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Colombia: Two Deaths: Just One Loss

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

01 November 2020

On October 31st two people died, one known around the world for his cinema roles, Seán Connery, who played James Bond and many better and less well known roles.  The other death was that of the Colombian liberal politician Horacio Serpa.  No sooner had he died the liberals and NGOs and all the former revolutionaries began to write and comment on the life of Serpa with a script that not even Connery could convincingly play.

So, just who was Horacio Serpa and what was his role in Colombian politics?  His body hadn't time to go cold and they were already rewriting the history of the country.  The headline on El Espectador said it all, Remembering an Authentic Liberal.(1)  Of course part of the problem depends on what you understand as a liberal, as in the current times when they talk of liberals and the Liberal Party one can barely recognise that it is and always has been the party of a sector of the Colombian oligarchy, that it is the party that gave us legalised paramilitaries, it is the party of massacre after massacre and of course they talk about it as if it wasn't the Liberal Party that gave us the health reform Law 100 (the liberal senator Uribe was the speaker to the motion on the law, but the law was a proposal from the entire Liberal Party), nor that it was the party that gave us the infamous economic aperture of 1990.

So, for starts, Horacio Serpa who was the Minister of the Interior, under Samper, a government which deepened the aperture, was a neoliberal politician.  In the midst of the political poverty of the current Colombian left, such as statement comes across like a grenade thrown, or a burst of gunfire against Serpa's good name.  But, how are we to describe a minister in a neoliberal government as anything else?  They say we shouldn't and part of the problem is there are those who forget who President Samper was and what his government's policies were.  Worse still, they forget their own criticisms of that government.  So letís remind ourselves.  Serpa was a neoliberal.  Of course, he was a neoliberal speaking out both sides of his mouth, capable of calming the angels whilst defended the devils tooth and nail.  A man of the right wing at the service of the oligarchy who with his populist discourse made himself out to be a progressive.  Once again, some will say he wasn't right wing.  Is there another type of Minister of the Interior?  Not only was he Minister of the Interior under Samper and champion in defending him against accusations of links to drug traffickers, but also he would later be Uribe's ambassador to the Organisation of American States.

As we are in Colombia and politicians like Serpa are very deft, there is no lack of supposed lefties who will talk about how Serpa helped them.  So in order to see what he was really like we should deal with some examples when Serpa did the exact opposite.  In his passage through the Procurator General's office he did nothing for the disappeared from the Palace of Justice.  It was not at all surprising given his own role in that.  The then Procurator, Carlos Jiménez Gómez, drew up a report and formerly denounced to

... the House Commission of Accusations President Belisario Betancur and his Minister of Defence, Miguel Vega Uribe for violating the Constitution and the Law of Nations now known as International Humanitarian Law.
The Procurator Jiménez's denunciation with precise hard hitting proof in hand was shelved through a motion presented by the representatives Carlos Mauro Hoyos, Horacio Serpa and Darío Alberto Ordoñez, arguing that "it was a typical act of government in the most important area under the remit of the President of the Republic namely to uphold public order and re-establish it wherever it has broken down".(2)
That is Horacio Serpa, the man who ensured that there would be no investigation of the events.  A friend and accessory after the fact of criminals.  It is worth pointing out that two of those who suppressed the accusation would later hold the office of procurator, Hoyos was the successor to the whistleblower Jiménez Gómez and Serpa then replaced Hoyos and thus the truth was buried underneath the ruins of the palace and the manoeuvres of Serpa and company.

But some claim he was a friend of the workers and an enemy of paramilitaries.  Leave aside that he served in governments that actively promoted paramilitaries, those of Samper and Uribe and lets look at when workers reached out to his office to seek protection.  After the 1995 massacre of palm workers in San Alberto, Cesar, the workers met with Horacio Serpa who was the Minister of the Interior at the time.  In their oral history published in 2018, the workers narrate how Serpa told them "there was nothing that could be done as the paramilitary project was very big, and upon finishing the meeting and when we were heading towards the door he said 'lads it is best that you be careful, because in this country if you stick your head above the parapet it will get knocked off."(3)  Of course, he didn't want to do anything to protect the workers of the palm company Indupalma, whilst at that exact time both he and his government maintained a military base within the plantation to protect the company's assets.  That is Horacio Serpa, loyal friend of the oligarchy, traitor speaking out both sides of his mouth to the workers, a defender of criminals such as the murderers behind the events of the Palace of Justice and a man capable of placing an entire battalion at the disposition of a company in order to protect it and not lift a finger to protect the workers in that company.

So, on October 31st, one of the greats died who we will remember fondly, with admiration, someone who contributed positively to our lives.  Rest in Peace, Seán Connery.


(1) El Espectador (31/10/2020) Remembranza de un liberal auténtico

(2) Llano, H (16/11/2015) Palacio de justicia: mentiras públicas y verdades desaparecidas

(3) Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (2018) Y A La Vida Por Fin Daremos Todo... Bogotá: CNMHp. 242

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