Colombian Government Is Ensnared in a Paramilitary Scandal
Date: Tuesday, January 23 2007
By SIMON ROMERO
Published: January 21, 2007
BOGOTÁ, Colombia, Jan. 20 — The government of President Álvaro Uribe, the largest recipient of American aid outside the Middle East, has found itself ensnared in a widening scandal as revelations surface of a secret alliance between some of the president’s most prominent political supporters and paramilitary death squads.
Testimony this week from Salvatore Mancuso, a former paramilitary commander who admitted to orchestrating the killing of more than 300 people, as well as a document made public on Friday implicating more than a dozen politicians in the pact with paramilitaries, have injected fresh detail into a slow-burning scandal that has caused Colombia’s elite political class to shudder in recent weeks.
Senior members of Mr. Uribe’s government and Mr. Uribe himself have said that anyone shown to have had illegal ties to the paramilitaries, which terrorized Colombian cities and the countryside in the nation’s internal war, which has gone on for decades, and made fortunes in cocaine trafficking, should be prosecuted in courts of law.
The scandal has already touched Mr. Uribe’s cabinet, with Senator Álvaro Araújo, the brother of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araújo, under investigation for collaborating with militias.
“If there’s someone involved at the highest level, they will be fired,” Francisco Santos, Colombia’s vice president, said in an interview. “Scrutiny is fine for us,” Mr. Santos said. “This country needs to know the whole truth.”
Some of the details coming to light about the breadth of paramilitary activities are the result of a process set in motion by Mr. Uribe’s own government, which has allowed paramilitary leaders to confess their crimes and pay reparations in exchange for reduced sentences of no more than eight years in prison.
Though some militia leaders have balked at the deal, much of Colombia has been gripped by the first such confession, that of Mr. Mancuso, a cattleman who helped found the paramilitary movement in the 1980s in an effort to combat leftist guerrillas.