Colombia: paramilitary leaders arrested

Colombian authorities detained 14 top paramilitary leaders Aug. 16, saying they were not complying with the amnesty law. The leaders, who include two former commanders wanted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges, were taken into custody in various parts of Colombia, with some of them voluntarily surrendering to police.

The captures began in the early hours, with police rounding up legendary former commanders such as Iván Roberto Duque (also known as Ernesto Báez), Ramón Isaza and Salvatore Mancuso, and emerging names such as Carlos Mario Jiménez, Rodrigo Pérez and Francisco Javier Zuluaga.

“These are the compromises we made, and that’s why I’m turning myself in,” Mancuso was quoted in the local media as saying before he handed himself over to police at the town of Monteria.

Mancuso and Zuluaga are wanted in the United States on drug charges. Two other major paramilitary leaders — Carlos Castaño’s brother, José Vicente, and Víctor Mejía, who are also wanted on drug-trafficking charges in the United States — were not among those detained. Another, Diego Murillo, is in jail already, awaiting trial for alleged involvement in the murder of a local politician while the government’s dialogue with the paramilitary movement is proceeding. (Miami Herald, Aug. 17)

In related news, the Colombian government will pay $1.4 million to relatives of 19 peasants killed by paramilitaries under a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

On July 1, the Costa Rica-based court ruled that the Colombian government was responsible in the two massacres in 1996 and 1997 in the villages of La Granja and El Aro, both in Antioquia department. The lawsuit was brought by the Colombian Commission of Jurists and the Interdisciplinary Group for Human Rights.

The massacres were said to be overseen by Salvatore Mancuso, who was found guilty by a Colombian court in absentia in 2003 and sentenced to 40 years. But under the peace deal Mancuso helped negotiate, paramilitary bosses can spend a maximum of eight years in prison if they have met all the conditions of the pact.

If the government fails to enforce the full 40-year sentence against Mancuso, Colombia could be ruled as breaking its obligations to the court, attorney Carlos Rodriguez-Mejia said. (AP, July 29)

Colombia’s Constitutional Court in May strengthened the requirements with which paramilitaries must comply under the Justice and Peace law passed in 2005 by Congress.

Uribe was sharply criticized last month when a draft resolution saying the paramilitaries could spend two-thirds of their jail terms on their farms was leaked to the press. The resolution was seen by human rights groups as a way of bypassing the court ruling.

“Uribe is trying to show that he is not caving in to the paramilitaries,” said Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch. “But if he really wants to show that, then he needs to implement the Constitutional Court ruling that requires the paramilitaries to confess, turn over their assets and really demobilize or risk losing their reduced sentences.” (Reuters, Aug. 16)

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