Recent local elections are evidence that paramilitarism is alive and well in Colombia


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Series on the rights of the victims and the application of Law 975. Bulletin No 21

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Recent local elections are evidence that paramilitarism is alive and well in Colombia

  1. 1. Con el apoyo de: 1 Gobierno de CanadáBulletin No 21: Series on the rights of the victims and the application of Law 975 Recent local elections are evidence that paramilitarism is alive and well in ColombiaOn October 28 2007, elections for mayors, governors, deputies, councilmen and localadministrative councils were held. The realization and results of these elections awokespecial interest at both the national and international levels, as nearly 45 Congressmembers from 16 departments of the country are being investigated by the SupremeCourt and by the Prosecutor General’s office for their presumed links with paramilitarygroups. This, added to the supposed demobilization of nearly 31,000 paramilitaries,raised greater expectations about these elections than on any other previous occasion.Perhaps the greatest expectation is whether, on the basis of the results, paramilitarism –understood not only as a military structure but also as an economic and political structure– has indeed been dismantled, as the government insists[1], or whether, on the contrary,these structures continue to exert their power in the country.27,000 candidates endorsed by political parties with links to the paramilitariesThe investigations against various politicians for their presumed links with paramilitarygroups, and revelations about alliances between national and local-level politicians withthese groups caused impact in public opinion. However, this impact was not reflected inthe implementation of mechanisms to overcome this situation; although the SupremeCourt and the Prosecutor’s Office have undertaken efforts to elucidate such links, theseefforts will dissolve if the government does not implement strategies to dismantle thetight relations between important politicians and paramilitary groups.The above became evident during the past elections, in which five of the political partieswhose members are being investigated for their links with paramilitary groups offeredtheir endorsement to approximately 27,000 candidates of the 86,000 that were registered.[2] Likewise, the politicians investigated for presumed links with paramilitaries continueto be involved in politics from prison, which demonstrates that many of them havecontinued to exert great power in their regions of influence, and that the politicalstructures of paramilitarism remain intact.Indeed, political parties presumably involved with paramilitary groups, such as ColombiaViva, Colombia Democrática, Apertura Liberal, Convergencia Ciudadana and Alas-Equipo Colombia, gave their backing to thousands of candidates and there were nomechanisms in place to prevent it. For example, the political party Colombia Viva,*The European Union supported the first phase of this project, between July and December of 2006, during which thisseries of information bulletins was begun and the first twelve numbers published, available on the web page. Thepresent publication has been prepared under the auspices of the Canadian government, and its content is the soleresponsibility of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. In no way should it be thought to reflect the point of view ofthe European Union or of the government of Canada.
  2. 2. 2founded by Dieb Maloof, Congressman from Atlántico department and currently underarrest for supposed links with the paramilitary leader “Jorge 40,” sought to win sixgovernorships, six mayoralties of capital cities, and 3,437 seats in local councils,assemblies, and mayoralties, for a total of 3,551 endorsements. [3]Likewise, the party Convergencia Ciudadana, founded by Congressman Luis Alberto Gil,formally interrogated for his links with paramilitarism, sponsored four governorships, 11mayoralties of capital cities, and 6,588 seats in the remaining bodies. For its part, theparty Colombia Democrática, founded by the President of Colombia, and also seriouslyimplicated in paramilitarism, gave 5,338 endorsements for the elections, among themfour governorships. Several of the members of this party are being investigated for linkswith paramilitarism: Senator Mario Uribe, founding member and cousin of the President;also Congressmen Miguel de la Espriella and Álvaro García Romero, who are currentlydetained. [4]For its part, Apertura Liberal, a political party whose member, Representative Jorge LuisCaballero, is being investigated for the offenses of agreement to commit a crime(concierto para delinquir) and procedural fraud, gave 4,682 endorsements for assembliesand councils, 10 for governorships, and six for mayoralties of capital cities. Lastly, Alas-Equipo Colombia, one of whose founding members, Senator Álvaro Araújo Castro, is inprison, gave 6,356 endorsements for the October elections. [5]The above figures speak for themselves and are sufficient to conclude that the authoritiesdid not take any steps to keep paramilitarism from seizing local political power again,and are proof that paramilitarism continues its strategy of infiltrating local and regionalpolitical power. In spite of the fact that these five political parties are being