Claims of militia links rock Colombian presidency

Colombia’s political establishment has been shaken by near-daily allegations of how President Alvaro Uribe’s allies worked with rightwing militias who for more than a decade used terror in pursuit of their own ends.

The Supreme Court has ordered six pro-Uribe lawmakers, including the foreign minister’s brother, to answer questions about alleged links with the paramilitaries who are blamed for the murder of thousands of Colombians. Two senators, an acting representative and a former congresswoman from the northern coastal province of Sucre, have been arrested, while one former governor remains at large.

Senator Alvaro Garcia, the grandfather of Sucre politics, is facing charges of murder for allegedly planning the killing of 14 villagers in 2000 and ordering the murder of an election agency official.

Political analyst Vicente Torrijos, from Rosario university in the capital, Bogota, said the claims could have a domino effect on the establishment as politicians implicate others to save themselves.

Senator Miguel de la Espriella from northern Cordoba province revealed in a Sunday newspaper that he was among about 40 politicians who signed a political pact with paramilitary leaders at the height of their power in 2001. On Tuesday the claim prompted a minor government official to quit after admitting signing the pact as a congressman.

“No one knows how high this goes,’’ said Adam Isacson, who monitors Colombia for the Centre for International Policy, a Washington-based thinktank.

Senator Alvaro Araujo, who is among the six lawmakers called to testify before the Supreme Court and is the brother of Uribe’s foreign minister, Maria Consuelo Araujo, warned that if he went down other heads in the government would roll.

The former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency during Uribe’s first term is also being investigated for collusion.

There is no evidence that the president is linked to the paramilitaries.

In a recent speech Uribe challenged the militia leaders to implicate him.
“If any of those 30 000 paramilitaries can say that the president has been complicit, let them come forward,’’ he said.

The paramilitaries were formed by wealthy ranchers, businessmen and drug mafias in the Eighties to fight extortion and kidnapping by leftist guerrillas. The paramilitaries later turned into powerful armies involved in drug trafficking and extortion who used their power to control local politics and politicians.

Collusion between the militias and the military and police forces is well documented, but the extent to which paramilitaries colluded with politicians and local officials was an open secret.

While some claims against lawmakers were filed, but not pursued, more than five years ago, the allegations resurfaced after their names were mentioned in files found on the confiscated laptop of a top paramilitary leader known as Jorge 40.

The files allegedly include detailed accounts and recordings of meetings between politicians and paramilitaries to ensure the election of chosen candidates, and describe scams in which militias stole state funds from local health services.

The former militia chiefs are awaiting prosecution under a controversial law that grants them reduced prison sentences in return for confessing their crimes.—Â

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