Apr 14

The following images come from files that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) recently turned over to independent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. They are shocking and seem to confirm some of our worst suspicions.

The Fiscalía is investigating illegal surveillance, wiretaps and intimidation carried out by the DAS, the Colombian Presidency’s intelligence service. The targets of the DAS campaign were opponents of President Álvaro Uribe: opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, and even Supreme Court judges. Hollman Morris, the journalist, was one of those most aggressively followed.

A Fiscalía report issued Saturday concluded that the DAS surveillance of Supreme Court judges “was directed from the Casa de Nariño,” Colombia’s equivalent of the White House.

Here are the files obtained by Hollman Morris, with English translations. They go beyond surveillance and wiretapping to reveal what it calls a “political warfare” campaign of dirty tricks and threats against President Uribe’s political adversaries. They date from 2005, the last year of Jorge Noguera’s tenure as DAS director. Noguera is now on trial facing charges of aggravated homicide. Click on each graphic to view it larger.


  • Initiate a smear campaign at the international level, through the following activities
    • Communiqués
    • Inclusion in FARC video
  • Request the suspension of [U.S.] visa




  • Initiate a smear campaign at the international level, through the following:
    • Communiqués
    • Inclusion in FARC video
  • Sabotage actions (steal his passport, ID card, etc.)


  • Location of his residence at (address blurred out by CIP) in Bogotá
  • Constant following of his moves.
Fiscalía delegated to the Supreme Court

Evidence, Box 5 Copy AZ 63 – 2005

January 6 and 7, 2010





  • Defend Democracy and the Nation.
  • Create consciousness about the consequences of a communist system.



Smear campaign

  • Media, Polls, Chat
  • Streets: Distribution of pamphlets, graffiti, flyers, posters, books.
  • Creation of Web pages: Communiqués, denunciations, false accusations.


  • Terrorism: Explosive, incendiary, public services, technology


  • Threats, blackmail.

  • Disinform the population in favor of the Government’s detractors.
  • Generate division within the opposition movements.
  • Impede the organization of events convened by the opposition.
  • Ideological transfer. [Unclear to us what this means.]




JUNE 2005




  • Promote actions beneficial to the State for the 2006 elections.


  • Political parties opposing the State.
  • Constitutional Court.



  • CARLOS GAVIRIA DÍAZ: Generate ties to the FARC ONT (Narco-Terrorist Organization).


  • PIEDAD CÓRDOBA: Generate ties with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia [someone has drawn a question mark pointing to this].
  • HORACIO SERPA URIBE: Generate ties to the ELN.


  • GUSTAVO PETRO: Generate ties to the FARC.
  • ANTONIO NAVARRO: Generate ties to the M-19 and narcotrafficking.
  • WILSON BORJA: Generate sentimental infidelity [i.e., adultery rumors].
  • SAMUEL MORENO: Demonstrate relationship to financial embezzlement.



Smear campaigns, pressure and sabotage.



Neutralize the destabilizing actions of NGOs in Colombia and the world.


Establish their ties with narcoterrorist organizations, in order to put them on trial.



  • OBJECTIVE: Impede the edition of books
    • EA [we don't know what this stands for]
    • Others
  • STRATEGIES: sabotage and pressure.
  • ACTION: Public services
    Distribution trucks
    Judicial warfare


  • OBJECTIVE: Make the population conscious of the reality of communist ideology.
  • STRATEGIES: smear campaign.
  • ACTION: publish book (10,000 copies) – 7,620 delivered
  • PROJECTIONS: Internet (4,000 copies) – creation of web page

  • OBJECTIVE: Establish ties between CCAJAR (The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective human rights group) and ELN
  • STRATEGIES: Sabotage
  • ACTION: Exchange message with ELN leader, which will be found during a search of the premises


  • OBJECTIVE: Neutralize influence in the Inter-American Human Rights Court, Costa Rica
  • STRATEGIES: Smear campaigns and sabotage
  • ACTION: Alliance with foreign intelligence services
    Communications and denunciations on web pages
    Judicial warfare

  • OBJECTIVE: Neutralize influence in European Judicial System
    European Parliament Human Rights Committee
    Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN
    National Governments
  • STRATEGIES: Smear campaign
    ACTION: Communiqués and denunciations web pages
    Judicial warfare


  • OBJECTIVE: Generate division between high Redepaz officials (Ana Teresa Bernal) [Bernal, director of the pro-peace group Redepaz, also serves on the government's National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparations]
  • STRATEGIES: Operative investigation
    Smear campaigns and sabotage
  • ACTION: Prove illicit activities of the Redepaz official to obtain economic handouts to obtain political asylum.
    Delinking her security apparatus (DAS)

  • OBJECTIVE: Generate controversy with regard to NGOs
  • STRATEGIES: Smear campaign
  • ACTION: Emission of communiqués through the creation of the pages: Truth and justice corporation, and Colombian Information and Statistical Service for Conflict prevention


  • OBJECTIVE: Neutralize the action of foreign citizens who attack State security
  • STRATEGIES: Operative investigations
    Smear campaigns and pressure
  • ACTION: Deportation
    Communiqués and denunciations
Apr 08

Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos has faced accusations in the past that, as a journalist and anti-kidnapping activist in the 1990s, he met with paramilitary leaders and suggested they set up a presence in Bogotá.

Those accusations came from paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, in his testimony before “Justice and Peace” prosecutors. Though the Vice President insisted that he was just making a bad joke, and although Mancuso’s version was never corroborated, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office maintains an open investigation.

Now there is a bit more corroboration. The Verdad Abierta website, a collaboration of Colombian media and think-tanks, has just released a 150-page diary taken from a memory card belonging to extradited paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo. Tovar, alias “Jorge 40,” headed the AUC’s powerful Northern Bloc, which controlled much of the departments of Magdalena, Cesar and La Guajira.

The diary mentions few living Colombian public officials, but it goes on at some length about Vice-President Francisco Santos. And it reflects very poorly on him.

The following should be taken as the words of a truth-challenged former combatant with a political agenda of his own. Much here is probably inaccurate or untrue. (Just as in the case of “Samir,” the former FARC commander who has sought to impugn non-governmental activists.) Still, this is not a testimony that “Jorge 40” chose to release himself, and it does include some disturbing details.

The excerpt follows.

I’m not sure if it was in March, April or May 1997. I was at a vallenato festival when I had the opportunity to meet FRANCISCO SANTOS. I was presented as the person who could contact Comandante Salvatore Mancuso. I said that, coincidentally, he was in the city of Valledupar. I knew he was sleeping just three blocks from where the partying was going on, because we had been talking that day.

He asked me the favor of taking him to where he was because he wanted to say hello and talk to him. I assumed they knew each other because he spoke of wanting to say hello. I asked him to wait a moment while I communicated with the comandante. I moved away from the party and called him. I communicated the desire of FRANCISCO SANTOS, and although the comandante told me that he was sleeping, he agreed to meet him.

I told FRANCISCO SANTOS that I would, with pleasure, take him to the comandante. He asked me for a moment as he poured a shot of whiskey – smuggled, which we were used to drinking back then in Valledupar – and then the two of us left in the company of my two bodyguards.

