The Colombian guerrilla leadership defines its strategy as the "combination of forms of struggle." The most obvious form is its military might, which is financed by narcotrafficking, kidnappings and extortion. But it also has a political front, from which it has launched a psychological and judicial war that turns "human rights" into a weapon.
To do this, the guerrillas use non-governmental organizations of like ideological inspiration, which work to drown military officers in paper. The accusers produce anonymous witnesses and force accused officers to attend inquiries and depositions as they rack up huge legal bills. All of this is highly demoralizing for the armed forces, which are currently responding to more than 3,000 cases. The guerrillas' political arm also works to prevent the
enactment of more effective laws against subversive actions, and infiltrates the judicial system-specifically, the prosecutor's and public defender's offices, and to a lesser extent the government oversight office.
There are three major NGOs in Colombia, which supply most of the international community's information on human rights. None of them are politically neutral. Yet, despite this fact, few have questioned the reliability of their accusations of human rights violations or the statistics they wield.
The first, E1 Centro de Investigaciones y Educacion Popular (Cinep), is financed by the Jesuits and made up of priests devoted to liberation theology, for whom poverty legitimizes revolution. In its promotional brochure, Cinep declares that it "combines elements of Scientific Socialism with elements of Associative Socialism". "Scientific socialism" is the ideology of communists worldwide, including the leadership of the Colombian guerrillas.
The second NGO, the Comision Colombiana de Juristas, is comprised of lawyers close to the Colombian Communist Party. It belongs to a group of Latin American and Caribbean NGOs who, in the Quito Declaration of May 1993, asked that "the adjective of terrorism not be used to describe acts of rebellion by people against their governments." "Rebellion" is pre-cisely what Colombian guerrillas use to justify their methods -assaults, kidnappings, bombs, murder and mine fields. This NGO, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, is also a consultant to the United Nations.
Justicia y Paz, the third NGO, is directed by a priest, Javier Giraldo Moreno, and travels the same road.
A good example of the problems facing Colombia with regard to reporting on human rights occurred in the town of Car-men de Chucuri. The case has been stud-ied in detail by three Colombian journalists -Manuel Vicente Pena Juan Carlos Pastrana (brother of the president) and me.
E1 Carmen de Chucuri was under the absolute control of the guerrilla group ELN for 30 years. The current ELN chief, Gabino, was born there. My friend and schoolmate, the guerrilla priest Camilo Torres, died there in combat. For three decades the townsfolk gave their children to the guerrillas, worked for them for free one day each week, and underwent in-tense indoctrination. One day, a young captain named German Pataquiva arrived at Carmen de Chucuri to lead the town's small garrison. Shortly after his arrival, Mr. Pataquiva learned that he was in enemy territory.
Nobody would return his greetings; girls who befriended garrisoned soldiers were charged and tried by the guerrillas; Bernardo Marin, the parish priest, denied communion to the troops. Mr. Pataquiva believed that the most efficient way to stop subversion was to cut its roots of popular support, so he engaged his troops not in combat, but in building parks, roads, communal halls, and schools. He dedicated himself to visiting farmers and to solving their problems. Mr. Pataquiva also made friends with the mayor, Alirio Beltran, knowing that he had guerilla links. For this, the ELN called the mayor to a meeting in their camp and killed him. His body was found by towns-folk, without fingernails. This was the last straw. The town rose against the ELN. It was tired of taxes, of indoctrination, and above all, of the forced recruitment of its children. I closely followed the story that ensued as the guerrillas blew up the town's waterworks and bridges, burned the cocoa-bean trucks, and planted mines on the farms. Because of those mines, there are many women and children without legs in that town.
When terror failed, the guerrillas initiated a judicial war against the town leaders and Mr. Pataquiva. Local NGOs, such as Justicia y Paz, mobilized false testimony to inundate the government oversight office, the prosecutor, the public de-fender, and all sorts of international organizations. Since then, Mr. Pataquiva, today a lieutenant colonel, has been accused of 147 murders, numerous acts of intimidation, terrorism, torture and disappearances. He was arrested in Cucutá by state security agents and exhaustively interrogated by hooded prosecutors. He has been cleared in 10 investigations. Yet international reports still present the original charges as truth.
Every indication is that international NGOs have given credence to the reports from Justicia y Paz, which claims that two of the town's elected mayors, Jairo Beltran and Timoreo Rueda, as well as retired Gen. Valencia Tovar, newspaperman Manuel Vicente Pena and I are paramilitary operatives. Yet none of us have ever had any association with any paramilitary organization, nor have we ever written anything favorable about them. The ELN, for its part, tried to assassinate me by sending me a book bomb on March 24, 1999. In its letter to the media, in which it justified its "punishment by military action," I am accused of being an "ideological propagandist of paramilitary policies and violence".
In this judicial war, NGOs hand their reports to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota; while at the same time passing them along to international human-rights groups in Washington, which in turn make reports and send them to the U.S. State Department. Then the U.S. government, having apparently received the same information from two distinct sources confers a seal of approval upon the story by disseminating it to the four winds in its own reports. Even worse, the Colombian government reacts to the U.S. government's reports like a scared, guiltridden sinner. They never hear from the accused, as they are considered guilty.