Mario Uribe Escobar, the president of Colombia's cousin and leader of the Colombia Democratica political party, announced the removal of two Congressional candidates, Rocío Arias and Eleonora Pineda, from his party on 2 February for their outward support of paramilitary organizations. His announcement comes on the tail of a purge of a limited number of political candidates known to be supportive of Colombia's paramilitary organizations.

These two candidates belong to a long list of politicians that in private will admit to close contact with paramilitary chieftains. Arias and Pineda are considered the most public faces of a wide-reaching and deep-pocketed effort to increase paramilitary political control on the national level through the upcoming congressional elections to be held on Sunday, 12 March.

A much smaller, more organized, and influential group of former paramilitary war lords has emerged. As a group, they began to exercise power within the realms of politics on a municipal and state level years ago. Their efforts were first recorded in the 2002 congressional elections. In these elections, paramilitary-supported candidates won with over 90 per cent of the vote in many cases because there was no opposition candidate on the ticket and voters were scared to abstain.

Through these strong arm tactics, paramilitary organizations have begun to increase the number of politicians they control in the Colombian congress. This time around, they look set to further increase that power. If they succeed, they will work to ban extradition, eradicating their worst fear, while solidifying their positions of power across numerous Colombian departments. It is a reality that severely hinders democracy and sets Colombia and the region on a path to less stability into the foreseeable future.

Paramilitary politics
Colombia's departments, stretching from Panama to Venezuela along the country's northern coast, have long been held by paramilitary commanders who act both publicly and behind the scenes to control political candidates on the municipal, gubernatorial, and national levels. Their heavy handed political influence in coastal departments such as Cesar, Guajira, Atlantico, Magdalena, and Cordoba, is most evident, according to German Espejo, an analyst with the Bogota-based Security and Democracy Foundation.

Espejo agrees that the paramilitaries fund and support congressional elections. "In addition to financial support, it is possible that the paramilitaries use their influence to obstruct the campaigns of candidates that do not support them," Espejo told ISN Security Watch.

Claudia Lopez, Colombian journalist and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) consultant, completed a study published in December 2005 that took a close look at the intersection between paramilitary control in Colombia's northern departments and the indices of landslide victories of political candidates from those areas. Her conclusions revealed atypical electoral behaviors in the 2002 Congressional elections where areas that had experienced high levels of paramilitary-related massacres, and thus presumed under paramilitary control, had produced unopposed political candidates who were elected with over 90 per cent of votes.

The Colombian daily El Tiempo has reported that in the paramilitary-dominated department of Magdalena, mayoral candidates ran unopposed in 14 of the department's 30 municipalities. The tendency for candidates to run without opposition, winning with inflated percentages of the vote, has been repeated in numerous Colombian departments. The trend, referred to as "paramilitarization", has been documented in the Colombian press and noted on the floor of the Colombian congress.