We arrived and one of the comandante’s guards knocked on the door of the room where he was. He warned of my presence in the company of another man and, within minutes, came out and I saw the effusive way they welcomed each other, and how he greeted the comandante with the nickname “monito” [“Little Monkey” — Mancuso went by the nickname El Mono.]. That’s how I confirmed that they already knew each other. Comandante Santiago, who was sleeping in a room adjacent to Comandante Mancuso, also came out and sat down to talk in the kiosk.

Comandante Mancuso asked me the favor of sitting down and accompanying them for the meeting. In the first topic of conversation Mr. SANTOS asked Comandante Mancuso about the progress of the war. To which Comandante Mancuso responded most knowledgeably and gave an exposition of the situation, confirming his desire to increase the self-defense resistance forces in the departments of Cesar, Magdalena and Guajira.

At the same time, he informed him of Comandante Carlos Castaño’s plans to confront subversion throughout the country. At this moment Mr. FRANCISCO SANTOS asked Comandante Mancuso about the status of the issue he had raised with Comandante Castaño, about the presence of self-defense groups in Bogotá and Cundinamarca.

Next, he brought up the subject of his presence in Valledupar and explained that it owed to a launch the next day, in the Plaza Alfonso López, of the País Libre Foundation, which is devoted to helping on the issue of the release of hostages and their families. Comandante Mancuso, who was the only one who opened his mouth, said it seemed very good to him, because kidnapping not only affects the kidnapped, but his experience told him that the families suffered even more.

At that moment, FRANCISCO SANTOS said that, precisely, not just to help a family, but also because it would help the Foundation to gain a firm foothold in Valledupar, he would like to be given a person that was kidnapped by the AUC, which would kill three birds with one stone: the release of a person and tranquility of the family, the positioning of País Libre in the region, and a signal of the AUC’s will to achieve peace.

Comandante Mancuso told him that as a matter of the Organization’s policy, if the self-defense groups fight against kidnapping, how could they engage in it? That was not allowed. He said, however, that Comandante Santiago could provide additional information on this specific issue. At this time Comandante SANTIAGO explained to Mr. Santos about the person he was asking about.

He said this person had been involved in placing a bomb at the residence of a patriarch of the region. That this person had been located and taken to a zone in Magdalena, to obtain information about the urban network to which he belonged, that later he was killed and that his body would be impossible to recover, because they had thrown it in the Magdalena River. Mr. Santos expressed regret, as he hoped to do his launch the next day, presenting that person.

He took another drink of smuggled whiskey, with which he toasted Comandante Mancuso, and ended with another issue that was more like – or so I saw it – a recommendation. He mentioned that it was true that the war should continue, and that the evil of war was that there would be dead people. He said, then, that they should not disappear people, that this would end up becoming a problem, not just for human rights but also a problem for his Foundation, since the relatives ask his intervention to find the missing, and this increased not only operating costs but the need for more staff.

Comandante Mancuso told him, as did Comandante Santiago, that he would take into account his advice, and that he hoped that on another occasion he would be able to help him with something similar or whatever he might consider approriate. We said goodbye and he wished the comandantes success in their war and prudence in their actions. Then, we went back to the party where everyone awaited the arrival of Mr. Santos, then, as in all Vallenato parties when a Bogotano arrives, he became the center of attention.

(Later in the diary)

After lunch [Carlos Castaño] asked me the favor of traveling to Bogotá to meet with Mr. Francisco Santos, to give a greeting from him and to bring a message.

I told him no problem. When I asked for when, he told me to seek the appointment as quickly as possible. He already knew of our meeting in Valledupar. I told him I would look for the person who had introduced us because I didn’t even get his number the day I met him. He gave me the message to deliver, and thanked me in advance. He said he would only confirm; I was given a phone number and name so that, with that person, he would confirm the completion of the meeting. We said goodbye and I left encouraged because I was trying to position itself as a trusted associate of Comandante Castaño.

Though the message was very short, I was representing him. I took great pains to do him the favor as quickly as possible. I called the person who had introduced us, and asked him the favor of contacting Mr. Santos, to see if I could get 5 minutes, that I wouldn’t take more time than that, since I had a message from Comandante Castaño. He told me that when I was in Bogota to call him, that he would be happy to get him the meeting.

This was the case, and in mid-August, while in Bogotá, I was told he would receive me at 8 or 9 PM at a restaurant called Carbón de Palo, on 106th with 19th, something like that. He would be there because he had a dinner appointment; so I should arrive early in order to have time to speak, before the party he was expecting. I arrived, I greeted him and told him I would not take but 5 minutes. He asked me if I wanted a whisky, I was grateful, but I told him a glass of water was sufficient. He asked me why and I told him I was trying to stop drinking. He laughed I said that was impossible for a vallenato.

I gave him greetings from Comandante Castaño. He thanked me and asked me how things were going. I told him very hard but that the paramilitaries were willing to change the balance of the conflict; that our region was so accustomed to violence that the guerrillas handed us, that the actions with which the resistance responded did not frighten people, however harsh they might be, because the attack had been this hard for the last ten years.

He told me that war was definitely very cruel, and hopefully there could be humane methods. I told him that the only way was by eradicating them, and that without a state guaranteeing the citizens’ minimum rights, they would increasingly choose the option of violence; that definitely this was a war between the people.

Our chat had already taken like 10 minutes, when I proceeded to give the message of Comandante Castaño, which was to say he had received Comandante Mancuso’s message but, because it is the capital of the Republic, he could not send just any commander to that front; that he was looking for the ideal person, who already had the troops, and that once he had the right man, he would come to operate in the capital and in the Department.

I acknowledged receipt of the message and in a few minutes he said to me: the person I was waiting for has arrived. She was a woman. I thanked him for having received me kindly and said goodbye, as the woman was approaching.

Comandante Mancuso’s response was that this was an issue that Mr. Santos had discussed with Comandante Castaño at a previous meeting, and only Comandante Castaño could respond, but that, with pleasure, he would convey the concern to the comandante next time he saw him.

Mar 18

Here’s how the results of Sunday’s legislative elections look, with nearly all ballots counted. The numbers don’t yet total up to the total number of legislators in each house, because the counting is not complete.

It appears that pro-Uribe parties will continue to have a very solid majority in both houses of Congress. Opposition and non-aligned parties’ share will remain about the same as they did in 2006.

A key part of the government coalition is the National Integration Party (PIN), many of whose members are related to, or from the same political groupings of, legislators imprisoned for ties to paramilitary groups. The PIN party, says Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, was “designed in jail.” However, the La Silla Vacía website notes, several other parties had candidates suspected of ties to organized crime and armed groups, and most of them won.

For the first time, two leaders of Colombia’s non-governmental human rights movement did well, both as candidates of the leftist Polo Democrático party. Iván Cepeda of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes was elected to the Congress, and Gloria Flórez of Asociación Minga was elected to the Andean Parliament.

Senate (102 members; 94% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 58

La U 27 (20 in 2006) – the party headed by President Uribe’s former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the front-runner in polling for the May 30 presidential elections.
Conservative Party 23 (18 in 2006) – the Conservatives also held a presidential primary pitting former ambassador and minister Noemí Sanín against former agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias (known as “Uribito” for his loyalty to the President). The final result is not yet known.
PIN 8 - the party most associated with the “para-politicians.”