severelyquestioned regarding the legitimacy of the election of their members in past elections,they were able to endorse candidates freely for the October election and to continueacting in politics without any consequences for the investigations of which many of theirmembers are object.Politicians elected with the support of members of parliament being investigated forparamilitarismSome of the candidates are being severely questioned not only for being endorsed bypolitical parties involved in investigations for links with paramilitarism, but also becausethere are direct accusations against them of having links with paramilitaries or, at least,with politicians who are at present being investigated for links with such groups.There are several candidates about whom it was said that they enjoyed direct supportfrom politicians being investigated for their presumed links with paramilitary groups. Forexample, Senators Álvaro García and Jairo Merlano, both detained in the investigation on“parapolitics,” supported the candidacy for the mayoralty of Sincelejo (Sucre) of JesúsPaternina Namur, and the candidacy for the governorship of the same department ofJorge Carlos Barraza Farak. [6] For its part, the candidacy of Martha Sáenz to the
  3. 3. 3governorship of the department of Córdoba had the backing of Congressmen JuanManuel López Cabrales y Reginaldo Montes, also detained. [7]Also, the candidacy for the governorship of the department of Cesar of Arturo RafaelCalderón Rivadeneira, former secretary of health during the administration as governor ofHernando Molina, was questioned because of the support he received from La Picotaprison. On the one hand, the detained senator Álvaro Araújo Castro, from prison andthrough radio station Radio Guatapurí, owned by his family, “invited” the electors to votefor Calderón. [8] The candidate, for his part, had the backing of Hernando Molina,former governor of the department of Magdalena, currently detained for alleged linkswith the paramilitary leader alias “Jorge 40,” who supposedly led Hernando Molina to avictory for the governorship in 2003 after threatening and forcing Cristian HernandoMoreno to give up his candidacy. [9] Álvaro Araújo, too, is allegedly supporting thecandidacy of David Andrade to the mayoralty of Bosconia (Cesar), and the candidatehimself visited the senator in prison to ask for his political support. [10]The candidacy of Omar Díazgranados for the governorship of Magdalena too wasquestioned. This candidate was the secretary of Trino Luna, former governor ofMagdalena, who is currently detained for his alleged links with paramilitaries. Thecandidate enjoyed the support of the former governor and, also, had the endorsement offormer representative Alfonso Campo and Senator Luis Eduardo Vives. These two arealso detained at La Picota prison for their alleged links with paramilitary groups. [11]For his part, Senator Dieb Maloof, detained for his alleged links with paramilitarism,endorsed the candidacy to the Bogotá City Council of Liliana Támara, who was his aidein Congress. The name of Liliana Támara has been involved in a bribe of three thousandmillion pesos that the senator offered so that a health insurance company would not beshut down.[12]Beyond the political backing that some of the congress people under investigation gave tomany of the candidates postulated for the October elections, some paramilitaries underthe special treatment accorded them by Law 975 of 2005, who are currently giving free-version testimonies, have singled out some of the candidates of the past elections asmembers of the paramilitary structure. This happened on October 29, 2007, when theparamilitary leader Ever Veloza, alias “HH,” said at a free-version hearing held one dayafter the elections, when the results were already known, that Arnulfo Peñuela, electedfor mayor of Carepa (Antioquia) directed the paramilitary organization (Convivir)“Papagayo,” created by Raúl Hazbún, a well-known paramilitary from Urabá, throughwhom the banana companies of the region made their “contributions” toparamilitarism.[13]The far from negligible victories of candidates linked with paramilitariesThe preceding are only a few examples of the political grip that the paramilitaries andtheir political structure have on many regions of the country, as the electoral contest ofOctober past demonstrated that electoral campaigns still function in the traditional way,
  4. 4. 4and that, when it comes to politics, little has changed. The mere postulation of candidatesendorsed by political parties whose members are being investigated is a sign thatparamilitarism is not finished, in spite of what the government announces; since, as wasmentioned before, paramilitary structures are much more than armed structures. Unlessthe power that various politicians forged together with paramilitary bosses to take hold ofthe resources of the regions for their own particular interests is dismantled, it will bedifficult to maintain that paramilitarism has ceased to exist; and it will be equally difficultto think that the country will have transparent elections, removed from paramilitaryinfluence, in the near future.What happened then with the results of the October 28 elections? The results indicatethat, although some politicians supported by paramilitarism did not gain seats, others did;and, also, that the political parties whose members are being investigated for links