If H.H. Goes...

Latin America and the Caribbean

In May, fifteen Colombian paramilitary leaders were extradited to the United States and charged for narco-trafficking, removing them from the Justice and Peace process in Colombia and making it very difficult for them to give testimony anytime soon about the atrocities they committed. At the time of the extraditions, human rights advocates in Colombia and in the United States urged the U.S. government to work closely with the Colombian government, in an effort to not only hold them accountable for their drug trafficking crimes in the United States, but to also create legal incentives for them to continue the process of disclosing information about the atrocities and links to government officials - a process that had just begun prior to the extraditions (and some claim were the reasons for the extraditions...that the government was concerned that too much information would be revealed about links with the paramilitaries). Almost three months have passed since the extraditions, and even Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has expressed concern that the extradited paramilitaries will not have to carry out a sentence long enough to punish them for their crimes. On Friday, at a regional anti-drug summit in Colombia, President Uribe said: "We are concerned negotiations with drug traffickers means they are given sentences that are practically indulgent, they become a mockery." Uribe's statement has created an onslaught of op-eds and articles in the international media expressing outrage that the extradited paramilitaries could potentially only face "months" in jail in return for intimate details about the drug trade. One op-ed in Colombia's El Tiempo by Daniel Samper Pizano stated:

The Colombian government fears that the extradited paramilitaries in the United States will negotiate sentences with the U.S. judges ... that would condemn them to less jail time than the Justice and Peace Law's sentences, which are already rather benevolent. The brief lockup of four to eight years that the authors of massacres would be subjected to in Colombia could turn into a few months in the United States. In exchange for what? That the 'narco-para' will reveal the intimacies of the drug trade to the judge.... The gringo judges consider combating domestic drug consumption more important that punishing the massacres that occur in distant places. As a result, paradoxically, for the 'narco-paras' the secrets they know as narcos could redeem them from the atrocious crimes they committed as 'paras'.

The United States has responded to these claims, saying that there has been a misunderstanding in regard to the length of the sentences the paramilitaries will face in U.S. jails. While U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield said that one of the extradited paramilitaries has received a 30 year sentence, he did not mention the length of the lowest sentence that has been awarded. And in response to President Uribe's request that the sentences not be shorter than the minimum of that which they would have been subjected to under the Justice and Peace process, Brownfield noted that "the (U.S.) Executive can not agree to minimum sentences" and suggested that current extradition requests be suspended until the two governments can come to some sort of an agreement. That could push back the impending extradition of former paramilitary leader Hébert Veloza García, alias 'HH,' which would at least give the Colombian Justice and Peace process more time to extract important information regarding his crimes as a paramilitary leader (see Adam Isacson's recent blog post on 'HH'). However, it does not do anything to quell the concern about the length of the sentences the 15 paramilitary leaders - who have already been extradited - will receive. It also adds more confirmation to the fear that the United States is not concerned about bringing to justice the thousands of crimes that were committed by these people when they were in Colombia. Below is a translation (thanks to intern Stephanie DiBello) of one of the recent op-eds in El Espectador, by former Colombian senator, opposition politician and regular columnist Rafael Orduz, expressing concern about the sentences the paramilitaries will receive in the United States. If "H.H." goes... By Rafael Orduz

Mr. H.H. killed more people than Al Qaeda on September 11th in New York, Washington, and Pittsburgh combined. Only in this case we are talking about Urabá, Valle, and Cauca. He will be extradited in response to charges of narcotrafficking in the context of a worthless anti-narcotics policy "Made in USA" that, ten years after "now we are going to fumigate for real", has Colombia providing more than 60% of the cocaine consumed in the world, according to data consistent in all sources, whether from the United Nations or the U.S. government. Narcotrafficking continues to be rampant, with third generation leaders, more informed and, if you will, more capillary, which is to say more decentralized. The innovation lies, perhaps, in the transport and distribution processes, in which druglords from Mexico and Venezuela participate as opportunists in the business. If H.H. goes, the pain of tens of thousands of relatives of the murdered will stay. The truth of knowing where the remains of their loved ones are located will not be bestowed upon them. There will not be justice and, of course, no reparation. They will not even have the opportunity to cope with their rage, an inevitable feeling that can either be destructive or, as happened with the Andoque, contribute to peace. How will this anger be managed? Decades ago the Andoque, inhabitants of the jungle, were victims of a brutal massacre by the danta men (In today's language that would translate to "mountain men"). At the end of the 19th century the search for rubber and the quina tree brought the beginnings of the colonization of Caquetá. In 1890 the company Arana y Vega Limitada had forcibly recruited 12,000 indigenous people, almost double the workforce of Ecopetrol. They changed the way of life of the Andoque, from harvesters to slaves. Cremations, mutilations, castrations, rapes, destruction of their habitat and customs, the murdering of 40,000 indigenous people; it wasn't until the 1930s that the Andoque somewhat successfully defended themselves with rudimentary arms. The Andoque "decided that before signing for peace, they had to vomit their rage. How does one vomit their rage?...The Andoque know that to pacify their anger is to arrive at peace. The Andoque acknowledge today, approximately a century later, a place in the jungle called Matanzas (Massacres) where 12,000 of them were exterminated ... by the boas and the danta men. They come to this place beneath the call of drums to recall as a society, to heal their pain, to remember the dead and to carry on with life". "To cry/To sob/To whine/To sigh/Sing and sing/To return to trace their steps" (Source: Esther Sánchez B., Resiliencia y cultura, principios y procedimientos de los indígenas Andoque de Colombia para vivir y crecer después del horror de la muerte). If H.H. and those like him are extradited, without revealing the location of the mass graves, their sponsors and collaborators, for many there will not be truth, justice, reparation, or a space to propel their anger in any direction other than hatred.