Opposition 26

Liberal Party (center-left) 18 (18 in 2006)
olo Democrático (left) 8 (10 in 2006) – the Polo lost seats in part because of internal infighting, and in part due to the unpopularity of Bogotá’s current mayor, Samuel Moreno.

Other 15

Cambio Radical (center-right) 8 (15 in 2006) – the party of right-wing politician Germán Vargas Lleras, part of the pro-Uribe coalition until Vargas Lleras broke away in early 2009. Many members of Cambio Radical defected to “La U.”
Green Party (center-left)
– the party of three popular former Bogotá mayors, Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Luis Eduardo Garzón. The Greens also held a presidential primary on Sunday, which Mockus won.
MIRA (evangelical) 2

Chamber of Representatives (166 members; 90% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 101

La U 49 (30 in 2006)
Conservatives 37 (29 in 2006)
PIN 14
Alas Equipo 1 (8 in 2006) – a small party many of whose members were caught up in the “para-politics” scandal.

Opposition 39

Liberals (center-left) 34 (35 in 2006)
Polo Democrático (left) 5 (10 in 2006)

Other 24

Cambio Radical (center-right) 15 (20 in 2006)
Green Party (center-left) 3
Apertura Liberal 2 – tied to DMG, a failed pyramid scheme
Unidad Liberal (regional / Huila department) 2
MIRA (evangelical) 1

Indigenous Social Alliance 1 – allied with center-left former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, whose movement made a surprisingly weak showing.

Mar 02

Apologies for the light posting this week. I’ve written two articles for two other outlets in the last two days, which has left no time for blog entries. (I’ll link to those articles when they appear.)

Instead, here is a cross-post of a Colombia-related podcast produced for the CIP-LAWG-WOLA “Just the Facts” program. It’s an interview with Roxana Altholz of the University of California at Berkeley Law School Human Rights Clinic, author of “Truth Behind Bars,” a hard-hitting report on 30 Colombian paramilitary leaders’ extradition to the United States, which has complicated efforts to win justice for their victims. (The report was summarized in a recent entry to this blog.)


Feb 22
When they ventured back into El Salado in November 2001, 21 months after the massacre, residents found their houses completely overgrown with vegetation. (Photo from the report of the Historical Memory Group of the CNRR.)

Ten years ago yesterday, paramilitaries finished a four-day massacre in the village of El Salado, in the Montes de María region near Colombia’s Caribbean coast. About 450 paramilitaries, unchallenged by the security forces, took control of the town and killed more than 60 of its residents. They did so without firing a shot, torturing their victims and using implements like knives and stones.

The massacre was one of the worst in Colombian history, though only one of 42 that the paramilitaries carried out in the tiny Montes de María region in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Of the 450 paramilitary fighters who participated in this act of extreme cruelty, only 15 have ever been condemned by Colombia’s justice system. Of the military personnel who allowed it to happen and possibly aided and abetted it, only four have been punished, with disciplinary sanctions.

Here is a translation of a column about El Salado by El Tiempo columnist Daniel Samper, which appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Colombian daily. Also recommended is the excellent report published last September by the Historical Memory Group of the Colombian government’s National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparations.

Colombia, an unlucky country
Daniel Samper Pizano
El Tiempo (Colombia), February 21, 2010

El Salado is a two-hundred-year-old village located in the Montes de María. 18 kilometers away is Carmen de Bolívar, which inspired the famous porro (folksong) of its most beloved son, the composer Lucho Bermúdez. At other times, El Salado was a prosperous town, known as the “tobacco capital of the [Caribbean] coast” and celebrated for its vegetables. 20 years ago it had large storehouses, good public and health services, a high school and 33 stores.

Now it is famous as the scene of one of the cruelest massacres in our history. Ten years ago today was the final day of an orgy of blood that had begun on February 16, 2000 in some nearby hamlets and, starting on the 17th, began on the streets of El Salado. During more than 70 hours, three paramilitary groups set up a machine of death in the town without being bothered by any authority. They had fought the guerrillas previously, and ended up fleeing, and so they fell upon the civilian population.

The Historical Memory Group’s report about these crimes (La masacre de El Salado: esa guerra no era nuestra, ediciones Taurus-Semana, 2009) affirms that the first troops, made up of marines, appeared on the 19th at 5 PM, “three days after the massacre had begun, and they only came by land, without air support, while two paramilitary helicopters overflew the territory of the massacre during at least three days.” While 450 men commanded by Salvatore Mancuso, “Jorge 40″ and Carlos Castaño committed all kinds of atrocities in El Salado, the Marine Brigade was off looking for guerrillas and cattle thieves in other zones. According to the Inspector-General [Procuraduría], the police and military “omitted the compliance of their functions.”

El Salado’s was a foretold massacre. Two months before, a helicopter scattered flyers over the town warning the inhabitants to eat, drink and celebrate the New Year because they had few days left. For years the town was a victim of the guerrillas’ merciless attacks and extortions, and now came the paramilitaries’ threats for supposed complicity with the FARC. Few inhabitants thought that the threats would be carried out. But in the course of four days the paramilitaries killed 61 citizens, among them three minors under 18 years old and ten elderly people.

Out of respect for our Sunday readers, I will abstain from describing the cruelties that were committed: from women impaled through the vagina to men beheaded with knives. At the end, 4,000 people abandoned the area, and only a few hundred remained in what became a ghost town. Thus began the interminable history of those displaced by violence in Bolívar. Many ended up begging on the street corners of the coastal cities.

15 paramilitaries — none of them of any importance in the hierarchy — were found guilty in trials related to the massacre, and four marine officers received disciplinary sanctions.

A few years ago, numerous displaced people decided to return to El Salado. They had, and continue to have, the generous support of several foundations, NGOs, authorities and private businesses. But upon returning, they discovered that the region’s lands, which had provided them with food, had suffered a reverse land reform: large investors controlled them, and a hectare [2.5 acres] that was worth 300,000 pesos (US$150) today costs ten times as much.

The case of El Salado was dramatic, and is still more so because it is a metaphor for what happens in Colombia. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians get caught in between the opposing forces, and on occasion do not even have the authorities’ protection. The justice that comes later is slow and mean. And someone is growing rich through this war. The rebuilding of El Salado could be a note of optimism in a depressing panorama.

Feb 17


It’s been almost two years since the Colombian government extradited most of the old AUC paramilitary leadership to the United States to face drug charges. While it is positive to see these once-powerful warlords behind bars, they are here to be tried for narcotrafficking only — not for the thousands of murders and other human rights crimes for which they are responsible.

The extraditions have brought nearly two years of additional frustration for victims trying to recover stolen property or learn what happened to their loved ones; for prosecutors trying to dismantle the paramilitaries’ criminal networks; and for investigators trying to determine who in Colombia’s politics and armed forces gave the murderous militias support, funding and arms.

