Gen. Mario Montoya, the head of Colombiaâ€™s army, continues to face questions of alleged links to paramilitary groups. These allegations, first published by the Los Angeles Times in March, are among the reasons why, according to Sen. Patrick Leahyâ€™s staff, the senator decided this week to â€œre-freezeâ€ $55 million in military aid to Colombia. (That aid had been held up by a law requiring the State Department to certify that the Colombian militaryâ€™s human-rights record is improving; that certification was issued on April 4.)
The allegations about Gen. Montoya center on â€œOperation Orion,â€ a late 2002 military offensive in MedellÃnâ€™s western slums that was seen as one of the first tests of President Ãlvaro Uribeâ€™s â€œDemocratic Securityâ€ policy. The Colombian Armyâ€™s 4th Brigade, then headed by Gen. Montoya, carried out several weeks of house-to-house fighting. When â€œOperation Orionâ€ ended, leftist guerrilla militias had been expelled from MedellÃnâ€™s Comuna 13 neighborhood â€“ but the paramilitary presence remained.
More evidence is emerging about the role that paramilitaries played during the â€œOperation Orionâ€ offensive that Gen. Montoya led. A disturbing new contribution appeared on Sunday in Colombiaâ€™s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo. Here, thanks to CIP Intern Alessandra Miraglia, is a translation of testimony from one of the paramilitariesâ€™ victims during the offensive.
â€œI saw my grave being dugâ€
Carlos Cano managed to escape from the paramilitaries, with three shots in his body, as they were about to put him in a grave. He currently lives outside the country. He is a witness to what happened in Comuna 13 after the military operation â€˜OriÃ³n.â€™