Nov 30

Here, as far as we can tell, is a current list of Colombian government officials and congresspeople facing accusations of assisting or associating with paramilitary groups.

Some are under investigation, some are facing accusations from witnesses in formal investigations, and at least one has made admissions to the media. All are members or supporters of the government of President Álvaro Uribe.

This list is not authoritative; it is what we’ve come up with after a thorough read of Colombia’s press during the past few weeks.

  • Senator Álvaro Araújo of Cesar department, brother of Foreign Minister María Consuelo Araújo.
  • Senator Álvaro García of Sucre department.
  • Senator Jairo Merlano of Sucre department.
  • Senator Mauricio Pimiento of Cesar department.
  • Senator Dieb Maloof of Magdalena department.
  • Senator Luis Eduardo Vives of Magdalena department.
  • Senator David Char Navas of Atlántico department.

    • Representative Jorge Luis Caballero of Magdalena department.
  • Representative Alfonso Campo of Magdalena department.
  • Representative Erik Morris of Sucre department.
  • Representative Zulema Jattin of Córdoba department.
  • Representative Salomón Saade of Magdalena department.
  • Representative Lidio García of Bolívar department.
  • Senator Miguel de la Espriella of Córdoba department, a member of Colombia Democrática, a small pro-Uribe political party headed by the president’s cousin, Mario Uribe. De la Espriella says he is one of 40 politicians who held a secret meeting with paramilitary leaders in 2001.

    • Former Representative Jorge Castro.
  • Former Representative José Gamarra.
  • Former Representative Muriel Benito Rebollo of Sucre department.
  • Former Senator Vicente Blel of Bolívar department.
  • Jorge Noguera, director of the presidential intelligence service, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), later the Uribe government’s consul in Milan, Italy.
  • Rafael García, former DAS director of information services, who has since become a star witness against other officials.
  • Salvador Arana, former governor of Sucre department and the Uribe government’s former ambassador to Chile.
  • Trino Luna, governor of Magdalena department.

    • Luis Carlos Ordosgoitia, director of the National Concessions Institute (INCO) in the Ministry of Transportation, former representative from Córdoba.
  • Jorge Luis Alfonso López, mayor of Magangué, Bolivar. López’s mother, Enilce López (“La Gata” or “The Cat”), who dominated lotteries and other gambling along Colombia’s north coast, is currently in custody for assisting paramilitaries. President Uribe has admitted receiving a donation of about $40,000 from “La Gata” for his 2002 campaign.
  • José David González, councilmember of Sincelejo, Sucre.
Nov 29

As noted in a post last week, there is no reason to expect the new Democratic Congress to tear up Plan Colombia and start over, even though much of the policy badly needs to be re-thought. To reinforce this point, take a look at this report from a February 2001 visit to Colombia by four prominent Democratic senators.

Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Bill Nelson (D-Florida) and Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) were in Colombia for two days. They met only with officials of the U.S. and Colombian governments, including much of the military brass. They did not speak to human-rights defenders, non-governmental analysts, journalists or any other independent voices.

The conclusions they reached led to a report that is well to the right of what we have heard even from Senate Republicans who have supported Plan Colombia with reservations, such as Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) [PDF] or Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island).

Some excerpts:

Hard line on fumigation: During our visit we learned that aerial spraying in Putumayo, which began in December of last year, was ended by the Government of Colombia on February 6, 2001. We have sent a letter to President Pastrana recommending that spraying recommence in Putumayo promptly, since it is the greatest source of coca.

The military’s human-rights record: The Colombian military has demonstrated its ability to utilize the assistance and training provided by the United States to make a real contribution to the fight against drugs. Unlike too many militaries historically in the region, it defends democracy in its country. We believe that the Colombian military deserves continued support from the United States. … In our discussions with the authorities of the Colombian security forces, starting with President Pastrana as Commander in Chief, through Minister of Defense Ramirez, Chief of the Colombian Armed Forces General Tapias, and the senior leadership of the Military Services, we sense a real commitment on their part to respect for human rights and to the termination of any collusion or cooperation by the military with the paramilitaries.

