Tue, Jul 14, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Colombian leader gives US$1m to victims of conflict

AP , MONTERIA, COLOMBIA

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe delivered reparations totaling nearly US$1 million on Sunday to 279 victims of Colombia’s long-running civil conflict.

It was the second disbursement from US$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 US$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 US$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 murdered, 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 on 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 US$40 billion, which he says Colombia can ill afford, especially given the global recession.

Among the recipients of reparations on Sunday 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,” she said.

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 US 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.”

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