withparamilitarism did not lose their power but “realigned” themselves throughout thecountry. [15]Some candidatures supported by the political parties questioned for links withparamilitaries obtained victories. Such is the case of the candidate for the governorshipof Magdalena, Omar Díazgranados, supported from La Picota prison, or of Martha delSocorro Sáenz, who won the governorship of Córdoba thanks to the support of detainedCongressman Juan Manuel López Cabrales. Elections to the governorship of thedepartment of Sucre were also severely questioned for possible electoral fraud, after theliberal candidate Julio César Guerra Tulena was declared winner, in principle, and thenlater the candidate of the “U” Party, Jorge Carlos Barraza Farak, with the support ofimprisoned Congress members Álvaro García and Jairo Merlano, won by a difference of889 votes. [16]The results of the elections for mayors are another source of concern. Once again ÁlvaroGarcía showed that he is still the boss in the department of Sucre, not only by the victoryof his candidate to the governorship but also by the victory of Jesús Antonio Paternina tothe mayoralty of Sincelejo, backed by García’s movement Colombia Viva. Particularlyworrisome are the results of the mayoralty elections in municipalities such as San Onofre(Sucre), where Edgar Benito Rebollo, candidate presumably supported by theparamilitaries, won[17]; Yalí (Antioquia), where the winner was Óscar Alonso Mira,“demobilized” paramilitary of the Héroes de Granada Block, who had been mayor of thesame municipality between 2001 and 2003[18]; Sabanalarga (Casanare), where themayor’s office went to Juan Antonio Bernal Ramírez, who is in prison since October 15,2007, for the offense of agreement to commit a crime, due to his alleged links withparamilitary groups[19]; Campo de la Cruz (Atlántico), where the winner was CarlosGutiérrez Cotes, who is also detained presumably for being a member of the paramilitarygroup “Los 40”[20]; and Carepa (Antioquia), where, as was mentioned before, the winnerwas Arnulfo Peñuela, singled out by alias “HH” as leader of a paramilitary group.The results, and who won in several departments and municipalities, illustrate howparamilitarism has taken over an important part of local political power in the country
  5. 5. 5once again. However, this situation can be viewed in a broader scale if the results of theelections are analyzed keeping in mind the political parties that won.The political parties that make up the coalition now in government, most of which areinvolved in the investigations that the judicial authorities are carrying out against some oftheir members are, overall, the winners of the electoral contest. Of these, the mostaffected by the investigations, although losing the regional capital cities, won a goodnumber of municipal mayoralties, taking over a good portion of the national territory.Indeed, the movement Alas-Equipo Colombia gained one governorship and 83mayoralties; Apertura Liberal won 37 mayoralties; the movement Colombia Viva gained13 mayoralties; for its part, Colombia Democrática obtained victory in 34 mayoralties;and Convergencia Ciudadana won 72 mayoralties and one governorship[21].If the results are analyzed in comparison with those of the 2003 elections, it will be seenthat some of these parties have been growing and are consolidating. For example, themovement Convergencia Ciudadana went from 21 mayors in 2003 to 72 in theseelections and kept one governorship in both periods. The movement Apertura Liberal, forits part, went from 24 to 37 mayoralties; Alas-Equipo Colombia increased its presence by15 mayoralties, progressing from 68 to 83; the movement Colombia Viva went from 27mayoralties to 13, still a hardly negligible number[22].The figures show, as a whole, that there is a tendency toward the nation-wideconsolidation of the political parties that have been questioned for their links with theparamilitaries, rather than a decrease in their presence; and even that a territorialexpansion is underway through the high number of municipal mayoralties they won.These elements allow us to state that, without a doubt, paramilitarism remains an actorinvolved in politics and exerting great pressure on elections, since the local political mapthat will rule for the next four years will continue to be, in great part, influenced by actorsignorant of democracy.There is an urgent need to guarantee electoral transparencyFrom the beginning, the October 28 elections were characterized by a lack oftransparency, as innumerable risks threatened to upset the democratic order. Both civilsociety and State institutions questioned severely the past polling day. These electionswere marked by warnings about electoral fraud and acts of violence taking place againstvarious candidates in different regions of the country. The Electoral Observation Mission(Misión de Observación Electoral - MOE)[23] reported 151 acts of violence attributableboth to guerrilla and paramilitary groups, among them 29 homicides, eight kidnappings,23 attacks, and 91 threats against the candidates.[24] Likewise, that organization warnedabout the risks run by 576 municipalities through the influence of the armed actors[25]. Ifto this one adds the warning about support to various candidates from the paramilitaries –supposedly dismantled –, then we can see that the situation previous to Election Day wasnot very encouraging at all.
