Aug 29
  • Good video on the Washington Post website about relatives of disappeared Colombians and their efforts to find out what happened to their loved ones.
  • We are very concerned about threats received by the Inter-Ecclesial Commission of Justice and Peace, one of Colombia’s pre-eminent human-rights defense groups, from “new” paramilitary groups in the department of Chocó.
  • Semana magazine’s website provides a useful map of zones in Colombia where guerrillas and “new” paramilitaries are believed to be doing narco business with each other.
  • Barack Obama’s campaign denied that the candidate has decided to visit Colombia or Mexico before the election, as had been rumored.
  • columnist Marcela Sánchez gives a thumbs-down to Obama’s choice of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, characterizing Biden’s tone toward Latin America as sometimes “condescending.”
  • Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos yesterday asked his boss, President Álvaro Uribe, and others to lower the tone of the worsening feud between Uribe and his country’s justice system.
  • In today’s Wall Street Journal Arthur Herman seeks to revive neocons’ flagging spirits by proposing a new “axis of evil”: “Russia, Iran and Venezuela are acting very much as Japan, Italy and Germany did in the 1930s.” The new battlegrounds in this proposed struggle? … wait for it … “Iraq, Georgia and Colombia are battlegrounds in a new kind of international conflict that will define our geopolitical future.”
  • Did Jimmy Carter voice support for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement when he met with Álvaro Uribe two weeks ago? The Steelworkers’ Dan Kovalik reports that Carter has not adopted any position on the FTA.
  • Wealth captured from extradited narcotrafficker “Chupeta” (the scary-looking gentleman pictured in last Friday’s links post) has passed to the control of the Colombian state. The amount is staggering, as El Espectador reports: “the treasure is US$81.5 million, 2 million euros, 25 million pesos, 307 gold ingots, 1 kilo each, 180 gold coins, eight houses and a vehicle.”
  • Writing in El Espectador, Daniel Pacheco offers some electoral advice to fellow members of Colombia’s peaceful leftist opposition: “I propose starting by eliminating the following words from the Democratic Pole Party’s vocabulary: “struggle, empire, narco-paramilitarism, tyranny, resistance, oligarchy, lackey, fascist, masses, doctrine, comrade and messiah.”
  • Dozens of artists and intellectuals have signed an excellent letter defending Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, who is facing judicial harassment and the possibility of jail at the hands of his erstwhile Sandinista colleague, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. “Ernesto Cardenal is the most recent victim of the systematic harassment orchestrated against all who have raised their voice to denounce the lack of transparency, authoritarian style, unscrupulous behavior and lack of ethics of Daniel Ortega upon his return to power.”
  • Colombian pop star Juanes has thrown his support behind a march against violence scheduled for Saturday in Mexico, which the opposition-party mayor of Mexico City has declined to attend. For his part, renowned ranchera singer Vicente “El Rey” Fernández, whose son was kidnapped a few years ago, argued that the best way to fight Mexico’s rising crime is to increase police and teachers’ salaries.
  • Honduras, whose government had not been viewed as aligned with Venezuela’s, joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a political forum of like-minded states promoted by Venezuela’s government.
  • Paraguay’s new president, Fernando Lugo, tearfully begged citizens’ forgiveness for the abuses committed by the state during the 1954-1989 dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner. Lugo’s plea coincided with the release of a report from a governmental Truth and Justice Commission.
  • Cuban authorities have arrested Gorki Aguila, member of the popular local punk band Pr0no para Ricardo, on charges of “dangerousness,” which in Cuba can mean four years in prison. But what is punk rock without “dangerousness”? (Green Day, perhaps?)
Aug 27

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, accompanied by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, is visiting Colombia during an especially agitated week.

The international representatives’ observation visit is taking place in the midst of a worsening conflict between President Álvaro Uribe and his country’s Supreme Court, which is investigating ties between paramilitary death squads and dozens of politicians, most of them Uribe’s supporters. The brother of the interior minister, until recently the chief prosecutor in Medellín, is facing allegations that he is linked to one of the country’s principal fugitive narcotraffickers and sponsors of “new” paramilitary groups. The country’s main newsmagazine revealed Sunday that paramilitary representatives had meetings in Colombia’s presidential palace earlier this year to discuss ways to discredit the Supreme Court’s investigations. And President Uribe has responded to the pressure by launching pointed verbal attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.

Here are translations of two columns that capture the present moment well. Both appeared in the Colombian daily El Espectador. The first, published today, is from veteran Colombian journalist Cecilia Orozco. The second, published yesterday, comes from César Rodríguez of the judicial-reform think-tank DeJuSticia.

Suicidal Desperation
By Cecilia Orozco Tascón
El Espectador, August 27, 2008

International Criminal Court Prosector Luis Moreno Ocampo and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón found quite a spectacle upon arriving in the country:

  • The President of the Republic, live on television, shows a video reconfirming that two shady individuals tied to the narco-paramilitary “Don Berna” entered the “Casa de Nari” in their own vehicle, a privilege before reserved only for ambassadors and high-ranking personalities. ["Casa de Nari" is how the paramilitary representatives, in recorded conversations, referred to the presidential palace, the Casa de Nariño.]
  • The President of the Republic, speaking before some intimidated reporters at a press conference, says that there is “trafficking in false witnesses” at the Supreme Court; that [Supreme Court "para-politics" investigator] magistrate Iván Velásquez (whose mere existence is becoming a dangerous obsession for him) “gets drunk” with other witnesses; that Senator [Gustavo] Petro, from the Democratic Pole opposition, “manipulates” still more witnesses.
  • The President of the Republic states that the Prosecutor-General’s Office handed down a politicized finding in the case of “Tasmania,” probably because it found that case to have been an attempt to frame ["para-politics" investigator] Velásquez. ["Tasmania" was the nickname of a former paramilitary who, in a letter that Uribe read in a press conference last October, alleged that Velásquez had tried to induce him to testify against the president. "Tasmania" retracted this claim in June, explaining that his lawyer had put him up to it.]
  • The President of the Republic also criticizes Prosecutor-General [Mario] Iguarán because his entity is infiltrated by the mafia and because “it did not react” to the corrupt acts of [Guillermo] Valencia Cossio [the interior minister's scandal-tarred brother].
  • The President of the Republic accuses ex-president César Gaviria, head of the Liberal Party opposition, of having allied during his term with the “Los Pepes” gang. ["Pepes" = "People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar," a hit squad formed in the early 1990s by the Cali cartel, whose members included individuals who would become top paramilitary leaders later in the decade.]
  • The President of the Republic orders an investigation of journalist Daniel Coronell for covering up “crimes.” [Coronell had interviewed Yidis Medina, a one-term congresswoman who had confessed to him that her tie-breaking committee vote, which allowed President Uribe to run for re-election in 2006, came in exchange for bribes and favors.]

