In spite of extensive investigations and an impressive amount of convictions, ties between Colombia’s criminal underworld and the state are alive and well, according to a leaked Inspector General reports.
At the request of the leftist opposition, the Inspector General’s Office issued a report in which it said it has investigated more than 500 (elected) officials over alleged links to drug lords or paramilitary groups over the past decade.
The revelation comes little more than a week after soldiers found $200,000 in cash, alleged drug money, in a congressional car driven by Congress’ finance chief, who was suspended.
Hello again, parapolitics
The report also comes a decade after the “parapolitics” scandal that, following the demobilization of paramilitary group AUC, discovered far-stretching ties between the paramilitaries and Colombia’s political elite.
Since then, more than a 100 (former) congressmen have been investigated and more than 40 were sentenced to prison for using paramilitary intimidation and funds to get elected into Congress.
The mass prosecution of some of the country’s most powerful political dynasties, the military and public officials revealed how politicians and paramilitaries rigged the 2002 and 2006 elections.
Some 13,000 civilians, mainly businessmen, are yet to be investigated for having used the designated terrorist group to advance their interests at any length.
The military even sleeps with the guerrillas
However, an Inspector General’s report sent to Congressman Alirio Uribe on April 12 indicated that links between public officials and illegal armed groups are far from a thing from the past.
The corruption within Colombia’s institutions is so diverse that even the military is accused of having ties to the same guerrilla groups it is supposed to combating.
It is clear that in some cases members of the security forces have been influenced by criminal interests, not only of the crime groups, but also guerrilla organizations. Among other cases it is undeniable that members of the security forces have been part of criminal activities associated with such groups. In the framework of the powers assigned by the law to the Inspector General, disciplinary proceedings are ongoing.
Inspector General report
In the report, the Inspector General’s Office revealed that from 2006 to 2016 it has opened a total of 519 disciplinary proceedings against (elected) state officials for ties to paramilitary groups, guerrillas or drug traffickers.
The suspects in these processes are allegedly linked to homicides, death threats, electoral constraints, the illegal funding of political campaigns, among others.
Colombia’s long and sad history of state criminality
When the parapolitics scandal broke in 2006, Colombian justice found that politicians and paramilitaries had increasingly colluded between 1998 and 2006, advancing both the politicians’ and the paramilitaries’ interests.
According to a previous court ruling, the paramilitaries even provided the successful 2002 presidential campaign of former President Alvaro Uribe, now an opposition senator for the conservative Democratic Center party.
Uribe subsequently demobilized the paramilitaries in a process criticized over the high levels of impunity granted to paramilitary war criminals.
However, the subsequent trials and imprisonment of numerous public officials sought to bring what was rated as Colombia’s worst political scandal to a close.
However, the report indicates that parapolitics is far from over and that alleged alliances between politicians and illegal armed groups are still very much a alive and well in Colombia’s political system.
According to the information from the Inspector General’s Office, 50% or 109 cases of ongoing disciplinary proceedings involve mayors, 37 implicate governor’s offices, 40 implicate local and regional lawmakers, last but not least, 73 members of Congress are suspected of criminal links.
The report also revealed that 78 pending disciplinary investigations implicate members of the security forces, reported Semana Magazine.
Regional distribution of cases
According to Congressman Alirio Uribe, the regional distribution of alleged collusion between state actors and illegal armed groups is surprisingly similar to the regional distribution of death threats and assassinations targeting human rights workers, unionists and others.
54% of the cases investigated by the Attorney General against public servants for links with paramilitary groups or criminal gangs are concentrated in seven departments. Most processes correspond to Bogota (75), Antioquia (49), Magdalena (45), Atlantico (34), Bolivar (23), Norte de Santander (24) and Sucre (31).
Following their formation in 1997, the AUC or United Self Defense Forces of Colombia enjoyed a more than cordial relationship with Colombia’s authorities as they targeted left-wing guerrillas.
The dissolution of the AUC marked the emergence of successor groups formed by mid-level commanders of the paramilitary organization who were exempted from justice or never took part in the demobilization process.
These groups have continued to be active in Colombia but current president Juan Manual Santos continues to deny them paramilitary status labeling them as “criminal bands” or BaCrim.
The Inspector General in his report also defines the BaCrim as “armed structures that persist in criminal activities, especially drug trafficking, and that in the past were part of the AUC.”
The statistics in this report indicate that the security forces continue to have ties with these paramilitary successor groups.
“If we cross-reference the municipal jurisdiction of the 20 Special Energy and Road Battalions with where paramilitary groups have strongest presence,” it appears paramilitary successor groups are strongest exactly where these military special forces are active.
The latest report increases pressure on Santos to give in to demands by the FARC rebels to acknowledge and effectively dismantle “paramilitarism” that in different forms has been a constant phenomenon in Colombia since the 1960s.
Because without the dismantling of the “paramilitary” structures where state actors and illegal armed groups work together, the FARC argues, Colombia’s state and its clandestine allies will pose a threat on FARC members who demobilize.
This fear is understandable, considering that paramilitary groups, together with the security forces, killed thousands of leftists who formed the Patriotic Union party in the 1980s. Additionally, thousands of demobilized members of the AUC have been assassinated after surrendering their weapons.