Corruption, social debt rule in Colombia

Contradictory behavior could signify a regime in trouble. Colombian armed forces killed Raul Reyes in Ecuador on March 1, along with 24 others. That ended the present prospect for prisoner exchanges between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government. Reyes had served as the principal FARC negotiator.

Through Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused Jaime Caicedo, Secretary General of the Communist Party, Carlos Lozano, editor of the Communist weekly Voz, former presidential candidate Alvaro Leyva, and liberal Senator Piedad Cordoba of terrorist leanings. As evidence, Santos cited communications allegedly taken from Reyes’ laptop. Lozano, Leyva, and Cordoba are known as activists working toward humanitarian exchange, Cordoba having served with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as facilitator.

But on May 2, Uribe reopened the possibility of humanitarian exchange by authorizing Lozano and Leyva to contact FARC leaders. In the process he credentialed a Communist as a worthy participant in Colombia’s struggle for peace — an exception to the prevailing cold war standards of Colombian politics. President Uribe may be acting to shore up Colombia’s waning international reputation. In late April French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner came to Colombia to secure a commitment from Uribe to arrange the release of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen and a FARC hostage for six years. European Union Foreign Relations Director Eneko Landáburu scolded Uribe in Bogota on May 13 because of “concern about the internal political situation” in Colombia, citing human rights abuses and undue paramilitary influence within the government.

Almost 70 members of Congress are being investigated for money-charged deals with rightwing military enforcers; 32 of them are in jail. Paramilitaries have sought political cover in exchange for support for candidates, especially during Uribe’s reelection campaign in 2006. Testimony is circulating from former representative Yidis Medina who refused a bribe from high Uribe officials. Mayors, municipal councilors, governors and former parliamentarians face like accusations.

To avoid arrest on charges of mobilizing paramilitaries to support Uribe’s presidential candidacy in 2002, former Senate head Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin, recently sought and was refused sanctuary in the Costa Rican Embassy. Before a parliamentary Commission of Accusations on April 29, President Uribe charged former Supreme Court President César Valencia Copete with engineering a coup. The retired judge had publicized Uribe’s demand that he free Mario Uribe. Alvaro Uribe proposed a new “Super Court” to process accusations against government officials.

On April 27, Miami’s Nuevo Herald published allegations from former paramilitary Francisco Villalba that as governor of Antioquia, Alvaro Uribe and brother Santiago helped finance, plan, and celebrate a paramilitary attack on Oct. 25, 1997 in El Aro, that killed 15 peasants and displaced 900. Jailed paramilitary capos testified that Uribe and Vice President Francisco Santos encouraged the formation of a “capital [paramilitary] block” for Bogota. Crisis in Colombia has other faces. Allegations are rife that in addition to Chiquita Brands, other banana growers paid off paramilitary groups, among them Uniban, Proban, DelMonte and Suninsa. Medellin Special Attorney Alicia Dominguez indicated earlier this month that indictments are on the way against ten Chiquita Brands executives. The U.S. government last year fined Chiquita $25 million for transferring $1.7 million to terrorists, but shied away from identifying corporation decision-makers.

Colombia’s government accuses Ecuador and Colombia of complicity with terrorists, citing information derived from computers seized after the murder of Raul Reyes. Uribe’s supporters “are putting it out now as a smoke screen to cover up the parapolitical scandal,” explains Piedad Cordoba. The charges have echoes in the United States — a prelude, say analysts, to Washington’s designation of Venezuela as a terrorist nation.

Writing on the Pacocol web site, Luis Jairo Ramirez suggested that “Today’s politics of democratic security is obsolete.” (The expression “democratic security” refers to the Colombian manifestation of Washington’s Plan Colombia, conduit of almost $5 billion in military aid over seven years.) “Generalized corruption, innumerable obstacles for a humanitarian agreement [for prisoner exchanges], and enormous military expenses are breaking social expectations in health, education, and employment,” Ramirez added. He continued, “The mounting agrarian crisis and permanent hostility toward neighboring countries lays bare the regime of social insecurity and militarization that drains the country.” atwhit@ roadrunner.com