The Berkeley Law School’s International Human Rights Law Clinic released a report yesterday that is by far the best source of information and analysis on what has happened since the extraditions began. “Truth behind Bars: Colombian Paramilitary Leaders in U.S. Custody” (PDF) lays out the apparently inadvertent damage that the extraditions have done to the cause of truth and justice in Colombia. It also, however, recommends workable steps that the U.S. and Colombian governments might take to set things right.

Here are just a few excerpts from the report. Download the full 4.1MB PDF file here.

Most extradited paramilitaries have dropped out of the “Justice and Peace” process, and thus do not have to speak to Colombian authorities at all.

Only five of the thirty Defendants have continued their voluntary statements at the Justice and Peace hearings from the United States. Defendant Salvatore Mancuso participated in four version libre confession sessions from the United States, more than the other extradited leaders. During these sessions, he detailed several massacres and trade unionist murders. However, on September 30, 2009, Mancuso announced his decision to withdraw from the process. His announcement came three days after fellow extradited AUC leader Diego Murillo Bejarano made a similar announcement. In letters to Colombian authorities, both Defendants cited unexplained delays, the inability to confer with subordinates, and threats to family members in Colombia as the reasons for their decisions. Colombian authorities have confirmed the difficulties in securing the Defendants’ continued participation. Of thirty-nine hearing requests made by Colombian authorities during a five- month period, only ten were satisfied.

Victims are cut out almost completely. U.S. prosecutors have chosen not to apply the Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA).

To preserve victim involvement in the Justice and Peace process, Colombian and U.S. authorities initially planned for Defendants to testify via video conference for viewing by accredited victims in Colombia. In practice, however, Colombian authorities have cancelled several transmissions because of lack of funds. Similarly, U.S. custody of Defendants has frustrated victims’ ability to question perpetrators directly, as stipulated by the Justice and Peace Law. …

Colombian victims have been unable to pursue economic redress against Defendants through the U.S. criminal proceedings. In theory, victims are eligible to collect compensation from Defendants and to inform the terms of a plea bargain and eventual sentence under the U.S. Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA). However, U.S. prosecutors have opposed the efforts of Colombian victims to intervene and have refused to acknowledge them as victims under the statute. This approach prevents victims from even learning of the status of the prosecutions of Defendants.

The extraditions have effectively blocked other judicial investigations aiming to dismantle paramilitarism and punish collaborators, including the “para-politics” investigations. U.S. officials aren’t even responding to information requests coming from Colombian prosecutors and even Supreme Court justices. Those who helped the paramilitaries now have little reason to fear that the extradited leaders might reveal their identities.

Colombian investigations outside the Justice and Peace process have been stymied by the extradition of Defendants. At the direction of the United States, Colombia has forwarded all requests for judicial cooperation to the justice attaché at the U.S. Embassy. However, Colombian judges
and prosecutors report that U.S. officials have not been sufficiently responsive. Transmission of information has been delayed and cancellations of exchanges are frequent. In a May 21, 2009 letter to a Colombian non-governmental organization, the Colombian Human Rights Unit identified fifty-four unanswered requests for judicial assistance. … Colombia’s Supreme Court has encountered similar difficulties. For instance, since late 2008, the Supreme Court has made multiple requests to take statements from Defendants, including AUC leaders Carlos Jiménez Naranjo, Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, and Diego Murillo Bejarano. However, as of October 28, 2009, U.S. authorities had not responded.

The report has three recommendations for the U.S. government.

  • Create an effective and efficient procedure for judicial cooperation. The United States should review current policy to identify the cause of delays in responding to requests for cooperation. New procedures should ensure that U.S. authorities share information with and respond to requests by Colombian authorities in a timely manner to minimize any impact of the extraditions on open investigations in Colombia.
  • Incentivize extradited paramilitary leaders to disclose details about all their crimes and the identities of their accomplices in the military, government and national and foreign businesses. The United States should actively encourage extradited leaders to testify about their crimes and allies by conditioning sentence reductions or other benefits achieved through plea-bargaining on effective cooperation. Possible benefits of cooperation should include provision of visas to family members of Defendants under threat in Colombia. … The U.S. Department of Justice should reverse its current policy of taking “no position” on whether Defendants should cooperate with Colombian authorities.
  • Initiate investigations for torture committed by extradited paramilitary leaders. [P]ursuant to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. has ratified, the State Party in whose territory an alleged torturer is found has a duty to either extradite that individual, or to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.” This duty is also supported by U.S. domestic anti-torture legislation. … The United States should hold extradited leaders accountable for all their crimes under federal law, including torture, and promote justice for Colombian victims.
Feb 16

The department of Córdoba in northwestern Colombia, home to President Álvaro Uribe’s large cattle ranch, spent most of the past 15 years strongly controlled by paramilitary leaders. It was here that Salvatore Mancuso and the Castaño brothers formed the United Self-Defense Groups of Córdoba and Urabá, then later pioneered the AUC as a national paramilitary umbrella. With little of its territory in dispute, Córdoba under the warlords’ rule was relatively peaceful.

That is not so today. Violence is increasing in Córdoba, especially in the department’s southern half. The paramilitary groups’ heirs are fighting each other for control of territory, legal economic investment projects, and illegal drug trafficking routes. And the civilian population is caught in the the middle.

In October, three church-based humanitarian and conflict-resolution groups sent a delegation to Córdoba to evaluate the security situation. The Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action (Justapaz), Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL) have produced a 5-page report (PDF) describing what they learned. The Colombian government must view it as a call to action. The “new” paramilitary groups are becoming a major security threat, and the civilian population is being victimized and requires far more attention.

Here are excerpts from the three organizations’ report.

The Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (best known by the acronym AUC) were officially demobilized in 2003. Since this time, there has been a dramatic difference between government proclamations of peace and the reality suffered by local communities. In Cordoba, victims and social leaders testify to violent actions by the rearmed paramilitary groups (Águilas Negras, Autodefensas Gaitanistas, Los Paisas and Los Rastrojos). These “new” groups dispute territorial control and use the same military modus operandi that the supposedly demobilized paramilitary groups used. This includes collusion with public security forces and some governmental agencies.

The four groups are independent of one another, but documented cases and testimony from local communities evidence collaboration between the Águilas Negras and the Autodefensas Gaitanistas on one side, and pitted against the Paisas and Rastrojos on the other. …

Residents of Córdoba explain that before the demobilization, while violence reigned, they at least understood who was in control, knew who to negotiate with when given the opportunity and, to a certain degree, could even predict when violence would strike and why. … With the absence of leadership, and inadequate state programs aimed at apprehending and truly reintegrating paramilitaries, former mid-level paramilitary leaders and foot soldiers regrouped. The lines of command are unclear, resulting in uncertainty and chaos for local communities in southern Córdoba. That said, land disputes such as that of the Quindio land tract and community illustrate military operations at the behest of large landholders seeking to extend their control. …

Confrontation of paramilitarism comes with a cost. Entire church communities fall victim to assassinations, threats, and forced displacement. … Between January and October of 2009, alleged rearmed paramilitary groups assassinated six evangelical church leaders in southern Córdoba and caused the displacement of five communities, forcing at least 265 families or 1,230 people from their homes. For many this was a repeat offense. …

Regional and church analysts cite economic interests that “demand” unfettered access to land currently inhabited by campesinos and indigenous communities as a driver of violence displacing people from their lands. The most often cited culprit is drug-trafficking. At least as insidious, however, is big business development in the region such as the cultivation of African palm, mining of coal, gold, and nickel and the earlier development of hydroelectric dams. …

The Justapaz and the Cedecol Peace Commission documentation project registered complaints of families displaced by rearmed paramilitary groups who were refused reception by the Colombian Presidency’s Agency for Social Action (Acción Social). The agency reportedly denied them the right to be recognized as victims of displacement for declaring that the responsible parties were new paramilitary groups. According to community testimony, this is a recurrent practice.

