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The Painful Truth in Colombia

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The big news down in South America for the last month has been the testimony of paramilitary leaders in Colombia. The country has been plagued for more than a decade by rampant paramilitary violence. Now the paramilitary leaders are describing the facts of life to their countrymen and they’re revealing direct links between the paramilitary groups and the government of President Álvaro Uribe. The St Petersburg Times offers the most detailed report on this to appear so far in a major U.S. newspaper. A snippet:

As part of a negotiated peace deal under which 32,000 irregular soldiers have turned in their rifles and uniforms, Rendon and other AUC commanders are obliged to make full confessions, as well as pay reparations to their victims. If the courts rule their confessions to be truthful, they will be eligible for reduced prison sentences, from 40 years to a maximum of eight.

The Colombian public has learned a great deal from months of unprecedented testimony by the warlords, namely that the paramilitaries had ties with politicians at the highest levels of the government, a scandal that might ultimately implicate the president himself and jeopardize billions in U.S. aid.

But for the relatives of the murdered, the simplest questions of all — like where is the body of Maria de Jesus Moreno’s son — are proving much harder to answer.

The Times gets the importance of the story to the U.S. just right. Under Plan Colombia, U.S. taxpayers have financed a resurgent Álvaro Uribe and his political plans to bring stability to Colombia. A lot of the case that Álvaro Uribe has made plays on the paramilitary’s violence – and they are accurately described as being associated with leftist guerrillas and drug kingpins (not that these categories are mutually exclusive; in fact far from it). Now the Colombian president has done a respectable job in Colombia in many regards. But he has a dark little secret: a number of the most vicious paramilitary groups have links to him and other figures in his government.

This is precisely the issue that the Democrats in Congress raised with Álvaro Uribe when he visited Washington. For their efforts they got a smack-down from the Washington Post, which accused them of “playing politics with foreign policy.” Well, it’s pretty simple. The Democratic leadership was right on the money and the Washington Post’s editorial page proved that it was very poorly informed. In fact it was WaPo that was “playing politics with foreign policy.”

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