  6. 6. 6In the face of these threats, the government responded mostly by assigning a greaternumber of state forces to watch over the elections. [26] However, greater presence of thestate forces does not mean greater freedom or security for the voters. Although pollingday went off in apparent calm and with few “alterations of law and order,” it is not lesstrue that, in order for state forces to be the guarantors of security on polling days, itwould be required, in the first place, that the links between paramilitary groups andmembers of the state forces be broken. Furthermore, in what concerns paramilitarygroups, their strategy for exerting pressure on the voters is not limited to armed pressure,as the October elections proved. In order to seize political power locally and nationally,the paramilitaries have resorted to diverse strategies that span from campaign financing toelectoral fraud, none of which has a satisfactory solution in an increase in the number ofstate forces to watch over the elections.In conclusion, the elections of October 28 were not, as the government announced andexpected, “the most transparent in the history of Colombia.”[27] If there was anythingtransparent about them, it is the influence of criminal interests seriously affecting thevalidity of democracy in Colombia. What would happen, for instance, if the thousands offraudulent votes won by candidates backed and financed by the paramilitaries werededucted from the total votes obtained in the elections for national and local publicoffice? Surely the political landscape would change considerably, since the threshold togain access to seats, in this case in Congress, would go down. Thus, as the resultschanged, other legitimate political parties would now obtain the seats that they could not;this would bring balance to the political forces in Congress and have a direct influence onpublic policies and on the laws to be approved by Congress.The way that the political map took shape through the elections, no change can beexpected in the management of power. For such a change to take place, guarantees areneeded of separation between politicians and paramilitary groups. Perhaps an electoralreform that would set clear and transparent rules of the game would permit a purge ofpublic bodies, which, as the current judicial investigations show, are deeply penetrated byparamilitarism.For more information, please contact Gustavo Gallón-Giraldo, Director of the CCJ, at Tel. (571) 376 8200, Ext. 115.Bogotá, December 27, 2007*  The present publication has been produced with the support of the European Union and the Government of Canada. Its contents arethe sole responsibility of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. In no way should it be thought to reflect the point of view of theEuropean Union or of the government of Canada.[1] See, among others, the words of the President, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, on July 20, 2007 at the ceremony of installation of Congress.See:[2] Claudia López, “¡Peligro! No escoja candidatos de alto riesgo para la democracia”, (Warning! Do not choose candidates who putdemocracy at risk). October 26, 2007. Consulted at: :[3] El Tiempo, “Partidos heridos por la parapolítica van en busca de 16 gobernaciones” (Parties wounded by parapolitics go in searchof 16 governorships). October 21, 2007, pages 14-15 [4]Ibíd.[5] Ibíd.[6] El Espectador, “Mapa electoral de la costa”, (Electoral Map of the Coast), September 2, 2007, page 4-A.[7] Ibíd.
