“That’s pure terrorism,” Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said of students at Bogota’s Pedagogical University demonstrating May 30 for university autonomy and against cuts in public funding for education.
Hyperbole in the service of fear and division is now fueling Uribe’s push toward a third term, presently forbidden under Colombia’s constitution. Following the March massacre in Ecuador of guerrillas associated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the government identified neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela as complicit with the FARC in allegedly promoting “terrorism.”
Then on May 22, Attorney General Mario Iguarán announced plans to investigate 11 public figures — journalists, peace activists, advocates for humanitarian exchange of prisoners and leaders of leftist political parties primed to oppose Uribe’s re-election. “Actually, no one knows what crime they are accusing us of,” said TeleSur correspondent William Parra. “Supposedly there are ‘presumed ties with the FARC.’”
Government insinuations about easy tolerance of terrorism are derived from the Colombian military’s interpretation of material taken from computers seized from the demolished FARC campsite in Ecuador, which was leaked to rightwing press outlets worldwide. Verification sought from Interpol, the international police agency, has been widely discredited.
Others fingered by the rightwing Colombian government, a Washington protégée, include Gloria Inés Ramírez and Wilson Borja of the Alternative Democratic Pole party; Liberal Party Senator Piedad Cordoba, a prominent facilitator of prisoner exchange; journalist Carlos Lozano of the Communist Party’s Voz weekly; Álvaro Leyva, a former presidential candidate; Lázaro Viveros, an advisor to ex-President Andrés Pastrana’s peace campaign; and four foreigners: Ecuadorians María Augusta Calle and Iván Larrea, Amilcar Figueroa of Venezuela, and James Jones, a U.S. academician.
Ironically, on May 2 President Uribe invited Lozano and Leyva to contact FARC leaders in what looked like a try at reviving humanitarian exchange. That was before stories on Uribe’s own paramilitary ties surfaced, along with reports of bribes and paramilitary intimidation to bolster Uribe’s election campaigns in 2002 and 2006. An aroused opposition now warns of a burgeoning “witch hunt” and “smoke screen” aimed at distraction, divisions and fear. “FARC-politics,” they say, has been added to “Para-politics.”
Amilcar Figueroa, Co-President of the Latin American Parliament, points to potentially grave consequences of unbounded hysteria, especially “as President Uribe looks to put Venezuela in the midst of a Colombian internal conflict, to establish supposed ties between our country and the Colombian insurgency.”
Colombian Communist Party General Secretary Jaime Caycedo sees parallels to the situation leading up to that “most terrible political genocide,” his characterization of the massacre of thousands of leftists who in the late 1980s entered electoral politics as part of the Patriotic Alliance.
The naming of parliamentarians Gloria Inés Ramírez and Wilson Borja, survivors of that tragedy, is seen as retaliation for their leadership in pursuing congressional investigations of the para-political scandals. What the government wants, explains Carlos Lozano, another survivor, is to make us ask, “Why bother explaining ourselves once working for peace and humanitarian exchange has been converted into a crime.”