(with help from teammate Chris)
Though we don’t have reliable internet access here, I know that before I left US news was covering the extradition of 14 paramilitaries to the US to be tried for drug trafficking, so I thought I’d give a little a little perspective probably not heard there.
Colombian president Álvaro Uribe said he OK’d the extradition of these individuals because they were still running their drug trade business from jail, and the only way to stop that was to get them out of the country. US authorities had requested the extraditions as part of the United States’ War on Drugs (more on the failure of that later), which requests the extradition of traffickers to stand trial in US courts on drug-related charges.
However, those extradited were not only involved in drug trafficking, but also countless assassinations and human rights abuses. By extraditing these men, the Colombian government avoids receiving testimonies regarding their crimes, many committed together with Colombian politicians and members of the armed services.
A little context: In 2006, under a law called Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), the Colombian government began a process of demobilization. Under this law, ex-paramilitaries would receive financial support for their reinsertion into civilian life in exchange for laying down their arms and confessing past crimes. Questions regarding the efficacy of such a law aside, some of those who were demobilizing had in fact confessed a some of their past crimes.
In fact, during several of these confessions, it was admitted under oath that many crimes were carried out in complicity with or even at the order of the Colombian military. For example, at the beginning of May the infamous paramilitary “Don Berna” (essentially a new version Pablo Escobar), confessed from jail that his men, in conjunction with the military, carried out the 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó that killed eight people, including three children. However, five days later he was among the 14 extradited to the US, where he will stand charges for drug trafficking, but not crimes against humanity, and therefore not be required to give further testimony on his humanitarian crimes, nor be punished for them.
Although those who were extradited had only admitted to a few of their crimes, theirs represented almost half of all the confessions made up to this point. In other words, Uribe extradited many of the ‘ex’-paramilitaries most likely to give testimony.
This is a huge affront to the victims of paramilitary and state violence in Colombia. The testimony of these paramilitaries was crucial to the official acknowledgement of the state’s involvement in these crimes, not to mention for the reparation of land and goods lost by these victims. While some might argue that the extradition was an act of security and the Drug War, it appears more likely a strategy to silence those revealing human rights violations committed by paramilitaries in conjunction with the Colombian military and police.