Apr 20

Gen. Mario Montoya, the head of Colombia’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 Leahy’s staff, the senator decided this week to “re-freeze” $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 military’s human-rights record is improving; that certification was issued on April 4.)

The allegations about Gen. Montoya center on “Operation Orion,” a late 2002 military offensive in Medellín’s western slums that was seen as one of the first tests of President Álvaro Uribe’s “Democratic Security” policy. The Colombian Army’s 4th Brigade, then headed by Gen. Montoya, carried out several weeks of house-to-house fighting. When “Operation Orion” ended, leftist guerrilla militias had been expelled from Medellín’s Comuna 13 neighborhood – but the paramilitary presence remained.

More evidence is emerging about the role that paramilitaries played during the “Operation Orion” offensive that Gen. Montoya led. A disturbing new contribution appeared on Sunday in Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo. Here, thanks to CIP Intern Alessandra Miraglia, is a translation of testimony from one of the paramilitaries’ victims during the offensive.

“I saw my grave being dug”

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 ‘Orión.’

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