Weakening the Leahy Law?: The so-called Leahy amendment to the annual Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which prohibits U.S. assistance to military units whose members have been implicated in human rights abuses unless the government is taking effective measures to bring the individuals responsible to justice, has served to prod action on allegations of human rights violations by the Colombian military in the past. There are recent instances where one interpretation of the Leahy amendment may be hampering the implementation of Plan Colombia, however. For example, the failure of the Colombian Air Force to properly investigate an allegation that a Colombian Air Force aircraft dropped bombs on civilians three years ago, has led to demands that no U.S. Plan Colombia assistance may be used to support a unit which makes up virtually the entire Colombian Air Force. Because we believe that, properly implemented, Plan Colombia will promote human rights in Colombia, we are concerned that some interpretations of the Leahy amendment could hurt the human rights cause. We believe that it would be appropriate to review the provisions of the Leahy amendment with an eye towards its clarification in order to continue the improvement of the human rights’ performance of the Colombian military, while still permitting the provision of U.S. military assistance which can promote that goal.

The Democratic senators’ hard-line positions have no doubt evolved since 2001, when Plan Colombia was just getting underway. The policy’s disappointing results, particularly where counter-narcotics and human rights are concerned, have surely altered perspectives. (In 2004, Sens. Reed and Levin – but not Nelson and Nelson – voted against increasing the “cap” on the number of U.S. military personnel and contractors in Colombia.)

But this report is worth a re-read right now, because it clearly shows that there will be plenty of work to do. This five-year-old document is a reminder of the importance of education, of making sure that badly needed information gets to the right people.

Nov 28

It’s getting harder to monitor U.S. policy toward Latin America, because so much is going on lately. Here are a few stories, all from just the past few days, that may not have made the front page of your local daily.

1. Ecuador’s president-elect, Rafael Correa, reiterated his refusal to renew an agreement allowing the United States to use a military base in the Pacific coast town of Manta. After U.S. troops left Panama in 1999, the U.S. and Ecuadorian governments signed a ten-year agreement allowing Manta to be used for counter-drug missions. The United States spent tens of millions of dollars on improvements to the base, and has stationed dozens, at times hundreds, of military personnel and contractors there. But the agreement expires in 2009.

“We are respectful of international treaties,” Correa said yesterday, “but in 2009, when the Manta agreement expires, we will not renew that accord… At that airstrip, which is one of the best in South America, will be built an intercontinental transfer airport, to capture the flights coming from Asia and Australia that can then make connections with Brazil and New York.”

This all assumes that Correa remains in office until 2009, which is far from guaranteed.

2. After years of internal debate, and in the face of opposition from the Karzai government, the United States is to start fumigating the poppy crop in Afghanistan, according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Colombia will no longer be the only country where large-scale herbicide fumigation is allowed. As in Colombia, we can expect the winning combination of spraying-plus-insufficient-development-aid to have only marginal effect on the amount of opium poppy (which, by the way, is an annual plant that dies after harvest anyway).

The Taliban (whom a recent Christian Science Monitor article bizarrely compared to the FARC) must be celebrating the prospect of recruiting from thousands of angry farmers who will be left with no legal ways to feed themselves and their families. U.S. corporate contractor DynCorp, which has made hundreds of millions of dollars from the futile spray effort in Colombia, must also be celebrating.

Continue reading »

Nov 27

In the last post, I listed six ways in which our position on U.S. policy toward Colombia is frequently mis-characterized. Even in a new Congress led by those who agree with us, our work will continue to be difficult if these myths continue to propagate. To the extent that these six falsehoods are believed, the political risk increases for those who would undo and replace the current failing policy. We must counter all six by being clearer about what we do believe and propose.

(Another disclaimer: of course I can’t claim to speak for the entire community of NGOs and legislators who oppose the current policy toward Colombia. In fact, most of them will disagree with at least something written here, and some may even convince me to change my own position. When I use the pronoun “we” in this posting, then, I use it as shorthand for “most of us, in my estimation.”)

Myth 1: We want to cut U.S. aid and “abandon” Colombia.

Colombia gets between $700 and $750 million every year from the United States. We have no quarrel with this amount. In fact, it should probably be higher. The United States has an interest in helping Colombians to govern their territory better. We have a similar interest in helping improve governance throughout Latin America, where we lament recent cuts in aid to most countries, and applaud congressional Democrats’ attempts to undo them.

Within that $750 million, though, we are critical of the priorities. Since Plan Colombia began in 2000, 80 percent of U.S. assistance has gone to the armed forces and police, most of it for anti-drug programs that haven’t worked, like aerial herbicide fumigation. Meanwhile, programs to assist Colombia’s huge displaced population, develop rural areas where three-quarters live in poverty, reform the judiciary and strengthen the rule of law fall far short of what is needed.

Continue reading »

Nov 23

I’ve been putting off writing the inevitable “what the congressional election results mean for our work” post. We’ve now had two weeks, though, to think and talk to people about how the new legislative reality will affect U.S. policy toward Colombia and Latin America. After these two weeks, it’s clear that work toward goals like human rights and demilitarization has become easier. But how much easier? I don’t know. Nobody knows, really.

One reason I don’t know is that it’s still hard to envision. I first went on the payroll here in September 1995, months after Newt Gingrich’s Republican “revolution” of 1994 took over Congress. During these eleven years, Capitol Hill has been a tough place for us. The Republican leadership were not consensus-builders, they were ultra-partisan hard-liners who could countenance only a military, status-quo solution to perceived threats in Latin America. Our goals in the Congress, then, were extremely modest: to limit damage and to support members – most of them in the minority party, with little power – working for very small initiatives like human-rights conditions, failed amendments to transfer money from military aid to economic aid, or “sign-on letters” to voice concerns.

I’ve never worked in Washington at a time when Congress was run by people who actually agreed with our positions. We’ve never had a chance to play offense. So it isn’t easy to imagine what possibilities await us now.

Continue reading »

Nov 22

Here is our translation of a brief memo the Colombian Commission of Jurists released last week. As Colombian prosecutors begin to look into the past crimes of demobilized paramilitary leaders, the memo reminds us, the testimony of their victims will be essential. However, in many parts of the country, the paramilitaries’ continued power, and the lack of credible government protection, may make it too risky for victims to come forward. 

It is necessary to defend the victims 

If the State wants truth, justice, and reparation under the framework of Law 975 [the so-called “Justice and Peace” law], it has to guarantee the security and integrity of all the victims, so that, without any type of pressure, they can play a proper role in the processes against paramilitary leaders.  

Unfortunately, various regions of the country are seeing the phenomenon of restructuring of paramilitary forces. These intimidate the victims who, in theory, should be part of the anticipated processes under Law 975. 

Continue reading »

Nov 21

Andre Guzzi is an intern from Brazil who joined us late in this fall semester. I recently asked him why his country, which is by far the largest and strongest in the region, has played such a small role in Colombia, both militarily and diplomatically, even though the two countries share a long border. In particular, I wondered why Brazil, with its pretensions of regional power, chose to distance itself from Plan Colombia and to play only a small role in support of past peace processes.

Here is the response that André came up with – much of it based on research that he has done earlier, in Portuguese and in more detail. It’s a very useful overview of Brazil’s role and its foreign policy. It answers many of my own questions and includes a lot of information I had either never heard before, or never heard stated so clearly.

Is Brazil absent?

(by Andre Cavaller Guzzi*)

Analysis of drug trafficking in South America usually places the spotlight on Colombia, and to a lesser extent Bolivia and Peru. Brazil seems to be less directly connected, even though it is known that the country has a narco problem: drugs affect public security and public health and, according to the U.S. government, Brazil is a major transit country for drugs produced in the Andean region en route to Europe and the United States.

Continue reading »

Nov 21

In the middle of last week, Colombia’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of four members of Colombia’s Congress, a former governor, and other local officials on suspicion of collusion with paramilitary groups. At the same time, the government’s internal-affairs branch brought charges against the former head of President Uribe’s intelligence service, alleging that he essentially placed the agency at the service of paramilitary leaders. The arrests and charges, and the likelihood that more are to come, have sent a major shock wave through Colombia’s political system.

Much – very, very much – remains to be revealed. Nonetheless, the events of the past week have, to an unprecedented degree, lifted the lid on one of Colombia’s most shameful, most widely recognized – but also most widely denied – secrets. In many regions of the country, new revelations are rapidly emerging about years of close collusion and collaboration between high government officials, the security forces, wealthy landowners, businesspeople, and murderous, drug-dealing paramilitary groups.

These revelations and arrests are good news, for many reasons. First, people responsible for some of the most horrible crimes in recent Colombian history may not get away with it simply because they didn’t wear paramilitary uniforms – or at least, they will not remain happily anonymous. Second, Colombia’s institutions appear to be working: in a justice system with a severe record of impunity and failure to confront the powerful, the Supreme Court and prosecutors appear to be determined to do their jobs. Third, if this initial step goes well, it may embolden other witnesses – including the paramilitary leaders themselves – to come forward with more information about what happened. Many analysts see this process as Colombia’s best chance to avoid a future of de facto rule by mafias and warlords.

The scandal is growing quickly – analysts keep using the metaphor of a snowball rolling downhill. There is too much happening, and too quickly, to process into a coherent narrative. Just consider these thirty-two quotes from Colombia’s media – taken from just three days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). This is a very big deal.

As the crisis grows, more people close to the president, such as the former director of the DAS, a former diplomat in Chile and several of his congressional supporters are being accused of the worst crimes. If this snowball keeps growing, it is almost inevitable that his government will end up stained. – Semana magazine

The question is: how many more of the President’s friends have to go down before the situation becomes unsustainable? – Patricia Lara Salive, El País (Cali)

It is indispensable that there be a large mobilization, of the government and all the parties, to prevent the tentacles of armed narcodemocracy from drowning the state. Let’s hope it’s not too late. – Humberto de la Calle, El Espectador

Fear stalks the Congress

The general rule these days in Congress is worry and uncertainty. There is no shortage of long faces in the halls of the National Capitol. While so far only a small number of legislators have been called before the justice system to clarify their suspected ties to paramilitary groups, the fear is that many more may get the call. – Colprensa, El País (Cali)

Continue reading »

Nov 20

Before leaving for my recent trip, I asked CIP Intern Mariam Khokhar
to look into what has been going on in the region of Catatumbo, Colombia. In Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border, this ungoverned jungle zone manages to combine many of Colombia’s various plagues in a single territory.

Three armed groups (FARC, ELN and paramilitaries – both former and re-armed) are present. In recent years, predominance seems to have shifted from the ELN to the paramilitaries who, with open military collaboration, carried out a series of horrific massacres in 1999. Today, the FARC appear to be growing in numbers and momentum, and are clearly on the offensive, putting local leaders and non-governmental organizations under heavy threat. Catatumbo is a coca-growing region, and has been subject to U.S.-funded herbicide fumigation. It also hosted one of the biggest paramilitary demobilizations, in 2004, though former leaders of the AUC’s Catatumbo Bloc remain powerful, and reports of paramilitary re-armament are frequent. Its proximity to Venezuela makes many of Catatumbo’s problems international – and makes smuggling a big business.

Many reports over the past few months – including an article in El Tiempo on Friday – indicate that things are rapidly getting worse in Catatumbo, and a serious humanitarian crisis is developing. Here is Mariam Khokhar’s summary of reports from Colombian media and NGOs.


Although the murder rate is reportedly falling in Catatumbo,
narco-trafficking continues. A new type of armed confrontation has arisen in
which the guerillas and emerging violent groups are the central actors, thanks to the economic
power that narco-trafficking generates. Massacres of past years are only
starting to be uncovered, and it is feared that the process will be slow, with
criminals not getting their full due and with victims not receiving proper
reparations. Moreover, in recent months, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been growing increasingly
concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Catatumbo. Form
the beginning of 2006, violence has increased, leading to yet another wave of
mass displacement. Crime and violence are now crossing over the border into Venezuela,
bringing yet another element into Colombia’s long-running war.

Continue reading »

Nov 19

Every year, the State and Defense Departments have to produce a very interesting report on U.S. aid for military training around the world. The Foreign Military Training Report is interesting not just because of the big PDF files listing who was trained, in what and where, but because you can discern some trends over time in the U.S. relationship with other militaries.

CIP and WOLA have put together a memo on what trends the latest report, released at the end of October, reveals where Latin America is concerned. It’s a 7-page PDF file available here. Below are a few interesting graphics taken from that memo.

  • The number of Latin American military and police trainees in 2005 was the second-highest since the report began in 1999. Most are funded by the Defense Department’s counter-narcotics budget (known as "Section 1004"), a program that isn’t even considered to be part of the foreign aid budget.

Trainees by Funding Source

Continue reading »

Nov 19

After a week in which several pro-Uribe members of Colombia’s congress were arrested for paramilitary ties, how did President Álvaro Uribe respond yesterday? By accusing his critics of being guerrilla supporters.

When I ask that the total truth be known, it is because one can see their prejudices. Many of those who attack the government saying that the president is a paramilitary, basically what they are is enraged that the president attacks the guerrillas. They are not able to say that they defend the guerrillas, and that they are very bothered because the government is fighting them. They should be more authentic, more sincere.