On the other side the Court, Magistrate Velásquez, Senator Petro, the Prosecutor-General, César Gaviria, Coronell and, behind him, several journalists’ organizations, respond to these aggressions, making use of their legitimate right to presumed innocence. All of these taking place on the same day.

Moreno and Garzón, the representatives of international justice, must have been stupefied by the spectacle… and convinced that the black episodes that shake the country cannot be resolved internally because, under the present circumstances, there are no guarantees that anyone here can act with autonomy and liberty: neither the magistrates, nor the prosecutors, nor the politicians, nor the independent journalists. What a great paradox the President has provided, or perhaps, has crafted for his own enjoyment! Democratic security has allowed him to place the guerrillas on the verge of defeat and to demobilize – albeit partially – the paramilitaries, the reasons why he has awakened – until now – the nation’s almost unanimous admiration. But it was not enough for him to cloak Establishment Colombians, in whose name he serves as head of state, with a climate of tranquility and respect.

In his senseless decision to avoid democratic controls, he has been firing buckshot at anything that moves, and he gives the impression of reacting with the suicidal desperation of someone who has been cornered. Unfortunately his tactic of distraction in order not to contaminate himself with the double scandal covering his government – the shady messengers’ visits to the Palace, which will keep on occurring as we have been notified, and the recently named Interior and Justice Minister’s brother’s relations with the cartel of Don Mario – will not work at all, and will only manage to floor the accelerator on the country’s institutional chaos. When was it that the hero of 90% of Colombians lost his reason?

The International Criminal Court has arrived
By César Rodríguez Garavito (professor, Universidad de los Andes, founding member of DeJuSticia)
El Espectador, August 26, 2008

Continue reading »

Aug 25

Those of us who opposed the mostly military “Plan Colombia” aid package in 2000 still squirm when recalling Sen. Joe Biden’s performance during the Senate’s debate in June of that year.

Citing human rights and strategic concerns, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) had introduced an amendment seeking to cut back the large military component in the Clinton administration’s proposed package. Pacing the Senate floor while holding a handheld mike, Sen. Biden (D-Delaware) opposed Wellstone’s amendment with a lengthy improvised speech.

There will be a worldwide spotlight shined upon this military. I have never personally testified on the floor that I have faith in an individual leader, but I have faith in President Pastrana. He is the real deal. What is at stake is whether or not Colombia becomes a narcostate or not. This is not in between. Keep in mind, folks, when the Supreme Courts of Colombia several years ago extradited some, they blew the Court up; they blew the building up and killed seven Justices. When a Presidential candidate took them on, they shot him dead.

Since then, however, Sen. Biden’s view on U.S. policy toward Colombia has become notably more nuanced. Now, of course, he is the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential nominee. Unlike nominee Barack Obama, who arrived in the Senate in January 2005, Sen. Biden – the ranking Democrat and now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – has a long record of statements that allow us to gauge the evolution of his views on Colombia.

Here are some highlights.

  • February 22, 2000: Press Release
    We must make clear to the Colombian government, in our words and our deeds, that although their fight against narcotics trafficking is our fight, their war against the guerrillas is their fight to win.
  • May 3, 2000: Report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
    I came away from my visit convinced that the U.S. Congress should act quickly to approve President Clinton’s request for supplemental funding for Colombia. Unless the Congress acts quickly to approve funding for this plan, a critical opportunity in the fight against narcotics trafficking in Colombia may be lost.
  • June 21, 2000: Senate Floor Speech in Opposition to the Wellstone Amendment
    The good news is, because of eradication programs, because of U.N. leadership, I might add in this area, essentially there has been an elimination of the crop in those two countries. The bad news is that it has all moved into Colombia. They now are a full-service operation. The product is there, the narcotraffickers are there, the laboratory laboratories are there, and the transiting is there. That is the bad news. The good news is it is all in one spot for us to be able to hit it. It is all in one spot for us to have a very efficacious use of this money.
  • September 17, 2002: Hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
    The United States has to continue to press Colombia for improvements in human rights. Last week, the secretary of state certified that Colombia’s military is taking steps to suspend soldiers committing human rights violations and is cooperating with civilian prosecutors to prosecute those who have been alleged to have committed those acts. And is taking steps to severe links with the paramilitaries. But the military has long way to go, in my opinion. The military continues to turn a blind eye to paramilitary violence. I believe support for the Andean Counter Drug Initiative and will inevitably erode in this body and in this country.
  • June 3, 2003: Hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
    We are beginning to see some results. Last year, there was a 15 percent decrease in coca cultivation and a 25 percent decrease in opium poppy cultivation. This reduced supply has led to a modest decrease in purity of both cocaine and heroin on the streets of the United States. There is still a long way to go, but this progress is encouraging. … I know that the Vice President and President Uribe are committed to improving human rights. But the message is still not getting through to all levels of the military. We need to see more improvements.  
  • October 22, 2003: [PDF] Letter to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe
    You stated, among many assertions, that some human rights defenders in Colombia are “spokespersons for terrorism” and “traffickers for human rights”.  I am deeply troubled about your comments, and their potential effect on the safety of human rights defenders in your country, and those working for international organizations who may travel to Colombia.
  • June 3, 2005: Letter to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, signed by Sens. Biden, Obama, and Four Other Democratic Senators
    We are highly concerned that the bill proposed by the Colombian government and approved by committees in Colombia’s Congress [the Justice and Peace Law] is inconsistent with these standards. We are especially disappointed by the fact that the bill does not require that paramilitary combatants reveal all the information they possess about the operational structure and financing of these Foreign Terrorist Organizations, or that they fully confess their role in illegal activities before receiving benefits.
  • March 6, 2007: [PDF] Letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
    As we proceed in partnership with the Government of Colombia, our support cannot be more of the same. Rather, we need to reexamine the balance between military and social and economic aid.
  • December 4, 2007: Statement Opposing Peru Free Trade Agreement
    I cannot support the Peru Free Trade Agreement because the Bush Administration has not proven that it will effectively enforce labor and environmental provisions, however good they may be. Our economy is slowing down, and Americans don’t trust this administration to protect their jobs, or the safety of our imports.

