Paramilitary Law Cements Colombia's Double Standard

Any pretense that the U.S. and Colombian governments were cooperating in a real war on cocaine trafficking in Colombia was erased completely last week when the Colombian Congress passed the Orwellian "Justice and Peace Law" which allows paramilitary leaders implicated in drug trafficking to get off with a slap on the wrist, hold on to their wealth, maintain their terror networks, and escape extradition by making vague confessions and accepting light prison sentences. This despite the fact that the Uribe administration's own study on demobilization, prepared in secret two years ago, concluded that paramilitaries are responsible for at least 40 percent of the cocaine trafficking in Colombia.  

The law was backed by the Bush administration and U.S. Ambassador William Wood, despite the fact that the Justice Department has a number of extradition requests pending for paramilitary leaders implicated in smuggling cocaine to the U.S.

In an unusually good piece, Juan Forero reported Friday in the New York Times that under the new law:

-- Paramilitary commanders can confess to drug trafficking and receive light jail sentences of as little as 22 months even if they are convicted (an unlikely prospect given the track record of Colombia's judiciary and the power of the paras to threaten prosecutors and judges.)  They would then be protected from extradition to the US on drug charges because extradition would constitute double jeopardy under Colombian law.

-- "Paramilitarism" is classified as a "political crime" as are all "related crimes" making it impossible for any paramilitary commander to be extradited under the Colombian Constitution.

-- Commanders don't have to guarantee that their fighters will disarm and don't have to disclose details of their operations or finances -- a provision which even U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Dick Lugar says “would leave intact the complex mafia-like structures."

The Justice Department has been making much of its recent request for the extradition of paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo -- this law allows the Justice Department to simply throw up its hands and say that it tried to crack down on paramilitary drug trafficking, but the Colombian peace process made it impossible to obtain extraditions.

The hypocrisy and cynicism of this posture is made clear by the fact that last January, in the same week that FARC commander Simon Trinidad was extradited to the U.S. on questionable cocaine trafficking charges, paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, who is deeply involved in cocaine trafficking, appeared in public with U.S. Embassy officials at a "disarmament" ceremony.
Now that double standard is cemented in law -- guerillas get extradited, paramilitaries don't.

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About Sean Donahue

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Sean Donahue is a poet, healer, activist, and freelance journalist wandering through New England.