June 15, 2008

Paramilitaries Threaten Canadian Embassy in Bogotá

By Micheal Ó Tuathail, 15 June, 2008

BOGOTÁ - COLOMBIA – Little more than a week after the Canadian government announced the completion of free trade talks with Colombia, that country’s national daily, El Tiempo, reports that the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles), a violent right-wing paramilitary organization, has sent threatening emails to the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá.

The threats are reported to include references to the Embassy’s granting exile to witnesses in the Colombian government’s on-going ‘para-política’ scandal, in which at least 65 Colombian Congress members are under investigation for direct links to paramilitary groups.

Twenty-nine Congress members, all supporters and close political allies of current Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, are currently behind bars for proven links with paramilitary groups over which the government is suffering a serious legitimacy crisis.

Five months ago, the Canadian Embassy – as well those of other countries – received similar threats. However, this case seems to be different, as the emails included specific references to a particular witness and his or her family.

“The information about the asylum of this family,” an inside source told El Tiempo, “was only recently collected and known only to a small group of high level Canadian officials.”

This suggests that the security of the embassy might have been breached, at least electronically.

If the past is any indication, this breach could have serious consequences. In 2002, Jairo Castillo Peralta, alias ‘Pitirri,’ was brought to Canada fleeing threats against his life. Castillo Peralta was a Colombian Supreme Court star witness in the cases of at least 6 congress members accused of paramilitary links, including the president’s cousin, Mario Uribe. Last month, Colombia’s Attorney General advised him that two assassins on tourist visas were reportedly on the way to Canada to kill him.

Colombia’s controversial Justice and Peace Law of 2005 was said to pave the way for the demobilization paramilitary groups, though human rights organizations have been especially critical.

According to Amnesty International, the Justice and Peace Law “fails to comply with international standards on victims’ right to truth, justice and reparation. It will exacerbate Colombia’s endemic problem of impunity, and risks demobilized paramilitaries being reintegrated into the armed conflict.”

Paramilitaries who demobilize receive reduced prison terms – from five to eight year terms – no matter what their crimes, which often include a combination of massacres, forced disappearances, drug trafficking, and crimes against humanity.

Contrary to the claims of Colombian officials, such as Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo, the Justice and Peace Law is not the end of the paramilitaries in Colombia. Not all have demobilized, and other groups have resurfaced, such as the Águilas Negras.

In spite of international criticism and the Colombian government’s legitimacy problem, Canada has been an avid supporter of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and official government statements have tended to overlook the on-going violence in the country. Behind the Harper administration’s allegiances to Uribe is the pursuit of the economic interests of Canadian businesses mainly in the extractive sectors, culminating in the advancement of economic partnerships through a free trade agreement.

In 2006, Canada granted asylum to 1,200 Colombians out of 1,400 applicants. Over the last 10 years, 8,000 Colombians have officially fled their country for Canada.

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