Over the past few years, meanwhile, four significant letters from mostly Democratic senators did not include Biden’s signature [Note as of 9:30 8/26 - a colleague reminds me that Sen. Biden has a policy of rarely signing on to group letters.] :

  • July 26, 2004 letter from 23 senators to President Uribe endorsing the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • July 1, 2005 letter [PDF] from 22 senators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the human-rights certification process
  • May 15, 2006 letter [PDF] from 3 senators, including Obama, criticizing a column by then-Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns
  • February 28, 2008 letter [PDF] from 14 senators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding extrajudicial executions in Colombia
Aug 24

Reading the stunning story in today’s Semana magazine about meetings earlier this year in Colombia’s presidential palace with emissaries of top paramilitary leader “Don Berna.”

The emissaries offered Uribe government officials surreptitiously recorded information about officials in Colombia’s Supreme Court investigating the “para-politics” scandal. And these officials neither kicked the emissaries out of their office, nor did they alert the proper authorities.

The lawyer of a criminal like ‘Berna’ and a demobilized paramilitary (with one foot in legality) like ‘Job’ clandestinely recorded the star magistrate in para-politics and gave this material to high government officials with the purpose of undermining the Supreme Court’s credibility. And these officials, instead of denouncing this to the authorities, chose to maintain a complicit silence.

Aug 22

    Extradited narcotrafficker “Chupeta,” after way too many nips and tucks.

  • Colombia’s new interior minister, Antioquia political heavyweight Fabio Valencia Cossio, will not resign his position despite revelations that his brother Guillermo, who until recently was Antioquia department’s chief prosecutor, is closely linked to Daniel Rendón (”Don Mario”), one of the country’s largest fugitive narcotraffickers and principal sponsors of “new” paramilitary groups.
  • Colombian President Álvaro Uribe had to testify yesterday before the congressional committee investigating the case of Yidis Medina. The one-term congresswoman’s tie-breaking 2004 committee vote, which allowed Colombia’s constitution to be changed to allow Uribe to stand for re-election, was later revealed to be the result of bribes and favors. Uribe told the legislative panel that, in his view, the Prosecutor-General’s office should investigate the reporter who broke the story – Daniel Coronell of Noticias Uno, a fierce critic of the president – because he didn’t go to the authorities with what he had learned.
  • As for Yidis Medina: after being found guilty of bribery, the former congresswoman is now in Bogotá’s Buen Pastor prison. Last week, “for security reasons,” Medina was moved to the prison’s maximum security cell block, “where those condemned for terrorism and narcotrafficking are kept.”
  • Brazil extradited to the United States Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, alias Chupeta or “Lollipop,” a former North Valle Cartel boss and one of Colombia’s most ruthless narcotraffickers. He was captured by Brazilian authorities last year despite having tried to hide his identity by undergoing Michael Jackson-like amounts of plastic surgery.
  • Paramilitary leader Hebert Veloza (”H.H.”), who has admitted to killing more than 3,000 people and has been giving much evidence to “Justice and Peace” investigators, will be extradited to the United States to face narcotrafficking charges. Due to concerns that he would be sent northward before having a chance to tell everything he knows, the extradition has been delayed for four months.
  • “H.H.” gave an interview to Juan Forero of the Washington Post, which was published online this week to accompany a front-page story. “If I get extradited, the Justice and Peace process ends there, because the foot soldiers do not know anything. … If I go, then the story of the Self-Defense Forces is incomplete.”
  • The FARC released a communiqué repeating its demand for a humanitarian-exchange agreement to release its remaining civilian and military hostages. Interestingly, the statement makes no mention of the group’s long-standing pre-condition that prisoner-for-hostage exchange talks occur in a demilitarized zone.
  • Thursday’s Los Angeles Times: “There were 329 so-called extrajudicial killings by the Colombian military and police last year, a coalition of Colombian rights groups asserts in a report, a 48% increase from the 223 reported in 2006.”
  • In the face of skyrocketing violence and kidnapping, Mexico’s conservative president and left-opposition Mexico City mayor, among other officials, have joined in a pact for a common security and justice strategy.
  • Meanwhile in Bogotá, where some violent crime measures have started to inch back upward, the conservative govenment and left-opposition mayor are at loggerheads. This week, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos refused to attend a security meeting hosted by Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno because Santos only attends “high-level” meetings.
  • First Chile’s El Mercurio, and later several other Latin American media outlets including Colombia’s El Tiempo, have been reporting that Barack Obama may take a September trip to Mexico, Brazil and maybe Chile.
  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega wants US$32 million in medical assistance from the United States in exchange for destroying hundreds of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles provided by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. But he won’t start bargaining, he says, until “Colombia is no longer a threat to Nicaragua.”
  • Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in the Washington Post: The United States “is spending $3 million per mile to build a fence along its border with Mexico designed to keep out illegal immigrants seeking opportunities they cannot find at home. But for every mile of that fence, 2,500 young Latin Americans could receive monthly $100 grants to cover the costs of staying in school so they can get good jobs. Forevery mile of that fence, 15,000 children could receive Internet-capable laptop computers from MIT’s Media Lab, enabling them to join the globalized world rather than falling behind.”
  • Pictures of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe visiting a much less-formally dressed Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in Georgia last weekend.
  • Those with any interest in U.S. arms sales to the rest of the world should view a key document: the State Department’s annual report on the Foreign Military Sales program covering 2007, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by the Federation of American Scientists.
Aug 20

President Álvaro Uribe’s cousin and longtime political ally, former Senator Mario Uribe, walked out of Bogotá’s La Picota prison today after being held for less than three months. He continues to be under investigation for working with paramilitary groups in his home department of Antioquia. The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) nonetheless determined this week that the evidence against Uribe was “not sufficient to justify imprisonment” while he awaited trial.

The Fiscalía and Colombia’s Supreme Court have placed 69 members of Colombia’s Congress under investigation or arrest on suspicion of having aided, abetted or collaborated with paramilitary groups. (Active members of Congress are investigated and tried by the Supreme Court, while former members are investigated and prosecuted by the Fiscalía.) These politicians are under investigation for a very serious charge: working with criminals responsible for tens of thousands of murders and the production and transshipment of hundreds of tons of cocaine. Nearly all of the legislators caught up in the”para-politics” scandal are supporters of President Uribe.

Mario Uribe’s release comes amid an onslaught of political pressure on the judicial system’s “para-politics” investigators. Despite the seriousness of the charges, President Uribe and his allies are carrying out, in the words of an unusually strong communiqué the Supreme Court put out last week, a “recurrent, systematic and even orchestrated” campaign “oriented exclusively to delegitimize the judicial public servants’ investigations or to undermine their credibility.” This campaign may be working.

