FAR FROM pressing to uncover the truth, Colombian president Alvaro Uribe's US-backed government has hindered investigations into links between paramilitary groups and the country's political establishment, a leading human rights group has claimed.
Human Rights Watch, which has documented ties between Colombia's army and paramilitary death squads since the 1980s, says in a 140-page report that officials have made important strides in investigating the illegal, anti-guerrilla paramilitaries that terrorised this country until they were demobilised in 2006.
But the report charges Mr Uribe with trying to obstruct the inquiries, instead of supporting them as he claims in his trips to Washington. It also highlights how the president and his aides have tried to tarnish the supreme court. The court has already found ties between dozens of members of Congress and paramilitary groups.
"President Uribe's and his cabinet members' repeated verbal attacks, bizarre public accusations and personal phone calls to members of the court create an environment of intimidation," the report says. The Colombian government called the report simplistic and mistaken. It said the administration has done more than any other to dismantle a vast paramilitary network known for carrying out massacres and trafficking cocaine.
"Colombians want to completely clear up the circumstances of the violence carried out against institutions and the people by all the armed groups," it noted.
The report comes at a delicate time for Colombia, which has been aggressively lobbying for the US Congress to approve a free-trade agreement.
The rights report, Breaking the Grip? Obstacles to Justice for Paramilitary Mafias in Colombia, notes that the Uribe administration had shelved a proposal that would have allowed tainted politicians to avoid prison after it became clear the plan would hamper efforts to win the trade pact. Still, Human Rights Watch says Uribe's government blocked legislation that would have reformed Colombia's Congress to reduce the influence of paramilitary commanders. That move has allowed congressmen who are under investigation to be replaced by allies from their own tarnished parties.
The government also tried to push constitutional amendments that would have stripped the supreme court of the jurisdiction to investigate lawmakers implicated as having paramilitary ties. That proposal was tabled last Tuesday. - ( LA Times-Washington Postservice)