Tag Archives: Colombia

“The Judge and The General” a Celebration of Chile’s Democracy? Yes.

11 Apr

“The Judge and The General” is a documentary on the criminal investigations of human rights violations, which took place during the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet from 1973 until the early 1990s. More than recording the life-changing investigations of Conservative Judge Juan Guzman, who presided over the investigations, the documentary dramatically shows how Chilean democracy is strengthening and slowly shedding the legacy of authoritarianism.

At the individual level….

The film presents a dilemma on individual responsibility. Can an individual put aside, or transform, his or her worldview when he or she is a witness to government human rights violations?  It questions whether an individual is able and willing to stand up to the injustices committed by governments, even if the individual in question approved of such governments. Can a Chilean supportive of the Pinochet regime acknowledge human rights abuses, just like a German supportive of Hitler’s regime acknowledge the holocaust?

The protagonist of this documentary is Judge Guzman, who is an educated man and a lifelong political conservative mainly because his family belonged to Chile’s Christian Democratic Party and his father was a Chilean diplomat.  Like conservatives of the time he was influenced by the chaos of the early 1970s. Baffled by Salvador Allende’s trips to Castro’s Cuba and his socialist propositions to nationalize private industries, he believed the military led by General Augusto Pinochet was doing the “right thing” by ousting the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende from power. Today, Judge Guzman believes that he would have continued to live in a bubble protected from the truth, had he not been appointed, by lottery, to oversee the allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chilean military dictatorship. In 1998 when Judge Guzman was appointed to investigate thousands of cases, it was thought that his Christian Democratic background would be an obstacle to the investigations, but instead his loyalty to the law, the justice system, and the overwhelming evidence supporting human rights abuses led him to rule in favor of the victims. The documentary is important because its footage showcases how Judge Guzman was able to present a case against General Augusto Pinochet for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship.

The importance of the judicial process…

The film also takes the audience into the processes of the civil legal system as practiced in Chile. In this inquisitorial legal system, the judge has to use state resources to gather evidence and make a judgment on accusations facing a legal party. The inquisitorial legal system is different from the adversarial system of law as practiced in the United States. In an adversarial system, two parties, the prosecution and the defense, present and argue their cases to a judge and jury. The judge presiding over a criminal case in the United States acts like a referee between two parties, the jury decides whose argument is best, and finally the judge uses his/her discretion on the type of penalty placed on the individual. In the legal system as it exists in Chile and in many Latin American countries, the role of the judge is more powerful than in the United States because he is an investigator, a prosecutor, and a judge–based on his/her discretion and evidence, he/she decides what penalty to impose on the accused party.

Although covering the legal process may put many people to sleep, showing of the legal process is what makes this documentary interesting, because Judge Guzman with his conservative Christian Democratic background could have blocked each point of the investigation’s process, but he did not. Guzman could have dismissed charges of human rights abuses as propaganda. He could have selectively overlooked evidence pointing at human rights abuses. He could have not interviewed the families of those who had disappeared thirty years before. Even after gathering evidence of human rights abuses, he could have sentenced low-level military officers who committed acts of torture, instead of going for high-level officials who masterminded the whole oppressive operation. Why didn’t Guzman, a conservative judge, obstruct the investigation? This paradox is why the documentary is valuable for students of democratic regimes.

The film is also valuable for those of us studying countries dealing with high levels of violence, and who are trying to grapple with how truth commissions work and are organized. Whereas in Chile the state actively engaged in killing citizens based on their political beliefs, in Colombia armed social groups on the left and the right of the political spectrum have killed citizens based on their political beliefs. Civilian deaths have taken place many times with the complicit knowledge of government officials. The Colombian government under President Alvaro Uribe has attempted to implement a law called the Law of Justice and Peace, to investigate human rights abuses committed mainly by right-wing paramilitary groups such as, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) during the mid 1990s and early 2000s.  However, the judicial investigations into the crimes perpetrated by the AUC have been limited by small budgets and to date no high level AUC member has been convicted for human rights abuses.  Some high level AUC members have been extradited to the United States for illicit drug trafficking, but none have been convicted for organizing and carrying out systematic massacres throughout Colombia.

