Loving Your Neighbor
Salvatore Mancuso and the New Laws for Negotiating with the Colombian Paramilitaries
By Laura Del Castillo Matamoros
Narco News Editorial Columnist
March 16, 2005
What depths of mercy there are in God’s justice! For, in the judgments of men, he who confesses his fault is punished: and in the Judgment of God, he is pardoned. Blessed be the holy Sacrament of Penance!
From the book The Way by Josémaría Escrivá
(Founder of Opus Dei)
Our own native, masculine version of Mary Magdalene, Salvatore Mancuso, is offended. Last Tuesday he sent a letter to the Colombian Congress. Aside from a stinging critique, Mancuso demonstrated his indignation with the legislative proposals that would give a legal framework to the peace agreements between the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in its Spanish initials) and the Colombian government.
It’s no wonder that he feels such “intense pain.” How could it be that after all he and his men have done for this country, both the executive and the legislature are treating him in such a way?
The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia have sacrificed the lives of thousands of brave combatants in pursuit of the defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, for more than 20 years. Every one of their “blocs” has contributed, since the beginning, to the projects of our glorious National Army. They have shown their solidarity with the country’s most prestigious elites for years, defending, with blood and with fire, those elites’ political and economic interests against attacks by the devil himself, personified in the social movements, non-governmental organizations, communal leaders, and other freakish monsters. The AUC have protected international investment in the country, lending their effective private security services to multinational corporations. They have expelled the guerillas from areas where the state had been unable to establish a presence. Perhaps, if not for the autodefensas, as they call themselves in Spanish, this country would now have fallen completely under the yoke of communism. It seems that these noble tasks have not received the appreciation they deserve.
But the latest events have been the saddest of all. When the autodefensas thought that they had finally achieved the dream of operating under a president that would openly recognize their work – declaring the guerrillas and the opposition to be the two greatest enemy forces – they agreed, with humility and hope, to sit down at the negotiating table with the government, beginning in mid-2003. They admitted that at times that had behaved badly (though not that badly, as in the end they were only trying to save the country) and even demobilized around 4,000 men. But in that time the conditions for the talks had been different.
Now what remains? Just an insufficient payment for the favors the government has received. Is it fair then that the government has sent a “Peace and Justice” bill to Congress for approval, in which demobilized combatants would have to hand over property – legitimately obtained as war booty thanks to the territorial expulsion of potential guerrillas (otherwise known as displaced peasants) – to the state, to be used in reparations to victims of these supposed crimes of the AUC, victims who in all probability are really subversives disguised as martyrs? Not to mention that combatants involved in insignificant crimes, like murders by dismemberment, for example, would have to serve out cruel and unusual punishments – prison sentences (!) of five to eight years. How sad! Where was the forgiveness that had been agreed upon, the atonement to society for mistakes committed that former comandante Salvatore Mancuso (who turned himself in to Colombian authorities in December 2004) mentions in his letter?
After so many years serving the country, this is simply unfair. Don’t you think so, kind readers? Isn’t it possible to have a bit of compassion here?
Those days are only a memory now… the days when Luis Carlos Restrepo, the high peace commissioner and President Uribe’s right-hand man presented a proposal to Congress, in mid-2003, best known as the “Law of alternative punishment,” which sought to suspend prison sentences for members of armed groups who, despite having committed atrocities, would hand over their guns, confess to their crimes, and help create peace. Definitely a typical gesture from our own “Doctor Tenderness.” 
Everything was going perfectly. But then the enemies of peace and reconciliation had to come and ruin the whole process. The international community (lead by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission ), the human rights organizations, and the famous victims groups all came, ready for action, saying that the commissioner’s proposal was legitimizing the AUC´s impunity before the law. What was required, they said, was a process in which the autodefensas were completely dismantled, including their logistic support networks, their capacity for intimidation, their illegal economic structures, and any possible connections with the armed forces. All of this was framed in three little concepts that have only served to hold up the process: Truth, Justice, and Reparations. Just look at the way the international community sticks its nose into ourinternal affairs! They don’t understand that, as Vice President Pacho Santos once said, in Colombia we must chose between the international community’s approval and the achievement of an effective paramilitary demobilization.
And since then, various members of Congress have presented various proposals that refer to “Truth, Justice, and Reparations,” all of which approach the absurd, the impossible, and don’t give the slightest concession to the absolution of the sins of these children of God, the members of the AUC. Fortunately, none of these proposals were accepted.
