Hebert Veloza Conviction Offers New Insight into Colombia’s Paramilitary Phenomenon

11/6/2013

The recent verdict issued by the Justice and Peace Courtroom of the High Tribunal of Bogota on October 30th against Hebert Veloza Garcia, paramilitary commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), sets a valuable precedent for the prosecution of system crimes in Colombia.

After a six-year process that began in October 2007, Veloza Garcia was convicted of aggravated conspiracy, illegal use of uniforms and insignia, illicit recruitment of children, murder of protected persons, simple kidnapping, forced disappearance, torture of protected persons, qualified theft and aggravated robbery, and acts of barbarism.

The verdict, presented by Magistrate Eduardo Castellanos, covers 85 crimes committed by the commander of the Bananero bloc and describes the context and analysis of the evolution of the violence in the Uraba region, following international standards for the prosecution of system crimes.

The case is the first to be completed in Colombia’s “Justice and Peace process,” which lies at the heart of the country’s efforts to dismantle notorious paramilitary groups and provide justice to thousands of their victims.

“The Justice and Peace process provides an opportunity to better understand the paramilitary phenomenon that permeated several sectors of Colombian society in recent history, and to dismantle its military, political, and economic structure,” said Maria Camila Moreno, director of ICTJ’s office in Colombia. “The verdict against Hebert Veloza should contribute to this objective.”

Veloza was sentenced to 480 months in prison and a fine of 17,950 minimum monthly salaries (equivalent to approximately 5.2 million dollars). However, since the Tribunal considered that Veloza had “thus far” fulfilled the eligibility requirements for alternative sentencing under Law 975 of 2005—as this is only a partial verdict – Veloza Garcia received a reduced prison sentence of seven years.
   

"The Justice and Peace process provides an opportunity to better understand the paramilitary phenomenon that permeated several sectors of Colombian society in recent history, and to dismantle its military, political, and economic structure."

This jail time should be served after Veloza completes the prison term he is currently serving out in the United States, after the US Department of Justice convicted Veloza for conspiracy to import and distribute drugs in the United States.

“The extensive and detailed context provided in the verdict constitutes a significant contribution to the effective elucidation of the paramilitary phenomenon in the Uraba region. It not only provides information on their actions and crimes, but also on the different dimensions of these illegal groups, their sources of funding, and their relationships with other powerful individuals and sectors,” said Moreno.

“The importance given in this verdict to the context should serve as an example for the investigation of other cases related to illegal armed groups.”

Exposing Paramilitary Crimes in the Uraba Region

The verdict establishes the presence of several types of conflicts that explain the violence in Uraba. For example, the labor dispute that during the 1980s “was represented by labor-management disputes that became increasingly militarized” and the conflict over land, which has its origins in the colonization of cattle-farmers and banana-growers that increased the concentration of land and in the land invasions fostered by insurgent groups.

“The importance given in this verdict to the context should serve as an example for the investigation of other cases related to illegal armed groups.”

   
Due to the lack of presence in the region, the state did not fulfill its obligation to guarantee peaceful coexistence and serve as legitimate mediator in such conflicts. And when it did intervene it was with extreme repression, such as the militarization of the entire banana-growing region, turning it into one more factor of alienation.

On the basis of these analyses, the Tribunal was able to determine that the crimes committed against the trade unionists in the banana industry in Uraba were not isolated acts but instead followed a systematic plan to strike, weaken, and obliterate the trade union movement through acts of murder and forced disappearance and displacement of its members.

For this reason, the Justice and Peace Courtroom declared these to be crimes against humanity and confirmed the involvement of members of the armed forces, specifically some members of the 17th Brigade based in Carepa and National Police officers from Apartado.

Political Genocide

The verdict also mentions that the objective behind the mass victimization of the members and supporters of the Patriotic Union (UP) party was the extermination of this political group due to their promotion of left-wing ideals, because they were considered supporters of the FARC guerrilla organization, and because they had had significant success in the local, regional, and national elections.

The verdict established that the crimes committed against members and supporters of the UP constituted “political genocide,” which meant that the Colombian state was obligated to investigate and prosecute those with the most responsibility, provide reparations to the victims, and take the steps necessary to guarantee that these actions would never be repeated.

Economic Crimes and ‘Convivir’ Security Networks

In a separate section, the verdict refers to the creation and evolution of the private security cooperatives, known as the “Convivir,”created by decree in 1994 as “civilian armed structures and networks of informants authorized to use weapons used exclusively by the armed forces. The objective of these cooperatives was to restore public order in some areas of the country.”

After a detailed analysis of the way these cooperatives operated, the verdict states that “under this façade and legal mandate, the paramilitary groups consolidated and expanded their criminal networks and their links to economic, political, and public sectors.” It specifically mentions the “Papagayo” Convivir, which “served not only to channel economic resources to the paramilitary groups but also as a logistical platform to obtain war materiel, weapons, vehicles, etc., for the paramilitary groups that operated in the Uraba region.”

The Tribunal also established that several economic groups profited from the actions of the paramilitary in the larger Uraba region (departments of Antioquia and Choco) and describes how the attacks against the integrity of workers and trade unionists as well as the financing of the paramilitary groups by these companies, through the delivery of funds to the so-called “Convivir,” benefited the owners of banana farms and banana brokers.

Judicial Orders and Recommendations from the Verdict

The Tribunal ordered the criminal investigation of the traders, cattle-farmers and banana-growers of Uraba who were allegedly involved in the financing, collaboration or actions of the paramilitary groups in the region, as well as the criminal investigation of the civilian, military, and police authorities in charge of overseeing and controlling the activities of the “Convivir.”

In addition, the verdict urged the Victims’ Unit to provide reparations to the victims in a period of six months and authorize the payment of the maximum amount allowable for administrative compensation. During this period the verdict also urged the Unit to undertake a collective reparations process for the victims of the Patriotic Union party, and to specifically include the victims of the persecution of trade unions in Uraba in the collective reparations plan for the trade union sector.

While the verdict’s exhortations, requests for reports, and orders to initiate criminal investigations are certainly significant, the justice system in Colombia continues to face serious challenges to implement these recommendations. However, the Veloza verdict is a hugely significant step in ensuring the rights of Colombian victims—and the society at large— to know the truth about the conflict, both in Uraba and in the rest of the country.


More resources on the life and crimes of Hebert Veloza García: