The capture of some 32 local politicians in northwestern Colombia Wednesday is only the start of a much larger purge ordered by the state on the strength of testimony provided by a demobilized paramilitary commander, local media reported.
For years, Freddy Rendon, alias “El Aleman,” led the Elmer Cardenas bloc, one of the most powerful and violent regional units in the now-defunct AUC national paramiltary umbrella. El Aleman alone is thought to have ordered and participated in dozens of murders and massacres, displacing thousands in the nortwest coastal region of Uraba, the birthplace of Colombia’s modern paramilitary phenomenon.
Since his demobilization in 2006, however, as part of then-President Alvaro Uribe’s Justice and Peace program, El Aleman has cooperated extensively with authorities, revealing an often unprecedented look at the high-level workings of the AUC’s inner structure.
On the basis of his testimony, judges have now issued some 50 new warrants for the arrests of various local politicians previously backed by the AUC during the group’s “For a Strong Uraba, Unity and Peace” inititative, which attempted to infiltrate local power structures by placing AUC allies in office.
Among those captured were the mayor of Turbo, a northern municipality in the state of Antioquia, and at least five other former mayors from the state. The other 26 arrests included municipal and state councilman, human rights officials, youth leaders, and other public functionaries, according to the national El Espectador newspaper.
At least 18 more people have been slated to be taken into custody as part of the recent purge, reported the El Tiempo newspaer. All those captured will face charges of conspiracy.
Peace and Justice, the controversial reduced sentencing framework that has seen to the demobilization of thousands of former paramilitaries, has been criticized for not sufficiently persecuting those elements of civil society that supported and coordinated with the paramilitaries, who are responsible for the most and often most gruesome human rights violations in the recent history of Colombia’s longstanding armed conflict.
In Uraba, for example, researchers have described a so-called Quintuple Alliance, a sprawling network comprised of paramilitaries, members of the armed forces, polticians and public functionaries, large landowners and multinational business interests, and drug traffickers.
At its height, the AUC’s influence spread throughout all levels of government, with former and active congressmen, governors, and even national ministers all being accused of paramilitary collusion.
Indeed, El Aleman has testified that Santiago Uribe, the brother of the former president, facilitated meetings between regional paramilitary commanders and the Chiquita Brands multinational fruit company, which is facing a class action suit in the United States launched by victims of parmailitary violence.
Other multinatioanls in the region, including Coca Cola and Dole Fruits, face similar charges, and there is extensive evidence that former President Uribe himself, now a senator, played an integral role in promoting paramilitarism, especially in Antioquia, where he served as governor.
In a previous 2010 political roundup, authorities arrested 26 local figures for alleged paramilitary ties, according to El Espectador.
For the most part, however, subsequent investigations following the Justice and Peace program have not pursued the other sectors involved in the AUC’s power structure.
And even the paramilitaries themselves have largely been reincorporated into neo-paramilitary and narco-trafficking groups still active in the region and across the country.
- Redadas a socios de los paramilitares en Uraba (El Espectador)
- Fiscalia, la caza de politicos en Uruba que apoyan a paramilitares (El Tiempo)