Although it seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago, Senator Ivan Cepeda has managed to bring about a parliamentary inquiry into the alleged ties between politicians and illegal paramilitary groups in Colombia. Former President and current Senator Alvaro Uribe is the highest-profile figure to be linked to such groups, which are thought to be responsible for thousands of killings and human rights abuses during Uribe’s presidency from 2002 to 2010.
The scandal, which has come to be known as the “parapolitics” affair, emerged following a 2006 agreement between the Uribe government and paramilitaries that offered the latter lenient or suspended prison terms in exchange for demobilization. More than 10,000 Colombians, including politicians, members of the military and private citizens are believed to have been involved in “parapolitics.”
Dozens of Colombian officials have been investigated and imprisoned in relation to the affair, but Uribe has thus far been successful at insulating himself against any negative repercussions related to the issue. Nevertheless, Senator Cepeda has used today’s event to publicly accuse Uribe of having deep and longstanding ties to criminals and paramilitary groups. These allegations have been corroborated by former paramilitary leaders like Salvatore Mancuso and Don Berna.
In the past, Berna has claimed repeatedly to have worked closely with Uribe, including giving $1 million to his presidential campaign in 2002. Berna has also said he cooperated with the now-defunct intelligence agency known as the DAS in its efforts to discredit Uribe’s political opponents, including journalists, human rights advocates, and government officials.
While these allegations may not be entirely new or surprising, the fact that these themes are being publicly discussed by the Colombian senate serves as sign that the country is attempting to reconcile with its decades-long history of civil conflict. Colombia has achieved important successes in terms of citizen security, but only after years of brutal violence fueled by billions of dollars of security assistance from the U.S. on one side and billions in profits derived from the illegal drug trade on the other.
Some analysts and commentators have argued that the heavily-militarized “Plan Colombia” approach to citizen security implemented during Uribe’s time in office represents a successful counter-insurgency model that should be replicated elsewhere in Latin America and around the world. However, today’s discussion in the Colombian senate serves as an important reminder that this strategy tended to prioritize security “victories” like “body counts” and arrests over issues such as transparency, accountability and respect for human rights at even the highest levels of government.
You can view a live video stream as well as the slideshow presentation Senator Cepeda created for the event on his website. Both La Silla Vacia and El Espectador have running live-blogs of the proceedings and Telesur correspondent Charles Parkinson has been tweeting updates in English throughout the day.