Colombia: Ties to Paramilitary Groups Lead to Arrest of More Congressmembers, Foreign Relations Minister Resigns

Article excerpt

Colombia's "parapolitica" scandal linking top government officials to right-wing paramilitary groups led to more arrest orders for members of Congress in February and the resignation of embattled Foreign Relations Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo as her brother faced arrest. Additionally, the former head of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) Jorge Noguera went to jail for allegedly giving a list of assassination targets to paramilitary death squads. The parapolitica or "paragate" scandal, as the Colombian press has described it, buffeted the administration of President Alvaro Uribe and may have implications for US funding directed toward the Colombian military and government.

Foreign relations minister's brother Sen. Araujo arrested

Maria Consuelo Araujo had been under fire since revelations emerged that she and her brother Sen. Alvaro Araujo had met with the nation's top prosecutor. The senator then faced allegations that he had previously undisclosed contacts with top paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar, also known as Jorge 40 (see NotiSur, 2006-12-01). On Feb. 15, the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) ordered the senator's detention for paramilitary links, making him the highest-ranking arrestee in the scandal so far. Three other lawmakers had been detained in November.

Right-wing armed groups are accused of drug trafficking and massacres and have been involved in a long-running conflict with state forces and left-wing rebel forces while tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting. Allegations of deep ties between the militias and top military and government officials have been long-recurring facets of Colombian politics.

Araujo said she had informed President Uribe of her decision on Feb. 18. Uribe had defended his foreign minister, saying Araujo should remain in the post because she "had nothing to do with the crimes being investigated."

Sen. Araujo's arrest on charges of colluding with the illegal paramilitaries and orchestrating the kidnapping of a political rival came along with arrest orders for five other members of the congressional coalition that backs the government.

The CSJ also recommended that prosecutors investigate Araujo's father--a regional power broker in northern Colombia who has served as agriculture minister, senator, and governor--for the same crimes as the senator. Some of the evidence against the politicians came from a laptop belonging to Jorge 40.

The outgoing foreign minister told the press, "I'm leaving because I am not tied to any charge. I see clearly that the judicial process must be free of any interference. The certainty of my father's and my brother's innocence obliges me to leave to have the freedom to be at their side to support them as a daughter and a sister."

"It was unsustainable, it was politically and ethically impossible, especially after the criticism voiced over the weekend," said Dario Arizmendi, news director on Caracol Radio, after the announcement that Araujo was resigning.

The detained legislators are accused of undermining public security through their close ties with paramilitary groups that, through violence, are able to "influence the administration of justice so that it does not operate with the efficiency that society demands of it," according to the CSJ resolution first quoted on television Feb. 16 and published Feb. 18 in Colombian newspapers.

The resolution was made public the same day that CSJ magistrate and former chief justice Yesid Ramirez received a death threat. Since the CSJ began to investigate links between politicians and the paramilitaries last year, the court decided that all of its statements and resolutions would be signed by all nine magistrates to safeguard its members.

Will scandal affect US funding for Colombian military?

Observers reporting to the BBC said Maria Araujo's resignation dealt another blow to a president already under pressure because of his allies' ties to paramilitaries. …