The Uribe government’s pressure on the judiciary began to mount back in September 2007, when President Uribe angrily produced a letter written to him by a low-ranking imprisoned paramilitary leader nicknamed “Tasmania.” The letter alleged that the Supreme Court’s chief investigator, Iván Velásquez – a frequent target of those attacking the court – had sought to get the ex-paramilitary to give false evidence implicating the President in support for the paramilitary cause. “Tasmania” retracted his story in June, alleging that he had been put up to it by his lawyer, an individual closely tied to Mario Uribe.

Things heated up again in January, when President Uribe launched a slander lawsuit against the outgoing Supreme Court chief, Julio César Valencia. The judge had told Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper that Uribe had called him on his cell phone in September 2007 to talk about the allegations of “Tasmania,” and that during the conversation the President had asked him about the case of his cousin Mario. Uribe denies that he mentioned his cousin in the conversation, while Valencia insists that he did. The case is still before Colombia’s Congress, which has competence over charges against judicial officials and is controlled by a large pro-Uribe majority.

Last month, Colombia’s new interior minister, Fabio Valencia, announced that the Uribe administration would be sending Congress a package of constitutional reforms that would, among other things, strip the Supreme Court of its ability to investigate members of Congress. “This proposal serves no real purpose, other than to help members of Uribe’s coalition get off the hook,” read a statement from Human Rights Watch.

Last week, the pressure on Colombia’s para-politics investigators further intensified. Former Senate President Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez (whom we have praised in the past for her stance on peace negotiations, but who is now under investigation for para-politics herself) revealed a surreptitiously taped recording of a conversation with a Fiscalía investigator. In the recording, the investigator – Juan Carlos Díaz Rayo, a 33-year-old employee of the Fiscalía’s Technical Investigations Unit (CTI) – told the senator that he felt that the Supreme Court’s chief investigator, Iván Velásquez, was becoming so zealous in his pursuit of “para-politicians” that his work was becoming sloppy.

As Sen. Gutiérrez revealed her recordings last week, President Uribe told an audience that “a senator has told me that she has felt that sectors of justice have wanted to ask her for money.” This charge has no basis in Senator Gutiérrez’s tapes; it is not at all clear, in fact, what President Uribe was talking about.

In Sunday’s El Espectador, the disgraced CTI investigator, Juan Carlos Díaz Rayo, gave a lengthy interview. His words make clear that – despite what President Uribe and his allies have been insinuating – the Supreme Court investigators have not done anything illegal or unethical. The interview does indicate, though, that the Court could stand to make some adjustments to its approach – provided, that is, that constant attacks from a very popular president and his supporters won’t prevent them from doing their job.

Here are a few translated excerpts from Díaz Rayo’s interview. It’s a fascinating read; his final answer is especially incisive.

Continue reading »

Aug 18

It is hard to follow Colombia for any period of time without coming across, and enjoying, the books of Alfredo Molano. A journalist who has traveled to the farthest corners of his country, Molano has published several hugely compelling oral histories of violence, injustice, and the struggle to survive in the largely unseen “other” Colombia. He publishes a popular column in the Sunday edition of Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.

I count six of Molano’s books on my shelf, and have had the pleasure of meeting him – and learning a lot from him – twice in Bogota. So I’m especially disturbed that he is facing criminal charges brought by a wealthy provincial family, whose members are trying to force him to retract a February 2007 column that does not even mention any of them by name.

The Colombia Support Network, which is seeking signatures for a letter of support for Molano, explains:

On February 24, 2007 well-known Colombian sociologist and journalist Alfredo Molano-Bravo wrote in his weekly column in the newspaper El Espectador an article entitled “Araujos et al”. In it he drew upon his personal experiences in Cesar Department and its capital city, Valledupar, where he had worked in INCORA, the Colombian government ‘s land reform agency, and later visited collecting oral testimony of regional history. After referring to the Araujo families of Valledupar and Cartagena as operators of haciendas and commercial businesses and as occupants of public offices, Molano described a series of unlawful, immoral actions which he ascribed to the “Notables” of Valledupar, including contraband in coffee, cattle and marijuana; using notary services by relatives to obtain lands in their names; stealing land from the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada region; and procuring votes in their favor by transporting indigenous peoples to the polls, giving them liquor and then abandoning them after receiving their votes.

Molano did not identify the “Notables” as members of the Araujo family and made no charge against any member of the Araujo family for the activities of the “Notables”. It should be observed, however, that former Senator and Minister of Agriculture Alfredo Araujo Noguera, accused of kidnapping one candidate to favor the election of his son, Alvaro Araujo-Castro, is a fugitive from justice, while his son Alvaro is in prison accused of using illegal paramilitaries to pressure people to vote for him.

When members of the Araujo family complained to the Attorney General’s office that Molano had accused them of committing crimes, a staff attorney of the office, Maria Cecilia Cadena-Lleras, met with the Araujos and Molano. She interpreted the description of misdeeds by the “Notables” to refer directly to the Araujo family of Valledupar, though nowhere do the words of Molano make that connection. When Molano refused a proposal by the Araujos that he show them a response for their appoval before publication–essentially prior censorship– he refused. He asked for three months to respond to the charges and substantiate his position. However, Ms. Cadena instead formulated criminal charges against him for falsely imputing dishonorable conduct to the Araujo family, violating their right to a good name and privacy, and libeling them, causing intangible harm to the good name, honor and dignity of each of the members of the Araujo family of Valledupar–none of whom he specifically named in his article.

For more information, visit the CSN site, the Spanish-language blog Todos Somos Molano (”We are all Molano”), and read this excerpted translation of Antonio Caballero’s column in Sunday’s edition of Semana magazine.

A Judicial Papering-Over
By Antonio Caballero, Semana magazine, August 16, 2008

I ask: Why, when García Márquez wrote Mama Grande’s Funerals, why didn’t the “notables” of the Caribbean coast sue him for slander and libel? Why, when Escalona wrote Admiral Padilla, did the Socorrás family not bring him before a judge for saying that their relative Tite made a living by smuggling?

A year and a half ago, Alfredo Molano published in El Espectador an article titled “Araújos et al,” telling of how the provincial notables behave in this country: how they manage their haciendas, politics, business, beauty contests and also the justice system.

