SEMANA/Justice | 12/2/2008 12:00:00 AM
Colombia’s parapolitics revival
New arrests of important political leaders show that the judicial process is alive and well in the Supreme Court and in the prosecutor general’s office.
However, last week justice got a second wind. On one side, the Supreme Court sentenced Senators Reginaldo Montes and Juan Manuel López Cabrales, both signers of the Pacto de Ralito, in which paramilitary leaders and several politicians from the Caribbean Coast committed themselves in 2001 to “refounding the fatherland” and creating a “new social pact.”
At the same time, the Fiscalía captured former Senator Luis Alberto Gil, the main leader of the Convergencia Ciudadana political party. They also called to trial two former representatives of the House of Representatives from that same party, José Manuel Herrera and Alfonso Riaño, as well as the former governor of the Santander department, the retired official from the National Police Hugo Aguilar.
Both the Court and Fiscalía decisions are momentous because there had been an enormous expectation regarding both cases. At the end, the message from the judiciary is clear: paramilitary alliances cannot be seen as excusable sins of politicians who are nothing more and nothing less than representatives of Colombia’s institutions.
With a decision last week, the Supreme Court of Justice resolved one of the most difficult cases it has ever faced: that of Juan Manuel López Cabrales. This well-known Liberal Party leader from the department of Córdoba is one of the few investigated congress people who does not belong to the government coalition, but rather to the opposition. The court sentenced him to 74 months in jail for conspiracy to commit a crime. This is despite the fact that López had been a harsh critic of the paramilitaries and that he had tried to show that he went to the meeting in Ralito under coercion and to plead for his life, because Salvatore Mancuso, one of the leaders of the main paramilitary organization, the AUC, had declared him as a military objective. Nevertheless, his later actions by signing the pact incriminate him.
This is revealed by the fact that on the one hand he kept the pact secret, and above all the requirement by the paramilitaries’ expansionist intent and the demonstrated fact that during the time that his brother Libardo López was governor in Córdoba, Manuel Troncoso, Salvatore Mancuso’s brother in law, worked in the health department. Although deep down López Cabrales did not want to have links with the paramilitaries, he ended up accepting their requests and in this way helped to consolidate the criminal power of those groups. The court did not lessen López’ penalties, because its sees its job a judging acts and not the intentions of the congress people. Additionally, the court concluded that although López had differences with Mancuso, he enjoyed good relations with the “Casa Castaño,” the part of the AUC that was controlled by the Castaño brothers. That is, his problems were just with one sector of the paramilitaries.
The court made a similar analysis about Reginaldo Montes, who was sentenced to 72 months in prison, who was said to have signed the Pacto de Ralito under coercion and fearing for his life in the case of not doing so. The court considered it unacceptable that the congressman maintained the pact secret, that he didn’t request protection from the national authorities, and that later the congressman had other meetings with paramilitaries in the town of Canalete where they had made new political pacts. All of that, according to the judges, contributed to consolidate the overall paramilitary project.
It is worth highlighting that the court has always valued as very serious the signature of the Pacto de Ralito. For the court, a plot to “refound the fatherland” puts the security of the country and the government in serious risk. But this consideration does not mean that the mere attendance or signature converts itself into being accomplices. The court, for example, absolved José de los Santos Negrete when he proved that in his case the signature of the pact did not have benefitting consequences neither for him nor for the paramilitaries, and that his presence there was practically incidental.
The other case that was accelerated last week was the one advanced against former Senator Luis Alberto Gil and several more members of Convergencia Ciudadana, which had been at a standstill for almost a year. Suspicions about Fiscalía inaction began to circulate, and there was a fear that the statute of limitations would expire- like what had happened in other cases – and that the process would fail because of that reason. Regardless, almost a month ago the Prosecutor General Mario Iguarán changed the course of the unit assigned to the Supreme Court in the investigation of the congress people. He removed the questioned officials, and that is how the process got Gil unstuck and the arrest of Gil and his allies occurred.
The Gil case is very important because it opens the doors to understanding everything that occurred in Santander department and in the Magdalena Medio region. Convergencia Ciudadana is a movement that has grown like none other in the last few years because of its very questionable links with the health business sector. The hegemony in certain areas was achieved, it seems, thanks to electoral, economic and bureaucratic pacts with the paramilitary Bloque Central Bolívar. The proof against Gil includes several meetings with Ernesto Báez and Julián Bolívar (paramilitary leaders), and letters in which they account for electoral results to paramilitary leaders.
In any case, while some are captured, others are beginning to regain their freedom because they have served their time, as happened last week with former Senator Dieb Maloof. The question is if those who enjoy their freedom again have truly seen their political power - which was built in alliance with war criminals - diminished or if they will return home to retake the helm of local politics, where mafia ingredients are still strong.