COLOMBIA: Central Bolivar paramilitary demobilization controversial

16 September 2005

COLOMBIA: Central Bolivar paramilitary demobilization controversial

by Irene Erin Kindy

"If I get a house and the financial support to step back into society it
sounds good to me," commented a paramilitary foot soldier of the Central
Bolivar paramilitary organization (BCB) while seated near the La Florida
school over a week ago. He was telling someone on our team his perspective
on the demobilization process that his paramilitary organization has begun
with the Colombian government.

The BCB is one of the paramilitary organizations in dialogue with the
Colombian government about disarmament. Colombian President Uribe made
demobilization a key component of his platform while campaigning in 2002,
and the process of demobilization began in 2003. The newly passed Colombian
Justice and Peace law provides the legal framework to work out the details
for the disarming of combatants. Critics say the law does not provide
adequate consequences for perpetrators of atrocious crimes nor sufficient
reparation to victims.

Some citizens view demobilization as a step toward ending one part of the
longstanding Colombian conflict. However, the talks have generated a
great deal of controversy. Some believe that government is using the talks
to allow paramilitary consolidation of political control. They do not
forget that during the time President Uribe was governor of Antioquia,
paramilitary strength in that department (province) grew dramatically.

In the department of Santander, where the BCB is strong, eighty-three out of
eighty-seven municipalities--including Barrancabermeja where CPT is
based--are controlled by paramilitaries. Presently, the disarmament of the
BCB is scheduled to take place at the end of September in this area.
Demobilizing then would allow ex-paramilitaries to run for political office
in the upcoming elections. The demobilization would thus play into the
paramilitaries' desire to legalize their operations with few consequences.

The reintegration of former combatants into civilian society is another
challenge of demobilization. "I told my boyhood friend it was too risky for
us to see each other now," said a rural development worker speaking of a
recently demobilized paramilitary. "If all the groups [both paramilitary
and guerrilla] would disarm at once then things could move forward," he

For now, many people are reserving final judgment until they see results
from the paramilitary demobilizations that have already taken place in
various regions of Colombia.