Two more Colombian paramilitary commanders pleaded guilty July 29 in US federal court to drug conspiracy charges. Ramiro Vanoy Murillo, 60, and Francisco Javier Zuluaga Lindo, 38, entered their pleas before US District Judge K. Michael Moore in Miami. Under a plea agreement, Vanoy Murillo faces up to 19 years and Zuluaga Lindo more than 17 years in prison, as well as up to $4 million each in fines. The Bush administration agreed not to seek life sentences as a precondition of their extradition.
The two are accused of conspiring to import thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the US through Mexico. Asked his level of education, Vanoy Murillo responded: “I did not attend school. I am learning to read now in prison.” Diego (Don Berna) Murillo, 47, is the only other member of the 14 extradited paramilitary commanders to have pleaded guilty. (AP, July 30)
In Colombia, the parapolítica scandal continues to claim victims. Carlos García, leader of Colombia’s National Unity Party—holding the most seats in the Senate, and allied with President Alvaro Uribe—was arrested July 25 in the city of Santa Marta. Imprisoned leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) named García as a collaborator in his home department of Tolima. García denies the charges. (Xinhua, July 25)
Paramilitary violence continues in Colombia’s countryside. Despite greater security in urban centers, the large numbers of newly displaced people are overwhelming the capacity of the government and humanitarian agencies. Along the Rio Patía in the Nariño department, fighting between the Colombian army and the New Generation paramilitary group displaced around 250 rural families to the town of Sanchez in May. After the army pulled out of Sanchez, the paramilitary went in, threatening the displaced families with having “their heads chopped off and thrown in the river” if they did not return to their communities. The Rio Patía is believed to be the graveyard of more than 1,000 local people assassinated in the last eight years. (ReliefWeb, July 30) The New Generation and Los Rastrojos paramilitary groups emerged in the region after the AUC’s Liberators of the South Bloc was officially “demobilized” in July 2005. (El País, Cali, July 31)
El Ejido, Nariño, hosts approximately 90 internally displaced families—many of which had been displaced by fighting between the FARC guerillas and paramilitaries in 2006, and have now been displaced again by three-way fighting between the FARC, paras and army. Displaced persons particularly cited the use of drone aircraft, which fire indiscriminately from the sky, often hitting civilian homes.
The displaced in El Ejido report that they have received no assistance from Acción Social, the government program designed to provide such aid. They have occupied vacant houses in town and have received no subsidies. One displaced man told Refugees International when the NGO visited El Ejido, “We’ve seen that President Uribe can fight the guerillas and the coca, but if he ignores the needs of the campesinos, his plan won’t work. We don’t want handouts, we want work.” (ReliefWeb, July 30)
See our last post on the paramilitary terror in Colombia.