Justice Must Once More Prevail
RZ (Rheinzeitung), 30.07.1998
Exclusive interview with Colombian guerrilla leader Antonio Garcia: Massacres need to be investigated and those responsible brought to justice
Colombia will only have peace when the government comes down hard on the extreme right-wing paramilitary groups according to the ELN guerrillas second-in-command, Antonio Garcia. In an exclusive interview he also pays tribute to the role played by the Church in the peace process. This is the first time Garcia has given an interview to a European newspaper.
Bogotá/Mainz. The interview is given below.
How do you rate the chances of success for the Mainz peace process in Colombia?
It is quite possible that the peace process will begin to show some results after the next round of talks in November. However there are still many obstacles that need to be overcome.
What sort of obstacles?
In order to demonstrate a genuine desire for peace, the powers that be in Colombia have to show themselves ready to tackle the problem of poverty. The government must also end its own involvement in criminal violence. Countless numbers of people in Colombia are being murdered or simply disappearing. Since October 1997 there have been 404 massacres, which brought the deaths of 1500 people, carried out by paramilitaries in collaboration with the army.
President-designate Andres Pastrana wants to involve the extremist right-wing paramilitaries in the peace talks. Is that an encouraging signal?
We need to have a public enquiry to investigate the crimes of the paramilitaries against the civilian population. Neither they, nor those who provide their financial backing, belong at a peace table. They have bled the country white.
Do you think that the new president, who has made national reconciliation his greatest objective, will be able to push the peace process forward?
So far, the new president has no clear concept with which to do this. Whether he helps the peace process or not will be dependent on the government changing its policies. The government has had a hand in much of the killing.
What might constitute a first step towards peace?
Society must articulate a clear desire for peace and meet with the guerrilla groups.
What part can the German government play in this?
Germany and the other countries of the international community have an important role to play as neutral mediators.
What can the Colombian and German Churches do?
They mediate and help bring civil society and the guerrillas together. As part of the “Himmelspforten Agreement” the ELN agreed that it would no longer kidnap children or pregnant women. According to the most recent reports, the ELN has once more resorted to the kidnapping of children. Never, in its entire history, has the ELN ever kidnapped a child. The ELN has probably been blamed for the most recent kidnapping in order to make the organisation look bad. After the Mainz talks we released two older people to show that we were holding to our part of the bargain. German intelligence services coordinator Bernd Schmidbauer proposed that imprisoned guerrillas in Colombia should be exchanged for hostages.
What do you think of the suggestion?
We are ready to talk about it. A bigger problem, though, is that of political prisoners in Colombian prisons whose human rights are being abused.
The ELN has kidnapped innocent people, polluted whole districts through attacks on oil pipelines. How can such things be reconciled with your goals?
Oil companies are providing finances for the paramilitaries and the army. By doing this they are financing the war and making themselves a military target. We have tried to limit damage to a minimum. But that isn’t always possible in a war. The ELN kidnaps employees of foreign companies, allegedly in order to force payment from the companies. One of the things we demand is a war tax. There are no state provisions in the areas we control. We have to look after the schools, the running of the local communities, and so on. That’s why we need to raise taxes.
What kind of society do you want to see?
It will be difficult to give up the fight overnight. The most important thing is that justice must once more prevail in the country. Everyone should have the same chances to make the most of their abilities. Anyone who searches for justice or for freedom in our country risks their life. When that changes there will be no more war.
Antonio Garcia is known as the “soul of the guerrillas”. Some facts on Garcia, the ELN and Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN): The ELN is the second largest of Colombia’s guerrilla groups with 5000 armed fighters. Its leader is Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista. The ELN is held responsible for kidnapping and for attacks on oil pipelines; however, it is not involved in drug trafficking.
Antonio Garcia: Now 42 years old, he has been a member of the ELN for 23 years. The second man in the ELN after boss Bautista is considered as the strategic brains behind the guerrillas and is leader of the CNG, a linking organisation for all guerrilla groups. An important role in the peace process has been attributed to him.
Colombia: It is a country four times the size of Germany and rich in mineral resources. With 30,000 murders annually, it is a country in a state of war, and one that has been shaken by numerous drug scandals. Most of the abuses of human rights are said to be the work of extreme right-wing paramilitaries.
By courtesy of the publisher www.rheinzeitung.de