Feb 15
Medellín’s gang-ridden Comuna 13 neighborhood.

Note as of February 16: we’ve added a podcast about this topic to the “Just the Facts” website.


Only two or three years ago, Medellín was a showcase for Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s security policies. An 80-percent drop in homicides [PDF] brought new prosperity and confidence. A series of U.S. congressional delegations, organized by both governments to promote the free-trade agreement signed in 2006, toured the city to view the “Medellín Miracle.”

The progress owed in part to the Uribe government’s deployments of soldiers and police to the violent slums that surround the city, and in part to the municipal government’s heavy investments in basic services in those neighborhoods.

But another factor shared the credit: an unusually high degree of harmony between the drug-funded, paramilitary-linked gangs responsible for most of Medellín’s criminality. The members of this loose network of gangs, often known as the “Office of Envigado” — the name comes from the Medellín suburb where Pablo Escobar established a group of hitmen — feud as often as they cooperate, with very bloody results.


The unusual period of harmony owed to a monopoly. From 2003 until 2008, the barrios’ gangs were under the solid control of one man: Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” a longtime drug-underworld figure who became head of the AUC paramilitaries’ “Cacique Nutibara Bloc.” Likely in cooperation with the Colombian Army, Don Berna pushed guerrilla militias out of the barrios. Then he pushed out, or coopted, all other paramilitary and narco-gangs in the city.

When the Nutibara Bloc “demobilized” in late 2003, the order went out from Don Berna: keep violent behavior to a minimum. The ensuing period of peace in Medellín has been called “DonBernabilidad,” a play on the Spanish word for “governability.”

“DonBernabilidad” ended with the paramilitary boss’s extradition to the United States in May 2008. With the leviathan gone, the fractured Office of Envigado gangs began fighting each other again. Crime rates began rising dramatically; in 2009 the number of murders in this city of 2.5 million reached 2,178, more than double the 2008 figure.

Seventy percent of those murders, by some estimates, owe to fighting between two main factions of the Office of Envigado: one headed by Erick Vargas, alias “Sebastián,” and one headed by Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano.” Though imprisoned, both leaders continue to exercise very strong control over their factions, which together control about 80 percent of Medellín’s gangs.

The “Committee for Life”

For this reason, a committee of prominent Medellín citizens spent three months shuttling from jail to jail seeking to broker a non-agression pact between Sebastián and Valenciano. That pact was achieved on February 1, and the number of murders in Medellín is reportedly down since that date.

The non-governmental mediators, calling themselves the “Committee for Life” (Comisión por la Vida), were a diverse and influential group:

  • Jaime Jaramillo Panesso, one of ten members of the Colombian government’s National Commission for Reparations and Reconciliation, who served as the Committee’s spokesman;
  • Francisco Galán, until recently a leader of the ELN guerrilla group;
  • Monsignor Alberto Giraldo, the archbishop of Medellín; and
  • Jorge Gaviria, former director of the Medellin government’s program to reintegrate ex-combatants. Gaviria is the brother of José Obdulio Gaviria, who until last year was one of President Álvaro Uribe’s closest advisors, and who is now an ultra-right-wing columnist in the Colombian daily El Tiempo, where he accuses all of Uribe’s detractors, from NGOs to members of the U.S. Congress, of being FARC supporters. Both Gaviria brothers are first cousins of Pablo Escobar.

Who authorized talks with narcotraffickers?

As it carried out its prison negotiations between the Medellín factions, the committee counted with the Uribe government’s authorization. In November, President Uribe authorized the Catholic Church and civil-society groupings to initiate dialogues with criminal groups (not guerrillas) operating in their territories, for a three-month period, with the goal of convincing them “to turn themselves in to justice.”

When news of the Medellín “pact” leaked, however, Colombia’s media was immediately abuzz with charges that the government had authorized a “pact with narcotraffickers.” The Uribe administration backed off: Frank Pearl, the presidency’s “high commissioner for peace,” told reporters, “The members of the civil society commission had very good intentions, but it is possible that at some moment they lost sight of their goal, which was nothing other than the [criminal groups'] submission to justice.” For his part, Medellín Mayor Alonso Salazar, who has rejected negotiations with criminal groups but whose beleaguered administration could benefit from a break in the violence, said he was aware of the work of the “Committee for Life” but was not participating.

What did the gang leaders get in return for agreeing to the pact?

Committee spokesman Panesso insists that the Office of Envigado factions’ top leaders got no privileges in exchange for calling a truce. “It is an action of good will between them, at our request,” he told reporters. “We found that they are tired of war, that there has been a bloodletting that is not in their interest. And if it’s not in their interest, much less in society’s interest. They told us that what they needed was someone to mediate and help them come to an understanding.”

However, the Committee proposed that, “in order to continue its work,” the criminal bosses should all be transferred to prisons near Medellín — a step that would put them in much greater control over their syndicates. And indeed, it appears that a few key members of the Office of Envigado were recently moved to the Itagüí prison on Medellín’s outskirts.

A model, or a mistake?

For years, the Uribe government has prohibited, or limited very strictly, so-called “regional dialogues” with guerrilla groups about issues like hostage releases or limiting landmine use. It seems odd, then, that the government would so readily authorize citizen dialogues with imprisoned organized-crime leaders. (Even if the talks seek only to discuss “submission to justice,” the implication is that something will be offered in return.)

This inconsistency doesn’t mean that the “Committee for Life” was a loose cannon whose work should never have been authorized. Brokering a pact with imprisoned criminal leaders would be acceptable if:

  1. It truly brings social peace, measured in an immediate drop in crime.
  2. It truly happens in exchange for nothing. The leaders should not get any benefits from the state, since they are still running criminal organizations.
  3. It happens amid a concerted effort to strengthen the rule of law — and especially to capture the imprisoned criminal bosses’ commanders “on the outside” and dismantle their networks. The communications between the jailed leaders and their underlings should be a rich source of intelligence.

These pacts are not acceptable, though, if all three of the above conditions are not in place. The third one in particular seems to be badly absent right now.

Feb 03

Human Rights Watch has just released its first major report on Colombia in more than a year, and it looks like required reading.

Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia” documents the rise of “emerging” paramilitary groups throughout the country, including zones that have been a heavy focus for U.S. military assistance. It is quite critical of the Colombian government’s “weak and ineffective” response to this rapidly growing phenomenon.

It’s 113 pages and they’ve been working on it for a long time. Very highly recommended.

Jan 28

Posted to the website of El Tiempo, Colombia’s main newspaper, early this morning:

Posted minutes ago to the website of El Tiempo:

Note as of 10:15AM January 29: Semana magazine is reporting that Ovalle, 54, died of cancer diagnosed in December.

Jan 27

Note as of 1:00 AM January 28: After 13 hours of deliberation today, El Tiempo reports, Colombia’s National Electoral Council decided to suspend the ADN party, citing the active role played by imprisoned politicians.

(This post was composed with research assistance from CIP Intern Cristina Salas.)

As Colombia inches closer to its March 14 legislative elections, it is growing ever clearer that the country has not left “para-politics” behind.

The last time Colombia reelected its Congress, in March 2006, about a third of the winners ended up under investigation, on trial or in prison for ties to mass-murdering, drug-trafficking paramilitary groups who were politically powerful in many regions. (Download a recent list here.) The resulting scandal raised public awareness of organized crime’s infiltration of Colombia’s government, and spurred Colombia’s Supreme Court to attempt an ambitious housecleaning in the legislature. But the phenomenon continues in the current election cycle.

Since the 2006 cycle, three parties all but ceased to exist because of the huge number of office-holders who ended up in trouble for sponsoring, aiding and abetting, or otherwise making deals with the right-wing militias. But “Colombia Viva,” “Colombia Democrática” and “Convergencia Ciudadana” are back in new guises, running candidates for the March vote.

The three parties have undergone a makeover, reemerging as Alianza Democrática Nacional (National Democratic Alliance) and Partido de Integración Nacional (National Integration Party), but maintaining the legal registrations of Convergencia Ciudadana and Colombia Democrática, respectively. (This El Tiempo editorial asserts that they maintain the legal registrations of Convergencia and Colombia Viva.)

Alianza Democrática Nacional, or “ADN” (the Spanish initials of DNA, as in genetic code), was created in early December by former members of Colombia Viva, Convergencia Ciudadana and Colombia Democrática, the latter party founded by President Álvaro Uribe’s second cousin Mario Uribe, who is currently under investigation for paramilitary ties. Colombia Viva included Senator Vicente Blel, sentenced this week to seven years in prison, and Álvaro García, accused of conspiring with paramilitaries who carried out a notoriously horrific string of massacres in the Montes de María region during the early 2000s. Juan Carlos Martínez, a Convergencia Ciudadana senator from Valle del Cauca, is accused of helping to organize the ADN party from his prison cell.

Former members of Convergencia Ciudadana created the Partido de Integración Nacional, or “PIN”, after the earlier party ceased to exist because its founder, ex-senator Luis Alberto Gil, was jailed and another one of its leaders, ex-governor of Santander Hugo Aguilar, came under judicial investigation.

Colombian analysts say that these political parties exist in part to support the campaigns of political heirs of the “para-politicians,” thus guaranteeing their continued influence and local political power. As the scandal leaves voids in local political leadership structures, the parties aim to fill them with the scandal-tarred bosses’ friends, relatives or allies. In the candidates list for the upcoming elections, for instance, ex-senator Gil has been replaced by his wife, and ex-governor Aguilar by his son. (More examples of family members serving as substitutes can be found in this piece in the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio.)

The head of the largest “mainstream” pro-Uribe party, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos of the “Partido Social de la Unidad” or “U”, claims that the party is doing its utmost to avoid paramilitary influence. (Several “U” party legislators have been embroiled in the para-politics scandal, though the party was not hit as hard as the three parties being re-packaged today.) Santos announced that all “U” candidates for the upcoming Congress elections will be investigated for ties with illegal groups, including the signing of sworn statements and verification by an “ethics committee.”

Left-of-center Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán says that those who do not pass muster in La U will end up in the ADN or PIN parties, “enchanted creations conceived at the last minute by the Palace of Nariño [Colombian 'White House'] to house the scum of the paramilitary mafia that the ‘U’ no longer has the luxury of admitting.”

Meanwhile, ADN and PIN, their campaigns flush with cash, are blanketing several regions of Colombia with advertisements professing their support for President Uribe, hoping to ride his coat-tails back into office, four years after the “para-politics” scandal first broke.

Nov 18
Luis Jorge Garay. (Photo source and article text)

The Colombian newsweekly Semana published this interview Sunday, translated below, with outspoken Colombian economist Luis Jorge Garay. Working with the Fundación Método, Garay recently co-published a study about one of Colombia’s most severe challenges: the difficulty of eliminating organized crime’s influence over the state.

Colombia’s government has been repeatedly penetrated by criminal groups. Examples include Pablo Escobar’s domination of local politics in Medellín and his 1982 election (as an alternate legislator) to Colombia’s Congress; the Cali cartel’s donations to the 1994 presidential campaign of Ernesto Samper; and the ongoing “para-politics” scandal, in which several dozen legislators, governors, mayors and other officials have made common cause with drug-funded paramilitary groups.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who remains a very close parner of the U.S. government, has made gains against leftist guerrillas and cut a deal with paramilitary groups to demobilize their national structure. He has extradited several top paramilitary leaders, as well as most leaders of the North Valle cartel that dominated narcotrafficking in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

The power of Colombian organized crime, however, remains great. Narcotraffickers are estimated to control about 10 million acres of land, including about half of the most fertile and sought-after land in the country. Recent scandals have revealed their infiltration at the highest levels of institutions like the presidential intelligence service (DAS) and the Medellín branch of the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía). And Garay contends that, with the emergence of “new” paramilitary groups throughout the country, the mafia – and its penetration of the state – is evolving.

How is it evolving? Garay’s study performs a fascinating network analysis of narco-state ties. Though the study doesn’t discuss it in these terms, we can identify several characteristics of the “successful mafioso” in today’s Colombia.

  • Control of territory, using private militias.
  • Alliances forged with local politicians, usually cemented by support for campaigns and sharing in corruption.
  • Investments in legal enterprises, particularly productive projects like biofuels and palm oil, usually pooling resources with local economic elites.
  • Alliance with, or acquiescence of, local security forces – through ties of corruption rather than a common counter-insurgent cause.
  • A low profile, avoiding a protagonistic role in politics, and avoiding confrontation with the security forces.
  • Usually, benign treatment of the population, including financial support – with the exception of organized civil society, who are subject to threats and intimidation.

Though they are responsible for much of the illegal drugs coming from Colombia to the United States today, it has not been easy to convince policymakers, many focused on Colombia’s recent “success,” that this new generation of organized crime poses a threat, and that the United States must work more actively to limit its influence over a government that Washington continues to aid generously.

Here is the Semana interview with Luis Jorge Garay.

The economist and researcher Luis Jorge Garay coordinated for the Fundación Método a study about what, in boldly simple terms, could be labeled organized crime’s infiltration of the state. …

Gustavo Gómez, Semana: What does cooptation of the state consist of?

Luis Jorge Garay: It is the exercise through which a person or group, legal or illegal, taking advantage of its power of influence, intermediates before the state to favor its own interests. Within the law, a business association for example is coopting when, through the exercise of its power of influence, it gets the state to adopt sectoral policies that favor it, even against the collective interest. On the other hand, the case of illegality takes place with organized criminal groups, on occasion in alliance with legal sectors, who seek to reconfigure state institutions for their advantage, through the state itself.

