Ranchers in the northern Colombia will “arm themselves illegally” if the government does not lift the restriction on them carrying weapons, former President Alvaro Uribe said Wednesday
The demands of the ranchers in Cesar, which was a hotspot of paramilitary activity in the 1990’s comes in the aftermath of the discovery of the body of a local rancher incinerated in a car after he was allegedly kidnapped.
The ranchers are demanding that loosened gun laws take effect so they can protect themselves, said Uribe, who signed off on the formation of more than 20 paramilitary groups when this was briefly legal in the 1990s.
Uribe, whose brother Santiago is on trial for allegedly forming a paramilitary death squad in the Antioquia province warned that if the Defense Minister does not cede to their demands, the ranchers will obtain weapons illegally.
“I write to him and the adviser every day. I see two problems with the security policy, the lack of cooperators. Without cooperators there is no security policy, the program of cooperators is needed. There is a great citizen demand, the people of Cesar – and last night they told me in private – and threatened to arm themselves illegally,” Uribe said to W Radio at a Democratic Center convention in Monteria.
“But the citizenship is asking for some flexibility for special permits, because they say in Valledupar: ‘We leave for Bosconia, they rob us on the road, we do not have the means to defend ourselves and then they kill us’. Guillermo Botero has to do those things,” added Uribe.
The ranchers have rejected suggestions that an adjustment of the firearms law would represent a throwback to the days when paramilitary groups roamed freely in the region.
“It does not mean that by carrying a weapon legally you are promoting paramilitary groups or guerrilla groups or criminal groups,” said the manager of the Cesar Ranchers Fund, Hernan Araujo.
Colombia’s public force has called on the ranchers to respect the rule of law and place their faith in the police to provide adequate protection.
“We have between five and six groups for each district, for a total of 1,285 ranchers who are part of this network of civic participation, whose sole purpose is to meet the requirements immediately,” said Colonel Mauricio Pedraza, commander of the Police of Cesar.
Ranchers in Colombia have been linked to funding paramilitary groups over the course of the South American nation;s armed conflict through which thousands of people’s were driven from their land.
While the paramilitaries’ initial objective was to fight left-wing guerrillas, the AUC, and their associates in the establishment who had financed the paramilitary expansion, soon discovered the death squads effectively liberated territory for mining, land expansion and large-scale agriculture.
In the province of Cesar, there are currently 13,200 livestock farms but should the government cede to demands and empower ranchers to carry weapons, a return to the bloody paramilitary violence of the 1990s could become a reality again.