Dr Beltran: “the big positive of all this was the warm solidarity that I received”

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dr Beltran: “the big positive of all this was the warm solidarity that I received”

“if the guerrillas have been a factor in the violence, so has the state, so have the armed forces.”

Colombian alternative media have published an interview with the recently released political prisoner, Dr Miguel Angel Beltran. Dr Beltran was one of the Colombian political prisoners JFC campaigned for. Dr Beltran was arrested in Mexico, where he was teaching at the UNAM university, before being extradited to Colombia, and accused of ‘rebellion’ and ‘criminal conspiracy for terrorist purposes’. After more than 2 years in prison, he eventually faced trial and was absolved of all charges. He was released on June 7th.

There follow excerpts from this interview:

Q: A lot has been said about what happened in Mexico. What really happened?

Dr Beltran – It was a kidnapping. There was no arrest, and I would dare to say that it was a forced disappearance: for 6 hours I was completely isolated and separated from my loved ones. I went to the National Immigration Institute for a meeting with the sub-director of the institute, where he was going to give me my FM3 immigration form. It was a trap really. I arrived there, they made me sign a document because they said it was necessary, despite the lies that were written there, and then some guards detained me. They handcuffed me, they beat me and tortured me, and put me in a van. Then they took me to the airport, they put me on a plane and then I arrived to the Catam airport [A Colombian Military Transport Base in Bogota].

Q: What do you think of the media and the way in which you are linked to this ‘Jaime Cienfuegos’? [The name the government said was his FARC alias]

Dr Beltran – I think that the way in which the media has managed this process from the beginning - and since I have been declared innocent - has been perverse. My good name hasn’t been respected, and nor has my basic constitutional right to the presumption of innocence. From the first moment I was presented as if I actually was ‘Jaime Cienfuegos’. During the hearings many things were silenced and the arbitrary acts and violations of due process were never of interest to some media outlets. And now that I have been released, now that the judge has declared me innocent, they continue to declare that ‘Jaime Cienfuegos’ has been released.

Q: Why such hostility towards you?

Dr Beltran – The official media try to create a certain ‘truth’ – they invented the idea of ‘farcpolitics’ to counteract the information that was coming out about the links of many politicians, mayors and public functionaries to paramilitarism. But what has now been clearly demonstrated is the lack of legal basis [for these accusations of farcpolitics] and now they try to distort all the investigations, since those of us that were taken to court because of the ‘Reyes computers’ are being released. Despite the proof being illegal, they insist that the information is true. They want to keep us legally ‘framed’ at all cost.

Q: You were a high profile case thanks to the international oversight of your case. How useful was this international solidarity?

Dr Beltran – Really, the big positive of this whole process - that made up for the pain, for the arbitrariness and injustice - was the warm solidarity that I received from students, colleagues, university professors, NGOs, and from colleagues from other countries, not just from Latin America, but Europe too. They spoke out about my innocence, supported the campaign for my freedom and even directly asked President Santos for me to be freed. That solidarity, that warmth and that strength that they gave was not just to defend me, but also to defend critical thought, to defend the possibility that people can express opinions different to official opinion.

Q: In Colombia the Justice and Interior Minister, Vargas Lleras, has suggested that young people could be imprisoned for more than a decade. What are the options for a country that has an armed conflict where the solution being offered is of jails and ‘democratic security’?

Dr Beltran – I think that the Uribe era is fortunately over, although its fundamentals remain in place. At least today we can talk of an armed conflict and not be accused of being terrorists. At least many of those who in the Uribe period were silent, today say that there is indeed a conflict, although they were silent when they ought to have spoken. I think that as a critical thinker, one has to be consistent and loyal to your principles - you can’t be silent and hide your point of view. That has a cost, but you have to take it on as part of the search for an end to the conflict. The end of the conflict begins with recognizing that the conflict itself exists. I think that it is possible to find a solution through dialogue, but such a solution through dialogue implies that all the actors in the conflict can sit down around a table and nobody assumes a closed posture. Santos says that ‘the key to peace has not been thrown away’, but he is asking that the guerrillas hand over their weapons before anything else. The problem is that this has to be part of a negotiation, not the starting point for a negotiation. So a negotiated solution to the conflict is possible, but it implies that both sides have to give a little. On the side of the state this would mean some political, economic and social reforms that the country has been demanding for a long time. The guerrillas would have to look at other ways of developing their political activity - including at some point, that the armed struggle is not the way forward. This has to be a point of agreement. Unfortunately, there have been experiences as negative as the Patriotic Union, which left a very negative image for the possibility of a solution and for the FARC to participate in an electoral campaign. They talk of 5 thousand deaths [the number of those killed during the extermination of the UP is estimated at up to 5 thousand people]. My position, and it has always been my position, is for a political, negotiated solution to the social and armed conflict in Colombia.

Q: Why such a warlike environment against a negotiated solution?

Dr Beltran – There has been a historic tendency for the Colombian state to criminalise social protest. In that sense, anyone who has opposed, anyone who protests, all the social leaders that have a different opinion, who struggle for changes and transformations, are accused of being a guerrilla. The FARC have been a pretext and therefore in this country, all problems ‘stem’ from the FARC. We have to ask ourselves, as researchers and as Colombians, why do the FARC exist and what are their historical origins? If we understand how the Colombian conflict has developed, then we can perceive the right solution. Here they have simply tried to show that the violence comes from the guerrillas, specifically from the FARC. We also have to take into account the enormous number of victims and people displaced by paramilitary groups - that as we all know, were financed and supported by the State itself. We have to recognize that situation. If we don’t recognize this then we are not going to come up with a solution to all this. If the guerrillas have been a factor in the violence, so has the State, so have the armed forces. What we are trying to think of is a way out of this situation, a way out that means no more war, that means no more debilitation of the nation, that means no high cost, neither economic nor human.

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