GG: It is inevitable to think of Pablo Escobar and his election to Congress…

LJG: Since the time of [Escobar associate] Carlos Lehder the mafia understood that politics is an efficient means to infiltrate the state and society. Escobar managed to get a seat in Congress, but he ran up against the counterweight of Luis Carlos Galán [a Liberal Party leader assassinated in 1989], who got in the way of his political cooptation strategy.

GG: Did the mafia learn from that mistake when it penetrated Ernesto Samper’s campaign?

LJG: It learned much, so much that it realized that participating openly and visibly in politics implied risks of criminal and social exposure, and it decided to advance in the financing of parties and campaigns, and reached the point of trying to coopt the presidential agenda.

GG: Who was the counterweight then?

LJG: There was indignation in some sectors, but the determining reaction didn’t come from society, nor was there any definitive political leadership like in Galán’s case. The determining actor was foreign: the U.S. government.

GG: What advance did the paramilitaries make with regard to infiltration, compared to these previous experiences?

LJG: The scenario of an intensification of the fight against the guerrillas, to the point at which, with the active participation of legal sectors and with the intervention of illegal groups, illegal armies were established. They understood that a mafia without territorial dominion would not reach power, and that a mafia without a state has no reason to exist. These armies, to their very central nucleus, were penetrated by narcotrafficking in their attempt to coopt the state. This even took them to the Congress, so that it is possible to talk about the narco-para-political phenomenon.

GG: The objective as to re-found the state?

LJG: Their advance with regard to Lehder, Escobar and the Cali cartel was the consolidation of new, regionally based political movements, through alliances resulting from intimidation but, above all, of shared interests between criminals and politicians to use the legislature and advance in the coopted reconfiguration of the state.

GG: What role does the Supreme Court play in this panorama?

LJG: It is the counterweight power par excellence, first in the scenario of the conspiracy charges faced by the narco-para-politicians, and later, in proving that in participating in pacts to reconfigure the state, they abetted the use of force that cost the lives of 25,000 people. Recently the Court gave itself the power to judge them as the authors of crimes against humanity.

GG: It did so to avoid impunity?

LJG: The thing is, we are facing a paradoxical scenario in which the United States, which was the counterweight during the Samper period, now seeks to privilege its domestic interests by judging the paramilitary leaders for narcotrafficking, and subordinating to those interests much more serious crimes commmitted in Colombia. The risk of impunity for crimes against humanity has diminished with the Court’s current position which, in fact, is establishing new jurisprudence regarding extradition.

GG: Is the Court not exceeding its competence?

LJG: In the case of judging narco-para-politics, it acts absolutely within the law and there is no possibility of debating its right to make these judgments.

GG: The government insists that it strangled paramilitarism. Does this mean selling us the idea that we are living in a period of post-conflict?

LJG: We are not living that because, as I say, cooptation continues.

GG: Should we mistrust the successes of Democratic Security?

LJG: There are evident advances, like the weakening of the FARC, and effectiveness in the dismantling of the top narco-paramilitary leadership. But at the regional level, agreements with some sectors of the political class continue, and organized crime has regrouped as “emerging bands.” There are still armed groups that have created “a new social order” in some regions, to the advantage of some legal actors.

GG: Have the media been an effective counterweight?

LJG: We have analyzed the last 12 years and we find a permanent scrutiny of what has happened with respect to narco-paramilitarism. They informed, but they came up short in the task of building broad consensus in rejecting processes of this nature.

GG: What consequences might another reelection have?

LJG: If it happens, there will have to be a simultaneous, integral change to guarantee an adequate system of checks and balances under the constitution.

GG: What will the next cooptation scenario be?

LJG: If the currently germinating elements of the current stage of cooptation are not uprooted, there will be a transition to another with a similar basis but with more sophisticated processes and new actors seeking a change in the regime. THe actors are accidental, temporary and substitutable.

GG: Would you prefer to avoid optimism when you think of Colombia’s future?

LJG: I realistically view the deep problems we face in order to develop as a true democracy, but I’m optimistic that we, as a society, can react. Much is lacking, that is true, to arrive at true social justice and democracy.

Oct 29

We’ve grown accustomed to hearing Colombian government officials accuse the country’s human rights organizations of supporting guerrilla groups. While they never present proof, the notion that human rights defenders are “spokespeople for terrorism” of the left is a regular theme in speeches by President Álvaro Uribe and others. (See examples in the section that begins on page 33 of this report, recently produced by a coalition of Colombian groups.)

But here is an accusation we’ve never heard before. This 20-second video shows Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, in a Colombian television interview granted last Thursday. Santos is responding to news that Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) reopened an investigation into allegations that, ten years ago, he urged paramilitary leaders to set up a presence in Bogotá:

Santos seems to think that Colombia’s human rights NGOs are now in league not just with the guerrillas, but also with the right-wing paramilitaries – and that the judicial system should investigate.

Keep in mind that, in the Uribe government, the human rights portfolio is managed by the Vice President’s Office.

Oct 26
On the road outside Puerto Asís. (I don’t have a Villa Sandra picture.)

The following two paragraphs come from a report (PDF) we published following a 2006 visit to the department of Putumayo, in southern Colombia.

A few miles north of Puerto Asís, close to the large military base in the crossroads town of Santana, sits “Villa Sandra,” a large compound with a big house, a pond and recreational facilities. Six years ago, during the paramilitaries’ bloody takeover of Putumayo’s town centers, and then during the beginning of Plan Colombia’s execution, Villa Sandra was the paramilitaries’ center of operations. Everyone in Puerto Asís – except, apparently, the military and police – knew that the paras were headquartered there, and that many who were forcibly brought there never left the premises.

During our 2001 visit to Putumayo, Villa Sandra was very much in use. When we returned in 2004, it was abandoned, and remains so now, its facilities in evident disrepair behind a high chain-link fence. Many in Putumayo believe that an inspection of the compound’s grounds would reveal much about the paramilitaries’ activities in the zone – including, in some likelihood, mass graves. That Villa Sandra remains untouched and uninvestigated is eloquent evidence of the paramilitaries’ continued influence over Putumayo, despite the recent demobilizations.

The existence of the “Villa Sandra” paramilitary base, right on the main road outside Putumayo’s largest city, was no secret in 2000-2001. At that time, the AUC paramilitaries were in the midst of a horrifying string of massacres of the civilian population in Putumayo, with no opposition from Colombia’s security forces.

Also at that time, the United States was just getting started with “Plan Colombia,” at the time a campaign of military and police assistance, purportedly for counternarcotics, whose “ground zero” in this initial phase was Putumayo.

As U.S. military money poured into Putumayo, groups like ours loudly denounced the local armed forces and police units’ quite open collaboration with the paramilitaries, even as the AUC carried out a bloodbath in the zone.

