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Published on May 30th, 2007 | by Ian Brown

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Paramilitary groups a dangerous, influential force in Colombia

In early May, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote a letter to Colombian President álvaro Uribe, explaining that “Colombian paramilitaries pose a grave threat to Colombia’s democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.”

This week, there is proof that some of Colombia’s most influential leaders in politics, business, and the military assisted with the creation of an anti-guerrilla movement “that operated with impunity, killed civilians and shipped cocaine to U.S. cities,” according to the Washington Post.

Although human rights groups have long alleged that Colombian leaders have supported paramilitaries, it was recently confirmed by several top paramilitary commanders in recent days, one even remarking to the Washington Post that “paramilitarism was state policy.” These commanders named army generals, entrepreneurs, foreign companies and politicians who worked hand in hand with fighters and bankrolled their operations.  Salvatore Mancuso, now incarcerated, testified before special tribunal that Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole paid paramilitary forces over the last several years.  Chiquita has agreed to pay a $25 million fine.

Ivan Duque, a strategist for the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary organization, stated that the AUC had alliances with influential people in every region they were located. He estimates that the AUC alone had 17,000 armed fighters and over 10,000 other associates.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), another paramilitary group, kidnapped former presidential candidate Ingrid Betacourt in 2002.  An escaped prisoner told the Associated Press she is chained by the neck in a cell earlier this month. FARC is also responsible for kidnapping a Swedish citizen, Erin Larson, who was working on a hydroelectric damn in Cordoba province.  This also occurred this month.

Colombia’s paramilitary movement began in the mid 1900’s to counter a growing Marxist guerilla force. It became an irregular army that funded its operations with cocaine trafficking. These groups have since been responsible for massacres and assassinations. The attorney general’s office estimates that 10,000 people were killed by paramilitary fighters from the mid-1990s until present. The AUC and FARC are on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations.

More on the activities of these organizations as stories develop. For more information, please see:

Colombia: Companies Paid Paramilitaries” United Press International: http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2007/05/18/colombia_companies_paid_paramilitaries/9942/. 18 May 2007

“Colombia: Paramilitaries’ Power Threatens Democracy” Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/02/colomb15834.htm. 2 May 2007

“Paramilitary Ties to Elite in Colombia are Detailed” Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/21/AR2007052101672.html. 22 May 2007

“Betancourt held ‘chained by neck’” CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/05/19/Colombia.betancourt.ap/index.html.
19 May 2007

“Colombia Rebels Kidnap Swedish Citizen” CNN:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/05/18/colombia.kidnapping.reut/index.html 18 May 2007

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