To understand paramilitarism and how it functions in Colombia, it is useful to look at the root meanings of the term. Crisostomo Eseverri Hualde, the author of an erudite Dictionary of Etymology of Spanish Helenisms, published in Spain in 1944, notes the significance of the Greek preposition “para,” used as a prefix in numerous Spanish language words. According to him, there are three meanings of this preposition: 1) approximation; 2) transposition; and 3) adeviation or irregularity. In effect, this preposition is utilized to make reference to something which is next to, adjoining, which is similar to, but which at the same time is beyond, outside of, leaving from the entity denoted by the principal body of the word.
Some examples illustrate better the meaning: “parabiosis” denotes the union between two twin beings of which only one has its own independent life, while the other, a parabiotical, only lives at the cost of the first. “Paracite” (with a “c”) is an abnormal cellular element of an organism; and a “parasite” (with an “s”) is a living organism which feeds upon the juice of the other. The concepts of proximity and deformation are integrated, thus, in the meaning of this preposition.
According to the above, “paramilitarism” denotes activities close to military, but which at the same time deviate from or are irregular from the militia. “Paramilitary groups” are bodies which act together with the military institution but which at the same time exercise irregular action, deviated, deformed, from the military. If the military institution has a role in society or in a state governed by laws, a State of Law, it is exactly that of exercising, in the name of and by delegation of the social body, the armed or war activity in defense of that same social body, within strict ethical and legal norms which impede it from departing from its dangerous role. If there is a justification for the existence of the institution, it is precisely the danger that someone who is not rigorously formed in the ethical and legal canons of the use of arms might have opportunity to use them, and above all that someone not be held rigorously accountable for his actions in the use of arms.
Both the politization or ideological conversion of men of arms, which leads them to use force in the defense of the interests of one group or sector of the society and not in defense of the interests of the community as a whole, and the practice of linking armed action to civilian persons or groups contradict the legitimizing principle of the armed forces of the state. In this last case, the armed forces lose their reason for being, since this is essentially conceived to be an exercise or action which cannot or ought not to be exercised by civilians. Therefore this tends to destroy the founding principles of the State of Law: equality of all those associated before the law and the illegitimacy of any citizens using force to submit others to their interests. The denaturing of the military institution occurs when these departures from the norm are added together: the adopting of an ideology by ideolization of the armed forces and the blurring of the frontiers between what is civilian and what is military. But these departures reach the highest level of perversion when they are conditioned to mechanisms of secrecy, as subterfuges to make a mockery of their responsibilities. When one arrives at this level, the “State of Law” has ceased to exist.
Download the Complete Article by Javier Giraldo (PDF, 29 p)