Sunday, August 12, 2007


Uribe, who changed the constitution to permit his own re-election last year, has devised a "peace" plan that has opened the door to a future incorporation of amnestied narco-paramilitary groups into Colombian politics, who have close ties with Uribe's own political machine.

The paramilitary forces were formed in the 1980s to fight the leftist guerrillas. They soon became as notorious for massacres and narcotics; they robbed Colombia's peasants of millions of acres of land, creating 3 million internally displaced victims. Since their rise in Antioquia, the province where Uribe was governor, the paramilitary have been suspected of collaboration with state security forces.

Some 31,000 paramilitary fighters have accepted Uribe's demobilisation programme, gaining virtual immunity for past crimes.

But now, stimulated by the determination of Colombia's supreme court to investigate the country's dark underbelly, evidence of collaboration between paramilitary death squads and the administrative security department (DAS), the president's intelligence service, has seen key members of Uribe's political apparatus resign, disgraced or placed under arrest. An emboldened Colombian press is now demanding to know what the president knew.

Uribe's troubles began last year when a computer was seized from a paramilitary leader known as "Jorge 40". On it were the names of politicians who apparently collaborated with Jorge 40 to intimidate voters, seize land and kidnap or kill trade unionists and political rivals.

Jorge 40 is the nom de guerre of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, leader of the Northern Bloc of the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary umbrella group set up in 1997 and categorised by the US as a terrorist organisation. Tovar controlled drug trafficking on the eastern half of Colombia's Caribbean coast. Since then, eight pro-Uribe congressmen have been arrested and the foreign minister has been forced to resign.

But the most dangerous scandal for Uribe comes from the arrest of Jorge Noguera, his former campaign manager and, from 2002 to 2005, head of the DAS. Former DAS colleagues have told investigators of Noguera's close collaboration with Jorge 40 - which included lending him Uribe's personal armoured vehicle - and with other paramilitary leaders. The accusations include an assassination plot against Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, the murder of political opponents, electoral fraud, doctoring police and judicial records to erase paramilitary cases. Noguera worked directly to Uribe and when the investigations began, the president appointed him consul in Milan. The supreme court has forced his return

Colombian senator Gustavo Petro's visit to Washington this week will no doubt have further stiffened the resolve of US lawmakers. Petro has accused the president's brother, Santiago, of helping to form paramilitary groups and of personal involvement in murders and forced disappearances. He is calling for a Congressional investigation into charges that, as governor, the president ordered a halt to an investigation into his brother's case. The president's response so far has been characteristic: he accused Petro, a former member of a legitimately disbanded guerrilla movement, of being a "terrorist in a business suit". Petro has since received death threats.

No comments: