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Colombia: Strategy of Tension?

On a hot afternoon of July 19, 1992, Ennio Pintacuda, a Jesuit and a pioneer of the anti-mafia social movement of Palermo in Sicily, picked me up with his armored car and two bodyguards. We were scheduled to work on his memoires. On our way to his studio, we stopped at a fancy bar on beautiful Liberty Avenue and while sipping an espresso a deep roar cut off our conversation. Naive and grown up in an uneventful small town of Northern Italy, I could not interpret that thundering, but in few seconds Pintacuda's bodyguards shoved us in the armored car, which at great speed headed to a security bunker. Over the radio, the agitated voice of a man alerted that a car bomb had gone off. Pintacuda and I remained petrified. A few weeks earlier, judge Giovanni Falcone had been killed. Whose turn was it now?

While I enjoyed the coffee, judge Paolo Borsellino had arrived at his mother's building, and as soon as he stepped out of the car a bomb exploded killing the judge, the five members of his security detail and destroying the facades of the surrounding buildings. The following day, when I made it to the scene of the attack, I saw the devastation and my heart sunk into deep sadness. I felt lost and powerless.

Today, 18 years later, some truth about the mastermind of the killings of Falcone and Borsellino is emerging. The Cosa Nostra carried out the terror attack, but the order most probably came from Rome. According to recent revelations and investigations, members of Italian intelligence agencies were behind the attacks. According to prosecutors and an ongoing investigation, Falcone and Borsellino found out and moved against negotiations between sectors of the State and the Mafia.

The killings of the two judges were followed in 1993 by bombs, which went off in Florence, Milan and Rome. Italy was going through a difficult and complicated time. Prosecutors based in Milan had brought to light a deep system of corruption and sent behind bars a good representation of the ruling class of Italy. Secretary generals of political parties, former prime ministers, cabinet members, and top business leaders all ended up in prison. Those years marked the end of the so-called First Republic of Italy. Il Divo, a fairly recent and great movie about seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti -- the embodiment of Italy's system of power during the Cold War -- well sketched that epoch.

"In 1993, the Italian National Anti-mafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso declared recently, an authentic strategy of tension was subcontracted to the Cosa Nostra." And Italy was not new to that strategy typified by massacres and terror attacks; all still unpunished crimes.

A strategy of tension aims at dividing, manipulating and controlling public opinion using fear, propaganda, disinformation, and terrorism. In Italy, the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, the 1974 Piazza della Loggia and of the train Italicus bombings, the 1980 Bologna train station bombing, were all attributed to extreme right-wing subversive groups infiltrated by the so-called "deviated" intelligence agency. All these attacks aimed at pushing the government towards authoritarianism and at freezing the Cold War equilibrium, avoiding any political opening and the fulfillment of the so-called "historical compromise," the attempted alliance between the Communist and the Christian Democracy parties; an arrangement studied to cut off political extremism of the right and the left. Italy remembers those years as the Years of Lead.

When I saw the images of the recent attack at the Caracol Radio building not far from the apartment where I live when I am in Bogota, I could not help but think about Palermo and about the strategy of tension; because of the modalities of the attack and the political juncture in Colombia marked by serious corruption scandals and consequent delicate investigations on one hand, and by a new (and at this point already politically courageous) president who invited to national unity and that in few days achieved the reconciliation with the Courts and the rapprochement with Venezuela on the other. The prudence of president Santos in not jumping to conclusions about the authors or the attack is an added and welcomed departure from the practice of the previous government. This attitude is not a sign of weakness or of hesitation. To the contrary. It is in itself a message, and a hint that behind the attacks there might be sophisticated minds.

Regardless of the masterminds, a wise response should not bring to a reduction of civil and political rights, but instead to the deepening and the consolidation of Colombia's democracy. Which is what Santos announced in his inaugural speech.

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