That has been the pretext to which they have appealed historically. When a government fights against the guerrillas, immediately they call it "human rights violator, paramilitary." Forty years ago, when they wanted to discredit someone, they called him "homosexual." Fifteen, twenty years ago, when they wanted to discredit someone, they called him "mafioso." And today, when they want to discredit an honest government, the call it "paramilitary."

This is not only offensive, it’s positively unhinged.

First, nobody beyond a radical fringe is accusing Uribe of having direct paramilitary ties. No proof exists, so it would be irresponsible to do so.

Second, shouldn’t Uribe be profoundly disturbed that many of his supporters appear to have close ties to illegal warlords who have killed thousands and sent hundreds of tons of cocaine to the rest of the world? Instead of attacking his critics, shouldn’t he be condemning this energetically and taking all possible measures to ease the work of investigators and prosecutors? Isn’t that what an "honest government" would do?

One of Uribe’s advisors should tell him that he is not helping himself. In the face of such serious charges against his legislative supporters, he should be demanding a thorough investigation and offering to help reveal the truth. If instead he chooses to attack a set of straw-man critics and accuse them of supporting guerrillas, it only arouses suspicions about the president’s own relationship to paramilitarism.

Nov 17

To nearly everyone’s surprise, the jury in captured FARC leader Simón Trinidad’s trial here in Washington is deadlocked after a day of deliberations. They sent a message to the judge saying that they were divided, with "honest differences," and see little hope of coming to agreement on any of the charges. The judge refused to declare a mistrial, and ordered them to take as many days as they need to come to a verdict.

Here, shared by permission, is an interesting message I received yesterday from a colleague who has been following the trial much more closely than I have. I’ve only edited it to remove any information that affects this colleague’s anonymity.

Greetings. As you know from the AP article you sent, Simon’s trial ended yesterday; the jury is now working to reach a verdict. Who knows what their take will be.

Continue reading »

Nov 16

Here, thanks to CIP Intern Mariam Khokhar, is a translation of Alfredo Molano’s brilliant column from last Sunday’s edition of Colombia’s weekly El Espectador. Molano paid a visit to the municipalities of Caucasia and Tarazá in northern Antioquia department, a zone that has long been under the control of paramilitary groups. (The towns are not far from Tierradentro, Córdoba, where the FARC launched a large attack on a police post two weeks ago, surprising many who thought that this zone was under solid paramilitary control.)

Today, the paramilitaries who control the zone have officially demobilized. But the reality, Molano reports, is quite different.

Land of Bosses (Tierra de Patrones) 

Alfredo Molano Bravo

It’s enough to land in the airport to know where you’ve arrived: Welcome to Caucasia. National Police, District 1. We feel proud because you are our reason for being. Cattle auctions Thursdays and Saturdays. Signed: Subagauca; Colombia is passion.

At the exit of the terminal, another sign: let’s make a nation, let’s make cows. Signed: Hacienda San X, a big estate adjacent to the Hacienda XL that, they say, is owned by Macaco [a leader of the paramilitaries’ former Central Bolívar Bloc].

Continue reading »

Nov 15

About ten days ago, both El Espectador and Washington Post columnist Marcela Sánchez (who is a former Washington correspondent for El Espectador) published articles about Bojayá, the town on the Atrato River in Chocó where, during May 2002 combat between guerrillas and paramilitaries, the FARC launched a crude mortar bomb into a church where civilians were hiding, killing more than 100 of them.

Both articles followed a visit to the town by a high-level group of Colombian officials. Both told an encouraging story: instead of just leaving the security forces in the battered town, the government invested in rebuilding, introducing state agencies to provide housing and other services to Bojayá’s residents. "With an investment of 31 billion pesos [about US$13 million] contributed by the government and international donors, the new town is 70 percent built," reports El Espectador.

The rebuilding of Bojayá appears to be a good example of how to go beyond mere military offensives, coordinating improved security with improved civilian governance, basic services and development aid. Unfortunately, it is a very rare example.

Continue reading »

Nov 13

I’m just back from my South America trip, and I see that CIP’s website had its worst-ever meltdown in my absence. We were down for a few days, and this weblog has required some serious reconstruction. If you’re able to read this post, I will be very happy.

Meanwhile, President Uribe is in town today and tomorrow – something having to do with a recent legislative election that I keep hearing about. Here’s the memo to legislative staff that we threw together this morning.

More posts will be on their way shortly. It’s good to be back.