The importance of patience…

The lesson this documentary on Chile gives those of us studying Colombia is that patience is a virtue—it may take more than thirty years for the truth to be revealed and for victims of violence to receive respect and compensation for their suffering. Getting to the truth involves dealing with slow moving institutions and astute political leaders such as Augusto Pinochet. For example, before his 2000 detention in England, Chilean democratic governments failed to try him because he was a Senator for life and was protected under parliamentarian immunity.  Once in England, Pinochet avoided being judged in Spain for human rights abuses based on mental incompetence. Upon the General Augusto Pinochet’s return, Judge Juan Guzman accepted the argument posed by the victim’s lawyers to withdraw Pinochet’s immunity, and argued at the Court of Appeals that the ex-dictator should be tried in Chile. However, the court’s ruling was lukewarm. It took away Pinochet’s immunity, but held that he was mentally incapacitated to stand trial.  Still, in a moment of arrogance, Pinochet granted an interview to the television program “Maria Elvira Confronta” a news program, which airs in Miami’s the Mega 22 television network. This 2003 interview allowed Judge Juan Guzman to present the case that Pinochet was mentally fit to stand trial, and this 2006 judgment finally placed Pinochet under house arrest while he waited to be tried.

Democratizing the legal system…

The significance of the documentary is the democratization of Chile’s legal system. “The Judge and the General” highlights the success of the Chilean democratic system and the courage shown by judges and lawyers to uncover the truth. In the new democratic system the judges and lawyers were no longer reduced to mere legal secretaries, who were told to create reports and deny the writ of habeas corpus to “prisoners” that had already been killed by the state’s intelligence organizations.  In the new democratic system, judges and lawyers made their own investigations and made conclusions based on evidence. The investigations made by Judge Juan Guzman and other judges, and their courage to charge General Pinochet with fraud, torture, and murder, allowed the democratic system to remove Pinochet’s criminal immunity and place him on house arrest. Even though Pinochet died in December of 2006 without being tried, these events coupled with the election of Chile’s the first woman Prime Minister Michelle Bachelet (who was imprisoned with her mother during Pinochet’s regime and whose father was tortured and killed) had to personally affect General Augusto Pinochet, because he always thought of himself as someone above the law—an untouchable, who was an “overseer” of Chilean politics. His arrogance was constantly reflected during the documentary in his continual denial of state violence and in his final request to be cremated to avoid his tomb’s desecration.

The legal process shown in the documentary celebrates and strengthens the Chilean democracy, because it shows how the legal process became part of Chilean society, instead of remaining just a dictate given by a military dictatorship. The legal process (however slow or convoluted it may have been) was democratized, as it involved witnesses, victims, the media, lawyers, experts, officers of various courts, and overall Chile’s people even if they continue to be polarized on the topic of Pinochet and his military rule.


The Colombian Trojan Horse Was Not A Horse But A Helicopter: Ingrid Betancourt’s rescue was “A Perfect Operation”

14 Jul


Ingrid Betancourt\'s first encounter with her mother after 6 years of captivity

The clever rescue of Ingrid Betancourt on Wednesday July 2nd, 2008 marks a series of military and political successes for the Presidency of Alvaro Uribe Velez, and the most dramatic show of weakness for the organizational structure Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).  

The Colombian government rescued the most valued FARC hostages: ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American anti-narcotics contractors, and 11 members of the Colombian Military and Police Forces.  While Ingrid Betancourt and the Americans had been in captivity for about 6 years, most military and police personnel had been captive for 9 to 10 years. Besides suffering the cruel treatment of captivity (such as being held in barbed wire jails and being chained, among other deprivations) many of them haven not seen their children grow up, seen relatives pass on, or been able to study or work.  Their lives have been frozen in time. The youngest of these hostages was 18 when he was held hostage, and now he is a 28 year old man.  


FARC Hostage Conditions

FARC Hostage Conditions

The Rescue

The Colombian government’s operation tricked guerrilla commanders by using FARC deserters and intelligence operatives. They infiltrated the Oriental Bloc of the FARC, who’s chief commander is Jorge Briceño a.k.a “el Mono Jojoy”–the FARC’s head military strategist. For the rescue, Colombian military operatives delivered a fake scenario to commanders holding the hostages. FARC commanders “Cesar” and “Gafas” were given orders by operatives who impersonated the voice of FARC Commander in Chief “Alfonso Cano.” Military operatives told FARC commanders, who had held the hostages for about five years, that a humanitarian mission would transport hostages via helicopter to a safer location, so they would be able to speak to someone “important.” The infiltrators convinced FARC commanders to unite all of the key hostages in one location so that they could be transported. The FARC commanders were told two helicopters would arrive at a jungle location 70km south of San Jose del Guaviare near the Apaporis river to pick up hostages. On the day of the operation, two Russian made helicopters painted in white and red (very similar to those used by Hugo Chavez during the February mediated release of six hostages), arrived with military personnel disguised as a humanitarian commission. The “commission” had a cameraman and reporter filming the visibly annoyed hostages, who were complaining because they did not understand why they were being handcuffed by a humanitarian commission. The rescue video, filmed by a Colombian intelligence operative posing as a commission member, showed the FARC commander “Cesar” smiling and cooperating with the humanitarian mission that asked him questions. “Cesar” seemed visibly thrilled by the media attention, but during the fake media encounter, said he was not in a position give comments. Once hostages entered the helicopter, the members of the commission convinced the two FARC commanders to leave their weapons before they went in the helicopter. After the phony interview, intelligence operatives whisked the hostages away along with the two guerrilla commanders. (See video of rescue footage below). Once inside the helicopter the operatives violently neutralized the two guerrilla commanders and told hostages they represented the Colombian military and that they were LIBERATED. 


