Monday, March 7, 2011

The Greatest Show in Colombia?

Real or pretend? (Photo: Swedish Int'l Coop.)
They were billed as great advancements in Colombia's road from war to peace - but they may have been no more than great theatre, with casts of thousands.

Over the past decade mass demobilizations of paramilitary and guerrilla fighters, backed by U.S. funding, provided dramatic evidence of progress towards ending Colombia's half-century-long armed conflict. But now it appears that at least some of those events were staged, designed to obtain political and legal advantages.

That's at least according to recent declarations by ex-paramilitaries and others reported in Colombian media. But ex-President Alvaro Uribe and members of his administration insist that the demobilizations were legit.

Paramilitary victims (Photo: El Tiempo)
There are several reasons why these groups might have staged fake demobilizations. Primarily, it allowed them to participate in the government's 'Justice and Peace' program, which offered very forgiving conditions for guerrillas and paramilitaries who turned themselves in and confessed to crimes. In fact, many of the paramilitary leaders are now doing time in U.S. prisons - but back then they expected to pay for their drug trafficking and massacres with just a short 'house arrest' on their luxury estates. From the start, human rights organizations criticized the Justice and Peace program as too lenient for groups responsible for horrific abuses, including massacres of peasants.

For the government, naturally, more demobilizations of bad guys made great p.r.

Bad actors?
In many regions whether the demobilizations were real or not may be irrelevent. Quickly, new, violent drug-trafficking groups, these lacking any political ideology, sprang up to replace the paramilitaries.

According to the recent declarations, in the best tradition of good theatre, criminal leaders recruited hundreds of young men from Medellin's bad neighborhoods, trained them, gave them rifles to turn in and lined them up as 'desmovilizados.' The leaders got political instead of criminal treatment, the false desmovilizados got things like government stipends and education, and supposedly even their criminal records erased. And reporters got a great show.

Government prosecutors are now investigating the accusations.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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