by Cecilia Zarate-Laun
On Aug. 4, President Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, his most unconditional ally in Latin America, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
One of the principal topics of this meeting was deciding how the United States would provide funds to Colombia ostensibly to help the country reincorporate members of the extreme-right paramilitary group, the Colombian Self-Defense Forces (known as AUC), back into civilian life.
This group is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations. The paramilitaries were responsible for the murders of thousands of Colombian civilians over the last two decades.
Their so-called demobilization is to occur within the context of a Colombian law called the Law of Justice and Peace. At first glance it seems like a magnificent idea to convert armed men into civilian security guards. But a look at the specific provisions reveals how bad this idea is.
The Law of Justice and Peace drastically limits the time for investigating horrible crimes that the paramilitaries committed. (Once a person is charged, the government has only 60 days to bring the case.) Nor does the law demand that those who are being demobilized come clean on their activities.
What’s more, the law calls for sentences of at most five years, which is not proportional to the seriousness of those crimes. Other loopholes would lead some who have committed terrible crimes to serve no prison time at all.
The Law of Justice and Peace turns traditional human-rights law on its head.
The paramilitaries have committed atrocious crimes, and they continue to traffic in drugs, which are their main source of income.
They use these ill-gotten gains to exercise political and economic control over entire regions as well as to terrorize the populace.
The United States should not support this process.
Cecilia Zarate-Laun is co-founder and program director of the Colombia Support Network in Madison, Wis.