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Project June 13, 2007

Beyond the Law: Colombia's Embrace of Paramilitary Power


A navy officer walks over an armored Piraña boat used to fight guerrillas along the Tapaje river, Pueblo Nuevo, Colombia, July 8, 2007. Pueblo Nuevo, also known as Pulviza, was the scene of crude battles between the Colombian army and FARC guerrillas last April, leaving the town without a single resident.

The government of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has been paralyzed by allegations that highly placed officials colluded with paramilitary groups implicated in assassinations and drug smuggling, even as Uribe presses the United States for a lucrative trade deal and to continue its massive flow of military and counter-narcotics aid. Journalist Phillip Robertson and videographer Carlos Villalon investigate the controversies swirling around America's most important Latin American ally and what they mean for the people of Colombia.

The Colombian government asserts that paramilitary groups are mostly demobilized but targeted assasinations, drug smuggling and forced displacement continue to be a fact of life in Colombia. More than 10 members of the Colombian congress are currently under indictment for collaborating with paramilitary organizations. International human rights groups allege that the influence of such groups on Uribe's government is greater still.

A laptop computer that belonged to a paramilitary commander known as "Jorge 40" surfaced in October 2006 with records of hundreds of killings and conversations with Colombian politicians. Against that background hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid flow into the country to fight cocaine production and to combat a civil war that has lasted some 40 years. Bush administration officials hail Uribe for a tough stance that has begun to turn the tide, they say, and has won broad public support.

Critics say the heavy-handed approach betrays U.S. human rights ideals while inciting an escalation in violence. Robertson and Villalon explore the current human rights climate in Colombia and talk to the victims and perpetrators of paramilitary violence.