The Weakening of the FARC’s Organizational Structure

Ingrid Betancourt and most of the hostages praying the "Our Father" right after the rescue (Cambio photograph)

Ingrid Betancourt and most of the hostages praying the "Our Father" right after the rescue (Cambio photograph)

This incredible operative produced no bloodshed and ingeniously took advantage of the precipitated weakening of the FARC’s organizational structure. Colombian counter-insurgent efforts have focused on debilitating the military strongholds of the FARC throughout Colombia. They have been ongoing since President Alvaro Uribe Velez established his Seguridad Democratica (Democratic Security) policy. These military measures have gradually resulted in lowered political kidnappings, in a retreat of the FARC to remote jungle areas, and in mayor desertions. 


Raul Reyes FARC 2nd in Command Killed March 1st, 2008


However, the recent blows to the Secretariat of the FARC and the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages are the most significant signs of disarray within the FARC organization. On March 1st the government attacked a clandestine FARC base two kilometers within the Ecuadorian territory. This operative killed FARC second in command “Raul Reyes,” apprehended other guerrillas, and obtained Reyes’ computer. Reyes was a key actor: the FARC’s key international representative, the head of the political wing of the FARC, and the FARC’s second in command. Reyes’ computer revealed the FARC’s international and national links, and most probably contains strategic information of the FARC’s organization.  


The Colombian attack essentially used the “Bush Doctrine,” where a state unilaterally attacks another based on a potential terrorist threat. In the case of U.S. vs. Iraq the threat was the potential existence of weapons of mass destruction. In the case of Colombia vs. Ecuador the treat was the harboring of terrorists, which would allow guerrillas to recoup for war. The Bush Doctrine is a risky military option for statesmen, because the evidence of a threat can be unfounded. In the case of the U.S. vs. Iraq weapons of mass destruction (the threat for going to war) were never found, and now the U.S. government is embroiled in a murky civil conflict. In the case of Colombia vs. Ecuador plenty of evidence showed that for years the FARC used Ecuadorian territory as an area of rest and recreation and for safekeeping hostages. For the Colombian government obtaining Raul Reyes’ computer was just like adding “icing on a cake,” because it officially revealed evidence of the FARC’s international links. 


The “Bush Doctrine” is controversial, because it violates the notion of going to war based only on the premise of self-defense. The Colombian attack was illegal according to international law, because it unilaterally attacked Ecuadorian territory based on suspicions that Ecuador was harboring terrorists.  This attack also created a diplomatic crisis, which had Venezuelan and Ecuadorian leaders threatening to go to war, based on the notion of coalition defense. However, the evidence provided by Raul Reyes’ computer showed strong ties between the FARC and the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments, which in the post-9-11 era was cleverly used by Colombian diplomats at the Organization of American States (OAS) to demonstrate that these two governments were harboring terrorists. Colombian arguments were also supported by: the video of the well-established FARC camp within Ecuadorian territory, evidence found on Raul Reyes’ computer, and by the declarations of Venezuelan diplomatic emissaries like Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, which illustrated the level of political backing the Venezuelan government was giving the FARC. OAS member states backed the Colombian government, but required that Colombia apologize for the event.


The second blow to the FARC’s secretariat was the death of Commander in Chief “Manuel Marulanda Velez” a.k.a tirofijo on March 26, 2008. He was a founding member and their charismatic leader for more than 40 years. Although structurally this may not have been such a blow because the FARC had defined lines of succession, this death was a blow to the morale of the FARC, as Marulanda died in retreat, apparently after shooting some members of his personal security because they tried to kill him.  A key detail, which was also important, was that the government reported Marulanda’s death before the FARC did in May, and the FARC Secretariat confirmed government reports.  The FARC’s reactive acknowledgement of Marulanda’s death shows the Secretariat lacks decisiveness in moments of crisis, probably due to the reorganization the FARC has had to undergo since it lost its top two leaders in one month. 


