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Colombia: De Roux and the Paramilitary Liberation

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

28 January 2022

Father Francisco DeRoux, President of the Colombia Truth Commission

For many years I have had a public dispute with the priest Francisco de Roux, whether it was for his support for African palm monocultures when he was the director of the Programme for Development and Peace in Magdalena Medio, or his support for processes of impunity for paramilitaries or his current role in the so-called Truth Commission.

Now De Roux invites us all to publicly challenge him over his declarations where he stated that Uribe dismantled the paramilitaries and that Barrancabermeja was “liberated” by the paramilitaries.

The dismantling of the paramilitaries is a simple issue.  Instead of getting into a long sterile and useless debate, I would just simply ask a question.  If Uribe dismantled the paramilitaries in 2003 through the Santa Fe de Ralito Accord then, who killed all the social leaders after that date?  De Roux should tell us himself!  He is not the only one who claims Uribe dismantled the paramilitary groups, Uribe also makes that claim and various spokespersons of international bodies and foreign governments echo him.  His statement on the supposed “liberation” of Barrancabermeja at the hands of the paramilitaries may have seemed strange.  However, it is not that surprising and some of us have been clearly pointing out the road the priest was on.  It is worth going over some episodes in his life and his positions on the armed conflict.

Following the Peasant Exodus, when 10,000 peasants took over the city of Barrancabermeja for 103 days, the paramilitaries disappeared the leader Edgar Quiroga, a signatory to the agreement signed with the Pastrana government, and the youth Gildardo Fuentes.  De Roux breaking with the positions of the social organisations and Edgar’s family, tried to convince them to sit down to talk to the paramilitaries, insinuating that Edgar was still alive.(1)

When the paramilitaries took Barrancabermeja by fire and sword, De Roux tried to convince everyone of the goodness of the state’s armed forces and asked the social organisations to trust them, despite the collaboration between them and the paramilitaries that they could see with own eyes.(2)  De Roux is wrong when he says it was the paramilitaries who took Barrancabermeja.  They did enter the city, but hand in glove with the armed forces and if it were not for the support of the they would never have taken it or it would have cost them more to do so.

It is worth pointing out that when De Roux talks of “liberation”, that “liberation” included various events, amongst them:

• The murder of nine people on May 16th 1998 and the disappearance of 25 more in the south west of the city.
• The disappearance of Edgar Quiroga and Gildardo Fuentes in 1999.
• The massacre of hundreds of leaders in Southern Bolivar following the Peasant Exodus.
• The blockade of food and medicine imposed on the region of Southern Bolivar.
• The murder, displacement and torture of hundreds of people in the city during their reign of terror.

It was no liberation, but rather a massacre that resulted in the destruction of the social fabric and the disappearance or weakening of many social organisations.

Following the paramilitary takeover, the agreement signed by the Pastrana government and the agreed to Comprehensive Plan wasn’t worth the paper they were written on.  De Roux took on the role of spokesperson for the communities on the issue of development and in passing the PDPMM acted as consultant to an NGO linked to the paramilitaries to draw up their own project called the Macroeconomic Integration Plan, written by the NGO, Asocipaz.

When Uribe began the process to dismantle the paramilitaries that De Roux referred to, the priest did not hesitate in supporting him, nor to demand the victims wipe the slate clean.  In the ceremony to demobilise the Central Bolivar Bloc of the paramilitaries in Remedios, he declared that:

… the demand for truth, so as all the world knows what happened in this region [Magdelena Medio]; and based on the truth that justice be done and in order to satisfy justice, that we forgive with magnitude; as in the complicated problem we Colombians are in the midst of, justice without forgiveness is blind vengeance.(3)
Later he apologized to the business community and the military for having accused them of complicity in the massacres of social leaders.(4)

So, there is nothing new under the sun.  Twenty years ago when the Estrategia Integral del Paramilitarismo en el Magdalena Medio was published, many did not want to publicly criticise the priest, though some privately told me they agreed with the criticisms made of him, but they feared for their projects, their relationships with foreign governments and international aid bodies, where contradicting the priest could have serious problems for them.  Today, some still fear the priest.

Some did criticize the priest’s declarations, amongst them Iván Cepeda who said on his twitter account.

To say that “Uribe dismantled paramilitaries” is a major mistake and at the least a serious offence to the memory of the victims.  Has it been forgotten that in those years the paramilitaries tried to control to the state legalise the usurpation of millions of hectares of land?(5)
But the long years of silence have brought us to the current situation where De Roux is the spokesperson for the victims and will play a decisive role in drawing up the official truth of the Truth Commission, and decades of denunciations by organisations, the rivers of blood and tears that have flowed through the country, ploughing deep furrows in the fields and poor neighbourhoods will not count for much.  De Roux’s victory is the victory of silence regarding the role he has played for a long time.

International cooperation agencies imposed him time and again as a leading spokesperson for a cause that was never his: the defence of human rights.  The left played along with him more than once from the trade unions to the Congress.  In the peace process with the FARC, his was a voice that everyone listened to and now he does something coherent that no one likes, but he hasn’t changed, it is simply that many opted to say nothing.  I don’t like being right, when being right is so bad, but I told you so, over and over again, but very few walked alongside me in that process.  Well, there you have your priest for all to see.


(1) Personal communication with leaders from Barrancabermeja

(2) Ibíd.,

(3) De Roux, F. (2006) Pertinentes del Magdalena Medio, marzo 2006 pág 1 cited in Ó Loingsigh, G. (2007) Un Reto Por la Verdad, Colombia, Cisca 2ª edición p.167

(4) De Roux, F. Pido Perdón – El Tiempo (01/03/2017)


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