  • Human Rights Watch published an extensive investigation into paramilitary ties to Putumayo’s security forces, which mentioned Villa Sandra, the paramilitary base, by name.
  • We denounced the presence of Villa Sandra in two reports and in all interactions with U.S. government officials.
  • The BBC reported on how one could easily arrive at the base just by hailing a taxi in Puerto Asís.
  • Amnesty International mentioned Villa Sandra in testimony before a U.S. congressional committee.
  • On the floor of the Senate in October 2001, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) demanded, “Close Hacienda Villa Sandra, a base about one mile north of Puerto Asís, the largest town in Putumayo. Is this too much to ask?”

None of these efforts made a difference. U.S. military and police funding continued to pour into Putumayo, supporting a Joint Task Force headed by the highly questioned Gen. Mario Montoya in what the Clinton administration’s drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, called “The Push Into Southern Colombia.” The paramilitary campaign of terror proceeded apace, killing thousands, displacing tens of thousands, and – if the strength of FARC fronts operating in Putumayo today is any indication – doing little to weaken the guerrillas. And Villa Sandra remained open for business.

Last Wednesday, the “Verdad Abierta” website, a collaboration between Semana magazine and several think-tanks and international donor agencies, posted an article about Villa Sandra. Citing testimony from a demobilized paramilitary member, it confirms the worst about how the base was used, the number of bodies that are probably buried there, and the level of collaboration the paramilitaries received from the local military and police.

As you read these translated excerpts below, keep in mind that all of this was happening while a specially vetted Colombian Army Counter-Narcotics Battalion, set up in 1999-2000 entirely with U.S. funds, was operating at a base perhaps half a mile away.

Villa Sandra offers eloquent testimony to why assurances from the U.S. and Colombian governments that human rights protections are in place, and that the situation is improving, simply can’t be taken at face value. Such official claims must always be carefully and independently verified. Villa Sandra also reminds us that the victims of what happened during Plan Colombia’s first phase in Putumayo need far more truth, justice, reparations and protection than they are currently getting.

Investigation of possible mass grave with 800 cadavers in Puerto Asís

Verdad Abierta, October 21, 2009

On a farm in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, the paramilitaries apparently buried more than 800 people who were killed by the Southern Front of Putumayo.

The victims’ remains may be found at a farm called Villa Sandra, where the paramilitaries installed one of their bases of operations during their consolidation process in southern Colombia in January 1998.

This is according to testimony given to prosecutors of the Justice and Peace Unit [of the Prosecutor-General's Office] in Medellín by John Jairo Rentería Zúñiga, alias “Betún,” who was part of the Southern Front of Putumayo created in 1998 with members of the Bananero Bloc of the Campesino Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU) at the orders of paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño, and commanded by alias “Rafa Putumayo.”

“At that farm we had a permanent group, and that is where those from town brought the people they were going to kill, they handed them over, they executed them and they buried them over there. There are a lot of people in graves, I believe some 800 people,” said alias “Betún”…

According to the ex-paramilitary, this land was donated to the ACCU by its owner, so that they could install their base of operations there. Asked why they chose to bury their victims there, “Betún” explained that it owed to a suggestion from the Puerto Asís police: “They asked us the favor of not killing any more people in town, because it created problems for them, so they gave the order that anyone they wanted to kill should be brought to the farm and buried there.”

Dozens of victims who were killed at the paramilitaries’ hands were accused of being presumed FARC militia members or informants by the business owners of Puerto Asís: “They knew where we lived and they had our telephone numbers. They called us every so often to inform us that there were militias in town, so we captured them and brought them to Villa Sandra. The majority of the people who died in Puerto Asís were because of the local businesspeople.”

One of this paramilitary front’s most macabre actions was its compliance, without discussion, of orders to cut their victims up into pieces. “We had to dismember the people. First we chopped their hands off, later their feet and finally the head. Many times this was done while people were still alive. Nobody could be buried whole,” according to the former ACCU patroller. …

According to calculations from the Prosecutor-General’s Office, it is estimated that more than 3,000 people are buried in mass graves in Putumayo. …

The expansion of the Southern Front of Putumayo, according to Rentería Zúñiga’s testimony, had the help of the security forces based in the department. According to the demobilized paramilitary member, the police, the army and the navy involved themselves for several years with the paramilitaries, with the argument that “they shared the same cause.” …

“So we decided to coordinate with them. Initially, they told us to stay on the edge of town, later they told us that we could stay in the town, and we came in uniform. Also, they came to our base and rode in our cars, and we rode in their cars too,” explained the defendant, who insisted during his testimony that he did not remember names of officers or sub-officers, or of battalions or military units.

During their operations, he said, the army’s roadblocks were raised so that they could transit with no problems, and “When we needed some support, they were there, and when they needed support they’d ask it of us. Meetings were held with their commanders and our commanders, and we had our radio frequencies coordinated.”

The demobilized paramilitary fighter spoke of two helicopters, apparently from the Army, which several times supplied them with weapons, ammunition and uniforms in exchange for cocaine.

Oct 20
Francisco Santos. (Photo source and article link)

The former paramilitary chief [Salvatore Mancuso] stated that [Vice President Francisco] Santos … also met several times with the paramilitaries’ leaders and that “I was surprised because I noticed how much he identified with the cause” and because “he told [AUC paramilitary leader Carlos] Castaño that he liked the model (of self-defense groups) in [the northern Colombian department of] Córdoba and that he would like to see it repeated in Bogotá.” In one of these meetings, Mancuso continued, “Castaño proposed to Santos that he be the commander of the Capital Bloc, but he turned him down, saying that he did not know about such things.”

That, as recounted by Colombia’s Semana magazine in 2007, was the essence of a series of exchanges between Francisco Santos, Colombia’s vice-president, and top paramilitary leaders about a decade ago. At the time, Santos was an editor at Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper and a leading anti-kidnapping activist. The allegation that Vice President Santos, who holds the Uribe administration’s human rights portfolio, urged the paramilitaries to set up a unit in Bogotá, comes from 2007 testimony to “Justice and Peace” prosecutors by Salvatore Mancuso, a paramount leader of the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Mancuso has since been extradited to the United States, where he awaits trial in a Virginia jail cell.

Santos insists that the comment was a joke – a joke in terrible taste. There is no known evidence that Santos followed up on his suggestion. Another top paramilitary leader, Freddy Rendón (alias “El Alemán“) has testified that while he met with Santos, he did not discuss the “Capital Bloc” idea. While a “Capital Bloc” of the paramilitaries later appeared, under the command of “Centaurs Bloc” leader Miguel Arroyave, it seemed to be largely focused on illicit fundraising: extortion and drug-dealing in poor Colombian neighborhoods, and involvement in sectors like bus transportation, food distribution and black-market items like pirated DVDs.

Still, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), which closed an investigation of Santos in August 2008, announced yesterday that it was re-opening its probe. The decision made headlines in Colombia yesterday, drawing attention to Santos, who said he would cooperate with the prosecutors’ investigation.

It is unlikely that the investigators will find that Francisco Santos was a mastermind of paramilitary expansion. It may find, however, that the vice president’s words and attitude toward the paramilitary leadership were friendlier and more supportive than he would ever acknowledge in public.

Just as 2007 photos of herself wearing a black beret and posing with FARC negotiators were a setback for leftist Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba, revelations of bonhomie and camaraderie with the mass-murdering paramilitaries could be deeply embarrassing to Francisco Santos.