In Colombia, death is routine as political violence soars

The gate is open to the mansion owned by former Foreign Minister Alfredo V'azquez Carrizosa. Mr. V'azquez himself answers the door with no obvious concern that his name has appeared on a death list. ``You have to go on living,'' he says. ``You can't stay shut up inside your house.''

Death threats and death itself have become routine for those who, like V'azquez, favor opening Colombia's tightly controlled two-party system to allow in a third political party linked to leftist guerrillas. There is evidence that elements in the Army have unleashed a ``dirty war'' against the left.

Since the founding of the party in 1985, assassins have murdered more than 450 leaders of the Patriotic Union Party (UP). The most recent target was UP leader, Jaime Pardo Leal, who was killed Sunday. The country's oldest and largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), created the Patriotic Union to run candidates in last year's congressional and presidential elections. Since then, four of 14 UP congressmen have been killed. Authorities have jailed no suspects in any of the killings. But a report last month by Amnesty International accused security forces and their civilian accomplices of murdering more than 1,000 people.

Last year, Amnesty International accused authorities of complicity in 600 deaths in the first half of 1986. And former Attorney General Carlos Jim'enez said security forces had mounted a campaign of ``official violence.'' In August, the killer of a UP mayor was found with a gun permit signed by a captain in the Army's intelligence division. The captain claimed the permit was forged.

The Permanent Committee on Human Rights, lead by V'azquez, says a rising tide of political and criminal violence claimed 11,000 lives in Colombia in 1986.

There is widespread concern Colombia is on the threshold of another bloody epoch like ``La Violencia,'' when more than 200,000 people died in a decade of slaughter set off by the assassination of populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948.

In sheer numbers, street crimes, drug trafficking, and personal disputes account for more than 90 percent of current homicide victims, according to a recent government-authorized study. But V'azquez and others say the struggle for political power is at the core of the killings, just as it was during ``La Violencia.'' V'azquez calls it ``an offensive against nontraditional democratic methods'' against the leaders of the UP.

``They're talking about a series of perfectly normal reforms,'' said V'azquez, a member of the Conservative Party. ``It's a totally unjustified violence.''

The UP's main reform is the opening of Colombia's tightly controlled two-party system to accept the UP as a third contender for political power. During the last 150 years the Liberal and Conservative parties have used ballots and bullets to consolidate political power.

Former President Belisario Betancur challenged the system by beginning peace talks with the guerrillas in 1982. These peace talks led to a cease-fire between the Army and the FARC, and to the formation of the UP.

There are four main guerrilla groups in Colombia with about 6,000 armed members. The Moscow-line FARC has about two-thirds of these members. Mr. Betancur allowed the FARC to keep its weapons - a decision bitterly opposed by the Army general staff - and FARC leaders now are saying they will abandon the cease-fire if the UP killings continue.

V'azquez and others who say a dirty war is under way see great significance in the murder of revered human rights activist Dr. H'ector Abad G'omez. Abad was a Liberal Party candidate for mayor of Medellin whose appeal was widespread and nonpartisan.

Four years ago former Attorney General Jimenez linked 59 duty officers to a national death squad founded by drug traffickers, but the Defense Ministry dropped the matter. Mr. Jimenez's name was included on a recent death list.

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