Beyond the Law: Colombia's Embrace of Paramilitary Power

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.

Contemporary Colombia

Combining the themes of paramilitary violence, drugs, and politics, these photos offer a glimpse into contemporary life in Colombia.

Hotel Dorantes Bogota 13-15 June 07

"The students are throwing rocks at the police," the taxi driver said on the way in from the airport. "It's dangerous, the government has called out the army." I felt like my luck was holding and slammed the video camera together but by the time we made it through the traffic, the students had already swept through the neighborhood. They left in their wake revolutionary slogans on every public building for several square miles. One read, "URIBE 100% PARACO" and accuses the president of being a member of a paramilitary organization, a death squad leader.

Arrival in Colombia - 13 June 07

13 June, 2007

Four hours after leaving New York on the Avianca flight for Bogota, the Caribbean coast of Colombia appeared, a electric green arc of banana plantations and thick jungle. It was strange to fly south instead toward the blood-charged cauldron of the Middle East where I have spent the last four years covering the conflict in Iraq. Colombia is a different story, one that is much closer to home.