belong to President Alvaro Uribe’s government coalition, causing an opposition senator to propose changing the term “parapolitics” to “para-Uribe-ism.” Many demobilized paramilitaries have not yet made their obligatory confessions and the investigations have just begun.

On September 11, 2007, the Human Rights Worker Coalition of Barrancabermeja, where CPT is based, held a conference about the paramilitary demobilization process. The conference was partially a response to the declarations of a demobilized ex-paramilitary chief and former commander of the Bloque Central Bolívar (Central Bolivar Bloc) of the AUC, the group CPT has encountered most in its work over the past 5 years. Rather than resolve the details of massacres committed in the region by the paramilitaries, his public testimony accused many of Barrancabermeja’s nongovernmental organizations of working for the guerrillas. His accusations are consistent with the paramilitary strategy of victim-blaming, justifying his own actions as well as the position of the Colombian government, which insists that paramilitarism is a political crime.

Perhaps Colombians are not ready to know the whole truth about paramilitarism – a truth that would shake the very foundations of the country’s economic system. But that is not a good reason to let impunity continue. Organizations that form the Human Rights Coalition are taking difficult and daring steps to expose the face of paramilitarism – necessary steps in a country that very much needs to come to terms with the whole truth