Death Squads Seek Negotiations
COLOMBIA: RIGHT-WING VIOLENCE
PUERTO BOYACA, COLOMBIA
THEIR leaders say they are self-defense groups formed to fight Colombia's leftist guerrillas. But human rights activists and some government officials say they are really death squads financed by drug traffickers. Government officials accuse some members of the groups of perpetrating some of the worst massacres and other political violence in Colombia's recent history.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, the extreme rightist groups based in the Central Magdalena River region have offered to lay down their weapons. Woven into their peace rhetoric, however, are calls for increased military presence in the zone and suggestions that the government should grant amenesty to citizens accused of committing atrocities.
``We want the government to know that we are neither assassins nor drug traffickers,'' says Puerto Boyaca Mayor Gustavo Londono. ``We are proud residents of the anti-subversive capital of Colombia.''
Mr. Londono and other representatives claim to be speaking, not about death squads, but about self-defense organizations, which have completed their mission of ridding the zone of leftist guerrillas and their sympathizers.
And the administration of President Virgilio Barco is apparently listening to their proposals. Interior Minister Horacio Berpa told El Tiempo newspaper last week that ``accepting the offer of self-defense groups not linked to common crime is an important step toward national harmony.''
Some human rights observers, however, see a Trojan horse in the making. They express fears that the government's eagerness to see the groups disarm may lead it to disregard atrocities committed by fanatical members.
``If the government accepts the disarmament proposal, it could generate a tendency to drop official charges against paramilitary squad members accused of mass killings,'' says Gustavo Gallon, a Bogot'a lawyer and human rights investigator.
Minister Berpa, however, said in the El Tiempo interview that the government has no intention of forgiving massacres such as the murder of 20 peasants in 1988 in the Uraba region of northern Colombia.
After carrying out an investigation into the massacre, the country's secret police accused Luis Rubio, then mayor of Puerto Boyaca, and two of the town's citizens, Gonzalo P'erez and his son Henry, of being its masterminds.
The suspects were all officials in Acdegam, a self-described association of cattle ranchers that officials say directs the region's paramilitary groups. A judge issued arrest warrants for the men, as well as for several military officials and two Medell'in cartel leaders implicated in the massacre.
But the town's mayor, Londono, says the suspects are honest citizens who fought valiantly against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the rebel group that dominated the region until 1983, when the self-defense forces were formed.
Londono, also a member of Acdegam, says the so-called self-defense groups want peace more than anyone. ``After they lay down their arms, the government will no longer be able to blame them for every massacre committed in the country,'' he says.
Ivan Duque, a Liberal Party Deputy Senator from Puerto Boyaca and the former head of Acdegam, says leftists in the Congress and the courts conspired to bring false charges against ``defenders of our nation.''