Manuel Marulanda Velez "Tirofijo" Now Deceased & Jorge Briceño "Mono Jojoy" Current Head of FARC Military Wing

Manuel Marulanda Velez "Tirofijo" Now Deceased & Jorge Briceño "Mono Jojoy" Current Head of FARC Military Wing


Finally, in June alias “Karina” surrendered in a remote mountainous region near Nariño, Antioquia. Karina was one of the most vicious commanders of the FARC and was usually sent to “colonize” hostile territories. Her declarations on the futily of war have been honest critiques of the FARC’s political objectives. According to her declarations, she had not been in charge of the 47th Front of the FARC for over a year. The demobilization of FARC combatants has also showed that the FARC is no longer a career option for many disenfranchised youth. The use of monetary rewards designed to trigger troop betrayals to the FARC’s leadership, has weakened the loyalty of the security rings surrounding Secretariat members. Just the 7th of March another member of the Secretariat, “Ivan Rios,” was killed by his own security. The assassination was gruesome; he was killed while sleeping and his right hand was cut-off to provide proof of death in exchange for a USD$2 million dollar reward.


At center is "Karina" FARC's bloodiest female commanders on the day of her surrender

At center is "Karina" FARC's bloodiest female commanders on the day of her surrender


The combination of factors such as: of the use of bombardments to force the FARC’s retreat, the deaths of three members of the FARC’s Secretariat (tiro fijo, “Raul Reyes” and “Ivan Rios”), the appropriation of Reyes’ computer, the use of monetary rewards, and demobilizations, have weakened the organization. The FARC has had to: change leadership, reorganize their troops throughout the country, decrease its ability to communicate with other fronts and blocs, and decrease the ability to readily fund and provide foodstuffs for its fronts and blocs. All of these destabilizing events, have weakened the FARC and have led to the success of Operation “Jaque,” which rescued Ingrid Betancourt and the 14 other hostages. Moreover, the recent hostage rescue has weakened FARC ties with friendly governments like Venezuela and Ecuador, and has increased its negative image internationally (especially in Europe). Holding hostages to obtain political recognition has become counterproductive for the FARC’s image abroad, because they cannot be seen as liberators when they hold people in chains. 

Although, Uribe’s Securidad Democratica policy has been criticized because of its focused attack on leftist insurgents, Uribe has shown an ability to attack right-wing paramilitaries as well. On May 14th, 2008 Uribe extradited 14 of the most powerful paramilitaries to the United States. Paramilitary leaders were reluctant to cooperate with authorities by acknowledging thousands of human rights violations perpetrated from the early 1990s until 2004, when the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombian (AUC) demobilized. These AUC leaders never thought they would touch U.S. territory and thought they would serve eight-year sentences. With the paramilitary extradition, Uribe strengthened the capacity of the state to assert its power, not only over the armed left, but also over the armed right.

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) Paramilitaries Extradited to the United States on Drug Charges

Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) Paramilitaries Extradited to the United States on Drug Charges


member of EPL, Medellin Cartel, PEPES, and finally a member of the AUC

'Don Berna' famous paramilitary with a violent track record:member of EPL, Medellin Cartel, PEPES, and finally a member of the AUC

Even though the state capacity to monopolize the use of force has been strengthened in Colombia during this presidency, much work still needs to be done such as: the release of about 700 Colombian hostages still under FARC control; the establishment of truth commissions for the discovery of the thousands of remains of victims that fell prey to political massacres (perpetrated mostly by paramilitary, but also by insurgent groups); the continued increase of durable state presence throughout the Colombian territory to establish rule of law; the eradication of armed social movements like emergent paramilitary forces, but also of guerrilla organizations; the protection and freedom of the press; the end to corruption (as most visibly practiced by the mayor of Cartagena); and the restoration of land to 3 million Colombians that have been unjustly displaced by political violence. These problems are no “short order,” to say the least.

Internally Displaced Persons in Major Colombian Cities

Internally Displaced Persons in Major Colombian Cities

On July 20th, 2008 Colombia’s Independence Day, Colombians will be marching to celebrate the happy liberation of these hostages and to demand the FARC’s unilateral liberation of those still in captivity. It is hoped that many marchers will also rally for long lasting JUSTICE & PEACE.

As Reggae Star Peter Tosh’s song says…

Everyone is crying out for peace yes, none is crying out for justice

Everyone is crying out for peace yes, none is crying out for justice

I don’t want no peace without Equal Rights and Justice