Colombia and Extrajudicial Killings Scandal
By Lee Jay Walker
|Above, the FARC commander Raul Reyes who was killed in 2008.|
The government of Colombia which is supported by the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, is now in the spotlight because of the continuing grisly finds of dead corpses. The killings have been carried out by sections of the armed forces and it is a grim reminder of events in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other nations throughout the region, with regards to events in the 1970s and 1980s.
If this scandal had happened in modern day Cuba or Venezuela, then America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, would be the first to call for “a major enquiry” and more severe action would be taken. However, for all the above named nations, then it is complex because they have supported the current government of Colombia. So how will these nations respond to the government of President Alvaro Uribe?
It would appear that “cracks are emerging” because the British government is alarmed by recent events. For example, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, stated that “The challenge for the Colombian government is to ensure the strategic human rights principles we have helped to promote are embedded and consistently practiced by all members of their armed services.”
Therefore, the British government will divert part of its military aid because of the gross violations of human rights in Colombia. Alan Campbell, from the British Home Office, said that aid would not be given to any areas which had links to the “false positives.” This applies to the extrajudicial killings in Colombia; however, can the British government be assured that the “chain”in this scandal is so limited?
Now pressure is mounting in America, after all, President Obama talked about “a new history” and the need to support human rights. Also, before being elected, Obama criticized the human rights record of Colombia and he spoke about linking this before signing the proposed USA-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
However, according to Gary Leech, a much acclaimed journalist and writer, he is skeptical. He states in the Colombia Journal on May 4th, 2009, “that in an apparent reversal, Obama recently called on U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk to work with the Colombian government and Congress in order to address the obstacles to the trade agreement and get the deal signed.”
Gary Leech also makes it clear that the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is “…currently pushing Parliament to ratify the free trade agreement signed last November with Colombia’s President Uribe. “According to Gary Leech, this is contrary to what the majority of Canadians want because a poll in July 2007 indicated that “73 percent of Canadians said their federal government should not negotiate free trade agreements with countries that have dubious human rights records.”
However, it would appear that Prime Minister Harper is a firm supporter of President Uribe. Harper commented that “We’re not going to say, ‘Fix all your social, political and human rights problems, and only then will we engage in trade relations with you.’ That’s a ridiculous position.”
So according to the leader of Canada, it is more important to concentrate on stabilizing Colombia under the current government of Colombia and to focus on mutual self-interests. Yet, like Gary Leech points out, this means that Canada is supporting Colombia without any strings being attached despite this nation being” … the country with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.”
Yet in recent times it is abundantly clear that events in Colombia are extremely alarming because we are talking about the deaths of thousands of people by the armed forces, paramilitaries, and murky “overt operations.” Given this, the governments of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, must do more to pressurize the government of Colombia.
Also, economic and military aid must be made accountable because if the “human rights mantra” is violated then once more we are going to enter a period of “tainted democracy.” So it is important that international pressure is increased because the people of Colombia have been victims for too long, irrespective if victims of right-wing or left-wing groups, or via government sponsored paramilitaries or by landowning militias.
Of course the issue is very complex and Jeremy McDermott, writer for the BBC, stated on May 7th, 2009, that the democratic security policy “has been a great success. It has pushed back Marxist rebels from around the cities and deep into their mountain and jungle strongholds. It has demobilized 30,000 members of an illegal right-wing paramilitary army, the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia. It has seen a massive drop in kidnapping and a fall in the murder rate, once among the highest in the world.”
However, Jeremy McDermott also highlights the tremendous pressure which was put on the armed forces in order to obtain results. Therefore, the government of President Uribe put great pressure on the armed forces and other areas.
But much of the blame for this current crisis must be blamed on elements within the Uribe government. After all, like Gary Leech points out, “There has also been a dramatic escalation in the number of extra-judicial executions perpetrated by the Colombian military since Uribe assumed office. Investigators are currently looking into 1,296 cases of extra-judicial executions that have occurred since 2002. In a process known as “false-positives,” soldiers execute civilians and then dress the corpses in camouflage fatigues and pass them off as guerrillas killed in combat.”
What is clear is that the numbers of deaths will continue to rise and both left-wing and right-wing views will try to manipulate events. However, the real tragedy belongs to the people of Colombia and the counter-insurgency strategy and paramilitary-political scandal must usher in a new period of transparency and fresh hope.
Therefore, it is essential that nations like America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and others, do much more because “democracy” can not be turned-on and turned-off when it suits. It is now up to internal forces and external forces to pressurize the government of President Uribe and recent events must be fully scrutinized. Also, accountability must apply to all people within the chain of events.
LEE JAY WALKER