Paramilitary Influence Scandal Rocks Colombian Politics

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — In recent weeks, the biggest political scandal yet to confront the Uribe government has been grimly unfolding in Colombia.

Three senators and one congresswoman have been purged from office. They have been arrested for alleged conspiracy and links with former paramilitary groups.

Worst still, a former governor has been charged for masterminding the murder of a mayor and the former director of DAS (Colombia’s secret police) is also accused of collaborating closely with paramilitary groups.

The details of how members of congress and the paramilitaries worked in close partnership have been revealed in the computer archives of the notorious ex-paramilitary chief, known as, ‘Jorge 40.’ Demobilized paramilitaries are also starting to whistle blow and confess the cozy relationships they enjoyed with members of congress.

The computer archives list in staggering detail meetings between paramilitaries and politicians and money exchanged between the two sides. It reveals how paramilitary groups bankrolled elections campaigns of candidates they deemed suitable, bought votes and intimidated local communities to vote according to their wishes.

It shows how paramilitary groups operated like a mafia in local towns and had an efficient and extensive system of unofficial taxes, known locally as vacunas (vaccines). They charged owners of small businesses around $10 a month and even street vendors did not escape their reach. Land owners were charged more.

What this scandal shows if that is was almost impossible to hold and exercise a political office and get elected to local, and even national, government without the expressed permission of paramilitary chiefs particularly in the provinces of Sucre and Cordoba, northern Colombia.

This week it was revealed that an extraordinary meeting was held where politicians were told by the paramilitaries to sign a document which guaranteed their loyalty to the paramilitary groups.

Former paramilitary chief commander Salvatore Mancuso once boasted that his organization controlled 35 percent of Colombia’s congressional representatives. It now appears that this was more than just mere bravado.

The arrest of four members of congress is just the tip of the iceberg. Every day the list of politicians implicated with paramilitary groups grows larger. Once the paramilitaries had their own black list of targets, now the politicians who implicitly conspired with them find themselves on black lists as they wait the ruling of the country’s supreme court of justice to decide their fate.

Some members of congress are calling this scandal a witch-hunt. But the question remains, will this scandal tumble the President himself? Some observers are not ruling out the possibility.

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