One column that was, let’s say, folkloric. And several young members of Valledupar’s Araújo family – themselves still not very notable but certainly members by blood of the coastal notability – added an equally folkloric endnote to his column, hitting Molano with a lawsuit that is running its course before the 4th Municipal Penal Court of the Bogotá circuit. Last December there was a conciliation hearing, in which the journalist refused to retract his words, since “this would place a bad precedent for freedom of the press” justifying his censure. The plaintiffs persisted with the case. …

Molano, faced with the judicial onslaught from the young Araújos, has not wanted to retract what he wrote in his article. He is right. Molano is the great chronicler of a country that has been torn up by the local notables’ outrages, which he has described in a dozen books and hundreds of press articles. A chronicler cannot allow them to gag him judicially when he is describing, literally, the reality that surrounds him. He cannot allow himself to be silenced, because to speak is his essence. …

As Albert Camus said in his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature: “The writer cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.”

They are papering over Molano for being loyal to his role as a writer.

Aug 15
  • The Government Accountability Office has just released a new report about U.S. anti-drug cooperation with countries in the “transit zone” of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It contends that “U.S. government assistance has improved international counternarcotics cooperation with the eight major drug transit countries GAO reviewed, except Venezuela.”
  • José Obdulio Gaviria, President Álvaro Uribe’s super-conservative “super-advisor,” paid a stealth visit to Washington late last month. Cambio magazine ran a cover story on Thursday about this controversial official and the rather remarkable statements he made at a two-hour public appearance before 30 invited guests at the National Press Club. (”Colombia has no armed conflict,” “Colombia has no paramilitaries,” “Colombia has no displacement,” etc.)
  • President Uribe has agreed to postpone for six months the extradition of paramilitary leader “H.H.,” who was offering significant amounts of information to investigators about past human rights abuses.
  • A press release from Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry criticizes Georgia’s “military offensive” against South Ossetia, supports Russia’s deployment of “peace forces” to Georgia, and criticizes the United States for “planning, preparing and ordering” the Georgian action.
  • From Mexico to Argentina, we’ve noticed a significant increase in regional news coverage of crime and threats to citizen security.
  • Numerous post-mortems of Sunday’s recall referendum in Bolivia, which ended up strengthening the positions of both President Evo Morales and most opposition governors, can be found here.
  • El Salvador’s military sent its eleventh contingent of troops to Iraq since the war began. The 200-man Salvadoran presence in Al Kut is the only Latin American military contribution to the U.S.-led “coalition.”
Aug 14

This is the eighth and final entry in a series of posts from my April 2008 trip to Guaviare, Colombia. (Yes, there is no good reason why this last one should have taken so long.) The plan now is to take these, edit them down, and produce a written publication about security, human rights and U.S. policy in Colombia, as seen from a rural zone in southern Colombia.

“I have to say, I’m really tired of this. I don’t think I can do this much longer.”

These are not the words of someone prone to whining. Néstor Suárez served as a judge in the violence-wracked town of Saravena, Arauca (which the locals occasionally refer to as “Sarajevo”) for over a decade before being transferred in 2004 to San José del Guaviare. But a visit to the “Palace of Justice” on the edge of town makes clear why he – or anyone in his position – might be at the end of his rope.

Welcome to the Palace.

Suárez is the only judge in the entire department of Guaviare and the adjacent municipality of Puerto Concordia, Meta. He must hear all cases – civil, criminal, family – that come into the justice system from this vast and violent area. He must do it on an annual budget equivalent to about US$50,000.

His caseload is staggering. Judge Suárez flipped through the clipboard he uses to track his docket, one month per page. Every weekday on every page from April to December was already filled with entries for cases scheduled to be heard, and spaces were already beginning to be filled for 2009.

Judge Suárez’s docket looks like this for the next 7-8 months.

These cases are being tracked in 19th-century fashion: in color-coded ink. Judge Suárez has no government-issued computer (he writes documents and corresponds using his personal laptop). He goes out-of-pocket for work-related cellphone calls. Case files – enormous stacks of paper, bound with string – molder on shelves in two storage rooms.

Case files turn yellow on the courthouse shelves.

Though Guaviare has been a frequent focus of U.S.-funded herbicide fumigation and military aid, it has seen very little U.S. economic assistance. Judge Suárez’s courthouse is no exception. The only U.S. assistance he has received, he said, was attendance at a one-week course in Bogotá in 2007. After this course, Suárez was considered qualified to judge cases under Colombia’s new oral trial system. (U.S. aid has helped Colombia undergo a gradual but difficult transition from its traditional written trial system to a presumably faster U.S.-style “accusatory” system.)

The judge showed us a small storage room that had been converted into a courtroom by the placement of desks and chairs. He showed us the robe, hanging on the door of his office, that he now wears when officiating cases.

This roughly 12-by-15 foot room, formerly used for storage, is now Guaviare’s only courtroom for holding oral trials.

What, I asked him, would his priorities be if he had a larger budget, whether from U.S. aid or from Colombia’s own resources? “At minimum, another judge” to lighten his caseload, Judge Suárez said. He noted that the courthouse in the town of Granada, Meta – about 100 miles north of San José, roughly halfway along the road to Bogotá – has three judges.

What difference would even a small amount of U.S. aid make for justice in Guaviare? Quite a bit, I think. In fact, the effect of U.S. aid was placed in sharp relief during my visit.

On my last morning in San José de Guaviare, I had a few moments to meet with Sandra Castro, the head of the Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), which receives millions of dollars in U.S. government assistance each year.

Sign on entrance gate of one of San José del Guaviare’s main parks: “Families of victims of forced disappearance are informed that the meeting will take place today, April 15, in “Cenpagua” at 3:00, in front of the fire station – not in the cultural center. – Office of the Prosecutor-General.”

Ms. Castro was in Guaviare to help inaugurate a temporary commission of twelve prosecutors that, in part with U.S. aid, would spend 60 days investigating cases of forced disappearances in Guaviare’s recent past. The Prosecutor-General’s Office had registered about 550 cases of disappearances between 1989 and 2005, with most occurring in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when paramilitary groups first moved into the zone.

During its 60 days, the commission would be gathering evidence and taking testimony from witnesses about new cases, including the likely locations of mass graves dug by the paramilitaries. A sign on the gate to San José’s riverfront park referred to a meeting later that day with “victims of forced disappearance” (their relatives, of course).

A temporary commission from the Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor-General’s Office moves into the office from where, for 60 days, it will gather information about forced disappearances in Guaviare.

A quick visit to the office from which this commission would operate, a space in the municipality’s small Cultural Center, quickly made clear what a difference even a small amount of foreign assistance can make.

In sharp, stark contrast to conditions in Judge Suárez’s office, the Human Rights Unit commission had a series of computers with dedicated Internet access, telecommunications equipment, scanners and printers – as well as a sizable staff.

While this commission’s work has yet to be evaluated – and I have heard mixed reviews about the work of similar commissions elsewhere, which can achieve only so much in 60 days – it is clear that they at least had the resources they needed to do their job.

If the United States has an interest in helping Colombia to govern a violent, drug-producing region like Guaviare, then our assistance must help ensure that the local justice system – not just worthwhile, but temporary, commissions from Bogotá – has more of the tools it needs to be effective. Justice is one of the most important ingredients needed to help Colombia establish a state in long-ungoverned territories. It is a critical link in the chain.

It is unacceptable for the justice system in a crucial zone like Guaviare to be so underfunded and overburdened, when a small amount of resources could make such a big difference. If justice in Guaviare “burns out” – as Judge Suárez seemed so close to doing himself – then the region’s whole security and goverance effort, which has begun to yield some results, will collapse.

Aug 12

Here is Colombian President Álvaro Uribe yesterday, in another attack on judicial investigators of the “para-politics” scandal, as well as opposition members of Congress:

A senator [Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, a former Senate president now under investigation for paramilitary links] has told me that she has felt… that sectors of justice [investigating the scandal] have wanted to ask her for money. Why didn’t she denounce it? She said that they did it so subtly that it would have been difficult to denounce, and that she was afraid to do it. And we also know of interferences… interferences of justice. It is important that the justice system investigate what manipulations of witnesses have been carried out by [opposition legislators] Sen. Piedad Córdoba or Sen. Gustavo Petro. It is very important to do that.

The accusations against Córdoba and Petro have no evidence to back them up, and Sen. Gutiérrez’s accusations, based on a recorded conversation with an investigator from the prosecutor-general’s office [Fiscalía], are troubling – the investigator has since
been taken off of the “parapolitics” investigations – but vague and hardly indicative of a pattern.

President Uribe’s accusations, obviously intended to impugn the character of Supreme Court investigators and weaken the political opposition, may play well in Colombia’s internal political battles and in Colombian public opinion. Viewed from outside, however, the President is sending a terrible message.

A foreign government – or investor, or journalist, or anyone constantly evaluating their country’s relations with Colombia – would feel most confident if President Uribe’s reaction to the “para-politics” revelations were something like: “The idea that top officials could have been supporting mass-murdering drug-trafficking terrorists is shocking. Let’s give the judicial system the tools and support it needs to investigate this, punish it, and make sure that it never happens again. Colombia has to be a country of laws, and we can no longer be tolerant of those who benefit from corruption, organized crime, and even crimes against humanity. Let’s let the justice system do its job.”

Sounds reasonable, right? We should be disturbed, then, that President Uribe’s reactions have so often been the exact opposite. This is the latest in a string of verbal attacks – some of the most high-profile of which have turned out to be baseless – seeking to undermine the credibility of Colombian judicial investigators. The Supreme Court’s chief “para-politics” investigator, judge Iván Velásquez, told El Tiempo that the constant pressure has him thinking about submitting his resignation.

The President is making the “para-politics” investigators’ work more difficult. Viewed from outside Colombia, this behavior sends up very strong warning signals.

Aug 08
  • If Colombia sends a contingent of troops to Afghanistan, will it qualify for additional U.S. military aid as a member of the “coalition” fighting there?
  • Bolivia is very tense on the eve of Sunday’s recall election. Protests, some violent, prevented Evo Morales from attending events in four different parts of the country over the past few days. Kathy Ledebur of the Andean Information Network and John Walsh of WOLA have drafted a very helpful memo about the situation. See also “Two Views from Sucre” at Blog from Bolivia, Rory Carroll’s coverage in the Guardian, and insights from Boz and Miguel Centellas.
  • Álvaro Uribe yesterday completed six years as president of Colombia. If he gets a third term, yesterday would be the halfway mark.
  • 20 countries will be participating in the U.S. Southern Command-sponsored PANAMAX military exercise starting Monday in Panama. “The FA PANAMAX 2008 exercise scenario will include sea-based training devoted to maritime interdiction operations, and visit, boarding, search and seizure. Land-based training in El Salvador and Honduras will focus on command and control, stability operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief operations.”
  • Argentina’s Senate took the historic step of abolishing its military justice system. As Clarín puts it, “soldiers and civilians are now equal before the law.”
  • Venezuela is meanwhile buying more Argentine debt – but is charging Buenos Aires a decidedly non-preferential 15 percent interest rate.
  • 1980s Central America hands who remember Nicaragua’s Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo as an outspoken critic of the Sandinista regime may be surprised to know that the Cardinal is now under fire from Nicaragua’s Episcopal Conference for being too partisan in his support of Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Party government.
Aug 06

Here is a translation (thanks to CIP Intern Stephanie DiBello) of Camilo González’s grim assessment of the “Justice and Peace” process. Three years ago last month, Colombia’s Congress passed the law giving paramilitary leaders light sentences in exchange for full confessions and reparations to victims. González, a former health minister and the director of Colombia’s INDEPAZ think-tank, published this piece in today’s El Tiempo.

A Balance in the Red
Camilo González Posso
Director, INDEPAZ

The third anniversary of the passage of Law 975 of July 2005, inappropriately known as the “Justice and Peace Law”, came and went almost unnoticed. The media’s attention was concentrated on other urgent items, such as the arrest of the President of the U Party [the largest pro-Uribe political party] and his transfer to jail to accompany other presidents of parties of the government’s coalition and other former presidents of the country’s Congress.

The Prosecutor General’s report is a good starting point for taking stock and asking the competent authorities about the outcomes of justice, reparation, truth or guarantee of non-repetition. Some of the figures are noteworthy: in three years no one has yet been sentenced; out of 3,431 people being processed for atrocities, only 9 have finished the confessions process. As of yet there is not one single victim who has been able to process his/her demands in a reparation proceeding, and not one peso from the perpetrators has been taken away through judicial sentencing.

Out of a total of 3.5 million paramilitary victims, only 147,000 were brave enough to enlist for some kind of compensation. Barely 10,500 of them were able to attend a hearing, without any result, and less than 2,000 have legal representation.

The 20 paramilitary heads who have given confessions turned in a paltry US$2 million and 99 farms (75% of the total money belonged to the “Mellizo” [narcotrafficker and sometime paramilitary leader Miguel Ángel Mejía Múnera, captured in May]). This contrasts with the US$5 billion accumulated by the narco-paramilitaries via narcotrafficking operations, the expropriation of more than 1.5 million hectares of land, and the appropriation of public funds in alliance with their “para-politician” partners.

And to give the complete picture, at the moment in which the internal fights among those being processed began evolving into denunciations of the government, Doctor Uribe considered it a high priority to get those paramilitary heads and guardians of the secrets of “para-power” out of the country, to be processed in the United States for some tons of cocaine.

The ex-narco-paramilitaries’ revelations about their partners in crime ended up being subordinated to the narcotrafficking proceedings, and their “truths” turned into bargaining chips for sentences even lighter than those anticipated under Law 975.

The result of the extraditions show that Law 975/2005 was misguided from the start: it was defined as a law having nothing to do with narcotrafficking and crimes of government officials, and was intended to apply to narco-paramilitiaries by assuming them to be anti-subversive or quasi seditious. The most important proceedings abruptly ended when the situation got out of control and the government extradited them, recognizing that in essence they actually were narcotraffickers.

On balance there are, of course, documented statistics, some truths revealed, cases in the Supreme Court, an idea of the profundity of the barbarity, and a break with the strategies of dirty war. But in the red lies the battered goal of justice and peace. In this country so accustomed to the the law being something to be evaded … there is also a law of evasion.

Aug 06

Below is a translation of Patricia Lara’s column in today’s El Espectador about the probable extradition of former paramilitary leader Hebert Veloza García, alias “HH.”

Veloza is one of the bloodiest of paramilitary leaders. He played a command role in the horrific paramilitary takeover of the Urabá region in northwestern Colombia during the second half of the 1990s, a campaign that involved near-daily massacres and enjoyed the security forces’ blatant support. Then, after the ELN kidnapped wealthy worshipers at an upscale Cali church in 1999, HH worked with local businesspeople and authorities to form the Calima Bloc, which went on to terrorize much of Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments, carrying out notorious massacres like the Alto Naya killings in 2001.

Veloza demobilized along with the “Bananero Bloc” of the AUC in November 2004. He then thought better of it and became a fugitive. The Colombian authorities captured him in April 2007. Upon his arrest, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said that Veloza was disqualified from participating in the “Justice and Peace” process, which would have allowed him a lighter jail sentence in exchange for full confession of his crimes.

However, Veloza later managed to enter the Justice and Peace process, where he quickly became a star witness, one of the most forthcoming of all the former paramilitary leaders. He has confessed to over 3,000 murders, identified the whereabouts of many mass graves, and talked openly about the collaboration he received from banana companies like Chiquita Brands and from the Colombian military – including Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, who commanded the army’s Urabá-based 17th Brigade in 1995-1997, while Álvaro Uribe was the governor of the surrounding department of Antioquia. Last month Veloza turned in a USB memory drive with thousands of files belonging to deceased AUC leader Carlos Castaño.

Veloza has declared his intention to “say everything. How the security forces coordinated the movement of troops and helped us move weapons. We paid them to give information and cooperate.” In lengthy interviews given over the past week (El Espectador, Semana video), he has reiterated his desire “to tell the truth about why the victims’ relatives died, where the graves are, and who participated” before his extradition – recently approved by Colombia’s Supreme Court – goes forward.

Will “HH” be extradited – and thus silenced, at least for a while – before he gets a chance to tell the Colombian authorities about the members of Colombia’s political, business and military elite who aided and abetted his campaign of murder?

Here is Patricia Lara’s column.

Do it for your honor, Mr. President
By Patricia Lara Salive

A barbarity is going to be committed: to extradite to the United States, for trafficking a scant five kilos of cocaine, someone who has confessed to murdering 3,000 people and who wants to tell secrets about the complicity of military officers, politicians and businessmen with the Self-Defense Groups.

In effect, Hebert Veloza García, alias HH, the paramilitary who delivered to the authorities the USB memory from Carlos Castaño’s computer (by the way, why are its contents not discussed?) and who is now in the extraditables’ cell block, relates in an impressive interview in Sunday’s El Espectador some deeds that it would be unheard of not to finish investigating and punishing. He says, for example:

About Castaño’s USB: “I turned over the USB (…) and they put me in isolation. If I turn over more information they will reopen Gorgona [a small Pacific island that Colombia once used as an Alcatraz-style prison] to stick me there. It is very hard to tell the truth (…). There are 9,000 files [on the USB] in which everything is spoken of and many important people appear.”

About politicians: “Today we are like the ugly girlfriend: at night they caress us and during the day they don’t even look at us (…). Power is very good and politicians will do anything to have it.”

About the murder of Jaime Garzón [a popular TV comedian killed in 1999]: “The information we had was that he had ties to the ELN and that he was acting as an intermediary between kidnap victims’ relatives and the guerrillas. And it was people from the high command of the Army who gave us this information.”

About Gen. Rito Alejo del Río [commander of the Urabá-based 17th Brigade from 1995-1997, widely accused, but never convicted, of aiding and abetting paramilitaries]: “I don’t know why they haven’t tied him to any criminal investigation. I’ll just give you one piece of information: when I was the commander in Urabá and he was the commander of the 17th Brigade, I kidnapped two people who had been detained by the Army, held at the Brigade headquarters. I got them out of the brig (…) with complicity. I took them out in a car from the brigade itself, in a covered red Trooper (…). They were from the FARC’s 5th Front and they had kidnapped a woman in Buenaventura. I entered the Brigade, took the people out, we took them to Buenaventura and disappeared them. (…) Gen. Rito Alejo went to see Carlos Castaño many times and they met at ranches near the border of Córdoba and Urabá [Antioquia]. The security forces were very tied down when it came to fighting the guerrillas, and we used the same methods the subversives did. Our results benefited the Army. There is more (…) I patrolled with Col. Byron Carvajal [recently convicted for planning the massacre of an elite police counter-drug Unit in Jamundí, Valle, in 2006] in 1995 and we fought the guerrillas (…). I went anywhere I wanted, like Pedro in his own house. I entered brigades’ headquarters, police barracks, I did what I wanted.”

About the victims’ bodies: “In Urabá, when we began, all the bodies were left where the people were killed. But the security forces protested and asked us to keep working, but to disappear the cadavers. That is why mass graves were implemented… (The problem was that) the mortality rates increased rapidly and this was not helpful (…). I traveled freely in a white Hilux [pickup truck], which they called ‘road to heaven,’ and we killed people every day, in all the municipalities of Urabá. The only one who denounced this was Gloria Cuartas [at the time, the outspoken mayor of Apartadó, one of Urabá's main towns].”