The first to enter the fray was a trio of pro-Uribe (but apparently disloyal) members of Congress, Gina Parody, Rafael Pardo, and Luis Fernando Velasco, who presented their own proposal, which subjected AUC members to prison terms of five to ten years, with the possibility of parole after serving two fifths of their sentences (what cruelty!), as well as to turn over all illicitly acquired property. Not to mention all the cases the government would need to open in order to guarantee victims’ rights to the truth, to justice, and to reparations, which would require a huge amount of state spending. All of these demands are simply “inoperable,” as the most holy of the Santos, that is, Vice President Francisco, would say. These are things that should only be demanded of the guerrillas. In the end, Interior Ministor Sabas Pretelt de la Vega was out there thanking the AUC in public for having “donated” land for a country retreat facility. Yes, there sure are some ungrateful people out there. And this proposal, to give the paramilitaries jail time as part of a demobilization process, was approved by the Democratic Pole (a leftist opposition coalition), represented by congressman Wilson Borja. Another example of the left’s bad influence.
Meanwhile, the proposal of Senator Carlos Moreno De Caro (affectionately known as “the little buffoon of Congress) was a little more lax. It reduces prison sentences in half when the accused contribute to the dismantling of the armed groups and return illegally obtained properties to their original owners. The rest of the sentence can be served doing community service. A truth, justice and reparations tribunal would also be created, but with administrative rather than legal powers. At least this way there would be a posibility that AUC members might receive a more humane deal. It was not in vain that Senator Moreno once said that “half of the country belongs to them.”
Of course, we couldn’t fail to mention that jewel of the Liberal Party’s left wing (and even more dangerous because she represents the blacks), Piedad Cordoba. Her proposal was the most insane of all. What’s more, it was contradictory: Cordoba, who always speaks against the interventionist policies of the U.S. government, ended up presenting the proposal closest to the demands of the international community. First of all, it imposes a sentence of five to thirty years, which doubtless constitutes an affront to the dignity of the demobilized autodefensas. Meanwhile, her concept of “truth” spans from the proving of crimes to revealing the identities of “the national and international promoters, sponsors, and accomplices after the fact to crimes against humanity; the disclosure of the political, economic, and social motives for such crimes; the methods of operation and illegal cover-ups; the individual or collective material and intellectual authors; who the victims were, where they lived, what they thought, how they were organized, what their ideals and cultural background were.” As if carrying out such measures wouldn’t, in the first place, just make the whole process take longer, and secondly, wouldn’t run the risk of tainting the good name of thousands of families who have contributed to building the nation as we know it today.
And that’s not to mention the lack of good sense in her demands for reparations. She wants these to be not just economic, but also political, social, and moral. And she wants to look at reparations for crime not just of the paramilitaries, but also the army and “state security agents.” Her excesses, aside from being delusional, are simply disrespectful.
Well, Piedad Córdoba and even those pro-Uribe legislators can wish for anything they want, but it is truly sad that Interior Minister Sabitas and that legendary friend of the paramilitaries himself, President Uribe, have decided to present their famous “Justice and Peace” proposal to Congress. It is as if all those friendly, whiskey-soaked meetings in Santa Fé de Ralito had been simply a waste of time, as if there had been no point to those 4,000 paramilitary men demobilizing in order to win a future Nobel peace prize for Luis Carlos Retrepo, and a re-election in 2006 for President Uribe. At least the name of the proposed law does not contain those annoying terms “truth” and “reparations” (although it does speak of returning property and confessing to crimes as a requirement for receiving a relaxed sentence). At least now the punishments will only range from five to eight years. But at least they may be able to count their stay in the special negotiating zone, Santa Fe de Ralito, as time served.
But despite all these prebends, this was not the deal that the two sides made in the beginning. Doctor Restrepo knows this better than anyone. Maybe it was because of that, because he saw such a lack of tenderness towards the autodefensas that Restrapo wanted to resign his post a month ago, although he was later seduced into staying be the secret persuasion techniques of President Uribe.
