Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 21, 2005; Page A21
But the demobilization program, based on a new law, has aroused intense criticism from human rights groups, U.S. politicians and others. The critics say the incentives in the law will allow some of the country's most dangerous criminals to escape justice through lightened penalties and legal loopholes that could protect them from extradition. They say the government of President Alvaro Uribe, while well-intentioned, is being manipulated by international terrorists.
"The law doesn't really make an effort to dismantle these groups," said Cesar Gaviria, who was Colombia's president from 1990 to 1994 and now heads an opposition political party. "They will still have their full economic power, their political power, and they will be pardoned for everything they did."
The Uribe government hopes the law, passed last month, will prompt as many as 20,000 paramilitary members to lay down their guns and reenter legitimate society after years of battling Marxist rebels, often in concert with the Colombian army, killing thousands of peasants, assassinating politicians and financing their operations through the drug trade. The right-wing paramilitary groups were formed in the 1980s by large landowners and drug cartels to protect their interests from leftist guerrillas.
The U.S. government considers Uribe one of its closest allies in Latin America, and it has provided about $3.5 billion in foreign aid since 2000 to fight Colombia's illegal drug industry, responsible for as much as 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States, according to U.S. government figures. U.S. officials expect to partially foot the bill for the mass demobilization effort, but last month, the Senate passed a measure that would prevent U.S. assistance if the new law's perceived shortcomings were not addressed.
The law requires prosecutors to bring charges within 36 hours after receiving statements of confession, and it limits investigations of crimes to 60 days. It also requires that criminals be charged in Colombia if they confess to crimes committed there. Human rights groups say that only those fearing extradition will admit to crimes, simply to take advantage of light sentences and to avoid punishment in the United States.
Paramilitary groups are believed responsible for 12,999 killings since 1996, according to a report this year from the Colombian Commission of Jurists. They are also believed to control about half the cocaine reaching the United States.
"Commanders convicted of atrocities or other serious crimes, such as drug trafficking, will get away with sentences little longer than two years, probably in agricultural colonies," a highly critical report from the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch stated recently.
The U.S. government has been generally supportive of the law, maintaining that Colombia should be given the freedom to pursue its own solutions to end 40 years of civil strife. U.S. diplomats have been reluctant to criticize the law directly, but they have called on the Colombians to limit concessions for the most serious crimes.
Problem: Mass-murdering terrorist organizations flood the US with cheap cocaine and heroin.
Solution: Extradite Marc Emery for selling pot seeds.
And to top off the irony, some of the murderers plan to seek asylum in Canada.
Canadians Reject Extradition in Marijuana Case
August 20, 2005
(Angus Reid Global Scan) – Many adults in Canada believe Marc Emery should not face trial in the United States, according to a poll by The Strategic Counsel released by CTV and the Globe and Mail. 58 per cent of respondents oppose the extradition of the Canadian citizen on drug charges.