By Aldo Civico (for Safe Democracy)

Aldo Civico analyzes the three major contributors to the ongoing crisis between the Colombian government and paramilitary leaders: the economic structuring of the paramilitary groups, the continuation of narco-trafficking, and the involvement of Colombian armed forces in narco-trafficking. Civico criticizes the demobilization process and emphasizes the importance of the rule of law in reaching a solution. A safer, more just democracy in Colombia is possible.

Aldo Civico is a Research Associate at the Columbia University Center for International Conflict Resolution in New York. He is a published writer currently doing investigation in Colombia. He has taught anthropology at the New School University of New York and at William Paterson University.

THE PEACE TALKS OPENED BETWEEN THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT and the thirty eight now demobilized paramilitary leaders are falling apart, and as they do are revealing the weakness of the Colombian government.

A main factor in the collapse of the negotiations was the recent decision of the constitutional court of Colombia to strike parts of the Justice and Peace Law from the proceedings. The law guarantees moderation in the punishment of demobilized combatants and was a major factor in influencing the paramilitary groups to turn in their weapons.

Yet, despite the more than thirty one thousand paramilitaries who have demobilized, all members of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC), paramilitary leaders still hold a great deal of influence over Colombian society.


The present crisis has to do with the structural nature of Colombian paramilitaries themselves. Over the past twenty years, the leaders of the AUC groups have become more and more powerful, accumulating land and capital, and converting themselves into a veritable elite.

And while the demobilization plan has been largely successful, it has not addressed the fundamental issue of how to deal with this new elite. In order for the paramilitary groups to be disbanded, the economic and political structure of the organizations must be changed.

The current demobilization also appears to have had no effect on the narco-trafficking activities of the paramilitary groups.

A recent UN report indicates that if anything, narco-trafficking has increased since the beginning of negotiations. While troops handed in their weapons in public ceremonies blessed by the government, their leaders only shrugged their shoulders and moved deeper into the shadows.

A Colombian secret service report confirmed the creation of twenty-two new paramilitary groups with over 2,500 new members. As one group is disbanded, another is formed.

Another main hindrance to the peace talks is the overwhelming evidence of the involvement of government and armed forces in narco-trafficking. Just last May army forces massacred an elite anti-narcotics police force in YamundĂ­, raising suspicions as to government motives in the drug trade.

And further tensions are being placed upon the talks by US insistence to extradite top narco-trafficking leaders, (such as Don Berna, commonly known as Adolfo Paz). Extradition of these leaders currently negotiating would make peace impossible to achieve.

The paramilitary leaders, meanwhile, have been busy since the crisis began, lobbying in Washington for the deferral of extradition, and pressing the constitutional court of Colombia for a more moderate application of punishments.

Inspired by the idea of the House of Peace, requested by the ELN guerilla during its negotiations, the former AUC leaders have demanded the use of the villa esperanza in order to continue the peace talks. The villa, located near MedellĂ­n, Colombia, will be used to reach what paramilitary leaders claim will be a national consensus for peace and reconciliation.

One can hope that the sincerity of their actions will match the hopefulness of their words.

Demobilization has done almost nothing to undermine the power and influence of the paramilitary.

In order to truly be successful, rule of law must be upheld. If Colombia decides to respect and defend its laws, it will be able to end selective impunity, increase community participation in regional government, broaden rural development, and increase humanitarian aid throughout the country.

The paramilitary can be disbanded, but only through the proper dismantling of its structure and networks. And once the paramilitary is gone, an effective step will have been taken towards diminishing poverty and social inequality in Colombia.

A safer, more just democracy in Colombia is becoming possible.

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