Making mercenaries pay
The Miami Herald
Byline: Francisco Santos Calderon, Vice President of Colombia
Mayo 23 de 2008
Early in the morning of May 13, the government of Colombia put a number of criminals on a waiting DEA aircraft and extradited them to the United States.
These were not just any criminals. They are former members of the paramilitaries -- illegal armed groups that emerged in our country in the 1990s as mercenaries to battle other illegal armed groups claiming to be leftist revolutionary guerrillas.
The Colombian people were caught in the crossfire. Indeed, both groups showed themselves to be terrorists preying upon the innocent and vulnerable. Through drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and murder these paramilitaries and guerrillas enforced their authority and influence in many parts of our country.
Since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, he has had one overriding objective -- liberating the Colombian people from terrorists and establishing the legitimate authority of the Colombian government and armed forces throughout our nation.
This is what has become known as Democratic Security.
As part of a peace process designed to free ourselves from the grip of these criminal gangs for good, the Colombian people offered these groups a clear bargain under the Justice and Peace Law enacted in 2005: Stop your crimes now and fully confess all those you have committed in the past in complete cooperation with our justice system. Then disclose and return your assets for reparations to your victims.
In return, the Colombian people will agree to shorter prison terms and give you the opportunity to reintegrate into society.
Peace and Justice Law
To date, the Peace and Justice Law has produced good results. But there is still a long a way to go. More than 500 paramilitaries are in prison with another 2,000 going into the process. There have been confessions to more than 5,600 murders, and more than 1,400 bodies have been found in 1,200 unmarked graves because of the testimony provided during this process.
The bulk of this information has come from midlevel commanders and other lower rank members because of the simple fact that they were the ones who actually committed these crimes.
Meanwhile, the paramilitary leaders, although sitting in prison, had been playing a game of cat and mouse with Colombian authorities for too long. None of them had fully cooperated with the justice system as required. And all of them had failed to make reparations to their victims, instead concealing their assets or delaying their surrender.
This was a clear violation of the terms of the Peace and Justice Law. And since the only choice is to comply, fully and truthfully, the government exercised its legitimate authority and took steps for their immediate extradition.
There were no second chances in this bargain. No do-overs.
Trials in the United States
We have reached an agreement with the U.S. administration, that the government and people of Colombia will send representatives to these criminals' trials, that will be conducted in the United States, in order to continue the quest for the truth of the crimes they committed in Colombia. This is consistent with our firm commitment to end impunity and secure a lasting peace.
Further, we have secured judicial cooperation agreements with the United States, which will make it easier to exchange evidence between our two countries.
More important, the United States and Colombia have agreed that the assets of the individuals extradited that may be recovered by American courts will be used to make reparations to Colombian victims.
Some suggest that extradition may prevent victims from confronting their tormentors or getting the reparations that they are owed.
This is not true.
These extraditions will actually remove the pressure on those members currently in the process to keep quiet and will accelerate the rate of forthcoming truth and reparation testimonies. Those who argue otherwise haven't looked at the facts or do not understand the dynamics of the process.
We are also convinced that our decision to extradite these criminals will prevent future crimes and victims.
We understand that there can be no avoidance of accountability and reparations as a result of these extraditions. We will continue to pursue and seize all assets of these criminals to make reparations to the victims. There is an absolute commitment to that end.
This government's policies, coupled with the commitment of our brave prosecutors, judges, soldiers and police, have greatly reduced the rate of violence in Colombia and are moving us steadfastly toward the total and final overthrow of Colombia's terrorists and organized criminals.