About the victims: “The biggest victims will be the victims who are going to be left without the truth (…). It is necessary to tell the truth about this war in which only the rich benefited, and the poor lost.”

President Uribe: you, who gave such heartfelt praise to General Rito Alejo, cannot allow Veloza to go now without having finished telling his truth. Accept his request to delay his extradition. Do it for the good of the fatherland. But do it as well for your own honor, since you were the governor of Antioquia during this period.

Aug 05

On July 15, CNN revealed that one of the Colombian Army commandos participating in “Operación Jaque” – the July 2 military operation that bloodlessly rescued 15 FARC hostages on July 2 – had worn an emblem of the International Red Cross. This is a violation of international humanitarian law; it complicates the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in conflict zones, since combatants in future humanitarian operations may suspect ICRC representatives’ authenticity.

On July 16 Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said the following about the incident:

After press reports about the supposed appearance of an International Red Cross emblem, an internal investigation was ordered. …

The result of that investigation was that an official, in error and contrary to given orders, acknowledged that due to his nervousness, upon observing the number of armed guerrillas around the helicopter, he put over his vest a piece of cloth that bore the symbol of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This officer, upon confessing his error to the high command, has said that when the helicopter was about to land, he saw such a quantity of guerrillas, that he became so very nervous, that he feared for his life and so he took out the piece of cloth with the International Committee of the Red Cross symbols, which he had in his pocket, and he put it over his vest.

We regret that this occurred.

It turns out that either President Uribe was misinformed, or he was lying, or the soldier got the jitters far earlier than previously thought. Yesterday Colombia’s RCN television network broadcast a video (excerpted here on the website of Semana magazine), recorded by the Colombian Army, showing more details of the preparations for Operación Jaque. The video shows clearly that one of the disguised Colombian commandos is wearing the Red Cross emblem on his chest even before the operation began, as the participants gathered around posing for photos.

It is now obvious that the Red Cross emblem’s use was no accident in defiance of orders. The rescuers posed as members of a false humanitarian NGO, as reporters from the Telesur and Ecuavisa networks, and – as is now plain – as a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This morning, the Colombian Presidency put out a terse communiqu̩ implying Рthough certainly not saying clearly Рthat the Colombian Army misled investigators of the Red Cross incident.

The President reiterates the need to allow all media to have equal and opportune access to the most imporant news.

It is serious that members of the Armed Forces clandestinely leaked news without coordination with their superiors. In addition, it is serious that not all of the truth came out in the first investigations of the Operation.

The use of the Red Cross emblem appears to have responded to a command decision, not the impulsive actions of a panicky soldier. As a result – painful as it is, since it happened in the context of a heroic rescue operation – those responsible for this international humanitarian law violation need to be investigated and punished, as do those responsible for the apparent cover-up.

The punishment may ultimately be light: the remarkable success of Operación Jaque makes a strong case for leniency. But the law was broken, and an investigative and judicial process must be initiated and allowed to run its course.

Colombia is trying to emerge from decades in which too many – narcos, corrupt politicians, paramilitaries, those who supported them – accumulated power and wealth by acting as though the law did not apply to them. Only by strict adherence to the rule of law – with no exceptions, even in politically difficult cases like the Red Cross emblem’s use in Operación Jaque – can Colombia show that it is truly leaving that dark past behind.

Update 5:30 PM EST: El Tiempo, covering Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos’s and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Freddy Padilla’s comments to the press, reports that, according to these officials, the army officer who wore the ICRC emblem lied to them, will be “sanctioned” and will not receive medals for his participation in the operation.

Aug 01
  • U.S. Military and Police Aid

    The State Department certified this week that the Colombian military’s human rights performance is improving. The decision frees up 25 percent of military aid in the foreign aid budget for 2007, and 15 percent of aid for 2008, that had been frozen pending this certification. The department’s memorandum justifying the certification decision [PDF] is 130 pages long, far more extensive than previous justification memos.

  • On the new “Just the Facts” program blog, we note that for the first time in about a decade, Colombia is not getting the majority of U.S. military and police aid to Latin America. In late June, when the 2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act green-lighted the “Mérida Initiative” aid package for Mexico and Central America, Colombia’s share of total U.S. security assistance to the Western Hemisphere slipped to an estimated 39%, down from 62% in 2007 (and 73% in 2000, the year the Plan Colombia aid package was approved). Colombia remains in the number-one position ahead of Mexico (31% in 2008), but not by much.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing yesterday about the military’s growing foreign policymaking role. Video of the proceedings will soon be posted to the C-SPAN website. (We arrived at the hearing room just before it was scheduled to begin, but the space was already full to overflowing. We look forward to hearing what was said.)
  • The Uribe administration sent to the Colombian Congress this week a judicial-reform bill that would, among other things, strip the Supreme Court of its power to investigate congresspeople accused of wrongdoing. It is hard to view this as anything other than payback for the Court’s dogged persistence in investigating politicians’ ties to paramilitary groups.
  • Over 100 displaced people, angered by a bureaucratic foul-up that prevented delivery of assistance, staged a sit-in near the manicured, cafe-lined 93rd Street Park in Bogotá’s exclusive Chapinero district yesterday. Most spent the night there until Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno promised to resolve their situation.
  • El Tiempo reports that Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” the powerful fugitive paramilitary leader whose name I heard often on an April 2008 trip to Guaviare department, has offered to turn himself in to the authorities. He cites several attempts on his life from other narco-paramilitary factions operating in and around Guaviare, Meta, and Vichada.
  • Mexico City’s La Jornada newspaper reports that Barack Obama may visit Mexico in September.
  • The New York Times published a letter from me in response to last week’s op-ed from Defense Secretary Gates and Colombian Defense Minister Santos calling for maintaining security assistance levels. The letter’s argument is nothing new to readers of this blog.
  • Everyone from The Economist to the Andean Information Network is praising “Bolivia’s Long and Winding Road,” an analysis of Bolivia’s crisis and how it can be resolved, written for the Inter-American Dialogue by analyst George Gray Molina. I add another recommendation; I learned a lot from this piece and agree that “a return to legality” would be a great starting point.
  • EFE: “The FOX channel decided not to broadcast in Argentina an episode of the animated series ‘The Simpsons’ in which reference is made to ‘the Perón dictatorship’ and it is said that the ex-president ‘disappeared’ people, in order to avoid reopening ‘painful wounds.’