Court orders presidential apology for linking unions with FARC guerrillas
Words don´t kill, but in Colombia public denunciations often precede the paramilitary assassins.
That´s why a newspaper column written seven years ago by an adviser to then president Álvaro Uribe is still making news in Colombia.
José Obdulio Gaviria, recently elected senator for Uribe´s personal political party Centro Democrático, has apologized for linking three prominent Colombian trade unions with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the FARC rebels currently negotiating a peace accord with the national government.
Gaviria apologized for the column published newspaper column and said he did not wish to victimize the unions nor its members with false accusations.
The unions named in the scandalous column were SINTRAEMCALI, which represents municipal workers, SINTRAUNICOL, which represents university workers, and SINTRATELÉFONOS which represents communications workers. Colombia has long been regarded the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade union leader. Assassinations are frequent and rarely result in charges, let alone convictions of the killers.
Now, of course, it´s possible Gaviria´s apology wasn´t based entirely on a change of opinion nor a generous spirit, but a smidgen of self-interest.
Gaviria´s lawyer David Teleki quickly wasted little time in asking a Colombian court to drop charges against his client filed in connection with column in the wake of his client´s apology.
“All sins begin as thoughts,” Teleki said, which is a bit of an understatement in Colombia where disappearances and assassinations of leftist activists, human rights defenders and union leaders are frequently preceded by public denunciations of connections with guerrillas or communists.
Now, it seems President Juan Manuel Santos will be required as well to apologize for the remarks made by his extreme right-wing opponents Uribe, Gaviria and former vice-president Francisco Santos. Uribe and then vice-president Santos repeated the scandalous potential deadly accusations.
A Bogotá judge has determined that the state must also apologize, and since the accusations were made by then president Uribe and vice-president Franciso Santos, it will fall upon President Juan Manuel Santos and Vice-president Angelino Garzón to make the official apologies.
That might be a bitter pill to swallow for the current president, given that Uribe is his harshest critic and leader of the Centro Democrático which now is a major force to be reckoned after last month´s congressional elections. Uribe and his Centro Democrático are also stern critics of peace negotiations with guerrillas.
Gaviria, by the way, has made many other controversial statements. He regards victims´rights organizations as puppet organizations of guerrillas.
Some 63 U.S. senators wrote to complain in 2008 when he characterized victims of paramilitary and state violence in Colombia as allies of guerrillas.
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