Absolution for their Sins
Without a doubt, the best proposal is the one that the recently saved Salvatore made symbolically. His letter clearly states that the new proposals should be named, rather than “Truth, Justice, and Reparations,” “Repentance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation.” Of course, it is better to put it that way, as “truth” is such an ambiguous term. Not to mention the vengeance against the AUC that could result from Congress’ proposals, as the wise Adolfo Paz, National Inspector of the autodefensas warned. According to him, reminding people of the AUC’s crimes will only bring collective “lynching” to many of the demobilized.
What’s more, says Salvatore, if one really wants to speak of the “truth,” one must take a look at what motivated the AUC to form in the first place. In that sense, according to him, one should think of the desolate fields, the thousands of cattle that have been shot, in the landed elites and businessmen who have been kidnapped, extorted, or murdered by the guerrillas. All of this would indicate that the ex-comandante’s concept of truth is much more valid, especially because it shows our boys to be the heroes that they are.
In terms of “justice,” Saint Salvatore sees this more as a question of balance. That is to say, he thinks that if the paramilitaries have committed one or another error, it is a consequence of the “collective injustice” that had occurred in rural Colombia before the rise of the AUC. Everything he has done has been for pure philanthropy, so to speak, supported by the noble contributions of ranchers, landowners and business leaders. Undoubtedly, a great example of Catholic “devotion to one’s neighbor.”
And as for “reparations,” the former comandante comes to a more than logical conclusion: that should be given, but to the AUC, not the other way around. What’s more, according to him, “there is not enough money to pay for the damages incurred by the state’s neglect and the guerrillas’ devastation” (to the properties of the big landowners and the areas occupied by multinational corporations, of course).
In that sense, above all to avoid complications, it would be best to accept Mancuso the philosopher’s proposed concepts of “Repentance, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation.” Taking them on would, in his view, be the most effective way to move toward “bringing the armed actors back to society.”
Because you will remember, kind readers, that according to the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, repentance brings forgiveness, the absolution of sins (that is, the forgetting of sins) and rebirth.
Mancuso is surly, in his heart, a man of good habits and impeccable Christian values. Because of that, I ask, with all of the respect that he deserves, that he forgive the government. It’s that the government is obliged to please the international community. What’s more, recent events make it seem that the Justice and Peace proposal, currently being discussed in Congress, will end up sinking as a consequence of the recent and justified statements from the General Command of Mancuso’s honorable organization, made in a communiqué published yesterday. The communiqué refers to the harsh penalties outlined in the government’s wrenched proposal, which guarantee no type of “legal security” and leave the door open for paramilitaries to be extradited to the U.S. Fortunately, Senator Rocío Arias, who has essentially handled the autodefensas’ public relations before Congress, is doing excellent work. In fact, she is already talking about the need to create a new proposal. She will surely take charge of its design herself, duly advised by the organization’s prestigious team of lawyers.
Just relax, ex-comandante, and have a drink with Doctor Tenderness, who in the last few days has been overwhelmed by accusations from Attorney General Edgardo Maya, who claims that the commissioner has struck deals with the AUC under the table, and that those deals have to do with the fact that in the government’s peace proposal, drug trafficking is discussed as a crime connected to the formation of armed groups. How the poor commissioner’s tender heart must suffer to be the subject of such slander!
Relax, Saint Mancuso, in the event that the proposal is approved, the government will guarantee you a pleasant stay in prison during the five years (or less) of your sentence (and that just to calm down the international community). There will surely be a cell just as luxurious as Pablo Escobar’s “Cathedral,” so that you can pass your days as a defendant in the comfort that you deserve. So, while you, ex-comandante, take that well-deserved vacation, we common Colombians will be learning to be merciful, to pardon offences committed against social leaders for trying to organize, or against the townsfolk of El Salado, of Mapiripán, of Urabá, of Ovejas, and all those towns and rural roads where your men mutilated bodies with chainsaws, raped women, tortured the elderly, and massacred children.
Now, of course, we are beginning to understand that this was all for our own good…
No need to worry, at the end of the day in Colombia, the country of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the worst criminals can always go in peace, giving thanks to the Lord…
A common nickname in Colombia for the commissioner, making referente to the book The Right to Tenderness, which he wrote long befote taking his current job, when he was still a psychiatrist.
 Part of the Mission in Support of Peace in Colombia, formed by an agreement between the Organization of American States and the Uribe administration, which the Euroean Union, U.S. Congress members, and the G24 backed, after a meeting in Cartagena on February 3.
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