  7. 7. 7[8] El Tiempo, “Desde prisión, ex senador Araújo impulsa campaña”, (From prison, former senator Araújo promotes campaign),August 7, 2007, pages 1-4.[9] El Tiempo, “Sombra ‘parapolítica’ en campaña del Cesar” (The shadow of “parapolitics” in campaign in Cesar). October 22, 2007.Electronic version.[10] El Tiempo, “Blindar elecciones: ¿imposible?” (Shielding the elections: Impossible?), May 20, 2007, pages 1-5.,[11] El Espectador, “Mapa electoral de la costa”, (Electoral Map of the Coast), September 2, 2007, page 4-A.[12] El Tiempo, “Partidos heridos por la parapolítica van en busca de 16 gobernaciones”, (Parties wounded by parapolitics go insearch of 16 governorships). October 21, 2007, pages 14-15[13] El Tiempo, “Trece elegidos con líos con la justicia” (Thirteen of those elected have problems with justice), October 30, 2007,pages 1-4.The “Convivir” groups, also known as “rural security cooperatives,” were associations authorized by Decree-Law 356 of 194 to useweapons of war. The norm that permitted it (paragraph of Article 39), was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court inNovember 1997 (Sentence C-572/07). The “Convivir” were used intensively in the development of paramilitarism.[14]It is the case of Rafael Arturo Calderón, candidate for the governorship of Cesar, supported from the la Picota jail, who lost theelections to Cristian Moreno, candidate who had been rejected by the paramilitaries in the elections of 2003; or the case of DidierAlberto Tavera Amado, who lost the governorship of the department of Santander to the liberal Horacio Serpa and had the support ofLuis Alberto Gil, senator being investigated for his alleged links with paramilitaries. However, Convergencia Ciudadana,politicalparty founded by that senador, won the governorship of Amazonas. See, in this respect, El Tiempo, “Varias regiones les pasaroncuenta de cobro a los de la parapolítica”, (Several regions got even with those linked with “parapolitics”), October 29, 2007, pages 1-3.[15] Claudia López, “Más violencia política en medio de mayor seguridad: otra paradoja de estas elecciones”, (More political violencein the midst of greater security: another paradox of these elections), October 24, 2007, consulted in:[16] “Los magos de Sucre”, (The magicians of Sucre), November 2, 2007, consulted in:[17] El Universal, “Campaña de Benitorevollo de San Onofre es ilegal”, (The campaign of Benito Revollo of San Onofre is illegal),July 18, 2007, electronic version.[18] El Colombiano, “Que me vean como Alcalde, no como paraco: Óscar Mira”, (They should view me as mayor, not asparamilitary), consulted in:[19] El Tiempo, “Varias regiones les pasaron cuenta de cobro a los de la parapolítica” (Several regions got even with those linkedwith “parapolitics”), October 29, 2007, pages 1-3.[20] El Tiempo “Trece elegidos, con líos con la justicia”, (Thirteen of those elected have problems with justice), October 30, 2007,pages 1-4.[21] Consulted in: www.registradurí[22] Ver al respecto, Claudia López, “Más violencia política en medio de mayor seguridad: otra paradoja de estas elecciones”, (Morepolitical violence in the midst of greater security: another paradox of these elections), October 24, 2007, consulted[23] The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE in Spanish) is an organization of civil society made up of non governmentalorganizations, universities, social organizations, economic groups, and citizens whose aim is to oversee the electoral process is inconformity with democratic principles. See:[24] Claudia López, “Más violencia política en medio de mayor seguridad: otra paradoja de estas elecciones”, (More political violencein the midst of greater security: another paradox of these elections), October 24, 2007, consulted in:[25] See in this respect, Electoral Observation Mission, “Retos electorales, riesgos y recomendaciones: elecciones octubre 28 de 2007”(Electoral challenges, risks and recommendations: elections of October 28, 2007), Bogotá, October 2007[26] See, among others, Bulletin of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, “Para garantizar unas elecciones transparentes 77 milefectivos adicionales de la policía y 107 mil del Ejército reforzarán seguridad”, (To guarantee transparent elections, 77 thousandadditional members of the police and 107 thousand of the army will reinforce security), September 27, 2007, see:[27] Ibíd.