Colombia gives $1m to victims of conflict

Government will pay out $3.3b over next 10 years

President Alvaro Uribe acknowledged yesterday that the money can’t compensate for the loss of a loved one. President Alvaro Uribe acknowledged yesterday that the money can’t compensate for the loss of a loved one. (Fernando Vergara/Associated Press)
By Frank Bajak
Associated Press / July 13, 2009
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MONTERIA, Colombia - President Alvaro Uribe presided at a ceremony yesterday to deliver reparations totaling nearly $1 million for 279 victims of Colombia’s long-running conflict.

It was the second disbursement from $100 million that his government has earmarked this year for 10,000 survivors of crimes by leftist rebels and far-right death squads known as “paramilitaries,’’ both of which have been fed by drug trafficking.

Some 240,000 people have registered since the law facilitating the payments took effect in August. Victims of state security forces are not eligible for any of the estimated $3.3 billion that the government says it expects to pay out over the coming decade.

Uribe acknowledged that the payments - the highest amount per victim or family is about $9,150 - can’t compensate for the loss of a loved one.

The reparations will instead help prevent the pain of loss from “becoming converted into hate and vengeance,’’ the president told recipients who were bused in from five states for a ceremony in this northwestern ranching region where the paramilitaries first arose in the 1980s.

Besides relatives of people killed, those eligible include victims of torture, rape, forced recruitment, and people driven from their homes by illegal armed groups. Recipients can still go to court to pursue damages directly from their tormenters.

Critics of Uribe, who disbursed the first payments July 5, say he should back more extensive reparations, to include abuses by security forces.

But his allies in Congress have blocked a bill for expanded payments. Uribe has estimated that legislation’s price tag at $40 billion, which he says Colombia can ill afford, especially given the global recession.

Among the recipients of reparations yesterday was Zoraya Silgado.

She said her then-35-year-old brother Ricardo was among six people killed in 1998 when rebels threw a grenade into a discotheque in San Onofre, a nearby town that was under a paramilitary reign of terror at the time.

He wasn’t a party to the conflict, Silgado said. “He was just dancing.’’

Teofilo Racini Ortiz, 63, personally received his check from Uribe. He said his son Davis, 26, was “forcibly disappeared’’ in 2002 by thugs working for local paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso, who was extradited last year to the United States on drug-trafficking charges.

“He was a beauty of a kid,’’ Racini said of his son, who drove a taxi owned by his father. Racini said he searched half of Colombia for Davis but never found a trace.

He laughed when asked about the indemnization.

“It doesn’t replace a human being. No way. No how,’’ Racini said.

“But it’s a marvelous gesture.’’