Sep 30

[Regular posting should begin again Thursday. In the meantime, here is a post from CIP Intern Anthony Dest.]

In a recent interview with Gustavo Gómez of the Colombian magazine Semana, Colombian lawyer Abelardo de la Espriella offered a spirited defense of his work defending paramilitary leaders, para-politicians and businesses with questionable financing, such as David Murcia’s highly questioned DMG holding company.

De la Espriella’s unabashed responses offer a glimpse into a powerful sector of Colombia’s politics and society that continues to resist the rule of law. As the “para-politics” scandal has shown, this sector has been an important base of political support for President Alvaro Uribe.

Here are a few translated quotes from the interview:

Gustavo Gómez: Have you ever received money from ‘Ernesto Báez,’ Salvatore Mancuso or ‘Jorge 40?’ [All three individuals are currently in U.S. or Colombian prisons awaiting trial for drug or human-rights crimes related to their leadership roles in the AUC.]

Abelardo de la Espriella: Never, and I will submit myself to a polygraph if you like, Gustavo.

Gustavo Gómez: Are you friends with them?

Abelardo de la Espriella: I met ‘Ernesto Báez,’ whom I consider the romantic of the paramilitaries, and ‘Jorge 40′ at the negotiation table and we formed a good friendship. Mancuso is my paisano, and he took on a struggle that all of us from Córdoba should have supported. If I were in his place, I would have have done the same thing. Critics have wanted to call me a paramilitary, but, like Uribe says, if they had wanted to kill and extort me, I would have been a true paramilitary, with a uniform and a gun.

Gustavo Gómez: Does the title “defender of para-politics” make you proud?

Abelardo de la Espriella: Of course, now I would like for someone to give me the title of ‘Defender of DMG,’ or that people will begin use the nickname [investigative journalist Daniel] Coronell gave me: the “Proxy.” ["El Apoderado"] Sometimes I answer the phone when my friends call and when they ask me who is speaking I tell them: “the Proxy.”

Sep 23

This blog will be dormant during the week of September 22-26, for three reasons:

  • Its principal contributor has jury duty.
  • After receiving code from the web designers, we’re giving a final facelift to the “Just the Facts” website at http://justf.org/. This is more time-consuming than it sounds.
  • We’ve got a big funding proposal due October 1.

That unfortunately means no commentary on President Uribe’s Tuesday meeting with Sarah Palin in New York. Other than to wonder what two politicians known for hitting their opponents with over-the-top insults talk about when they get together.

We’ll be back next week.

Sep 19

In commemoration of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s visit to Washington today, here is a collection of some of his some of his more outrageous or bizarre verbal attacks on his country’s human-rights defenders, judges, independent journalists, and political opponents.

  • Every time a security policy to defeat terrorism appears in Colombia, when the terrorists begin to feel weak, they immediately send their spokespeople to talk about human rights. … These human-rights traffickers must take off their masks, appear with their political ideas and drop this cowardice of hiding them behind human rights.” – September 8, 2003, addressing the military high command
  • 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.” – November 19, 2006
  • [In the early 1990s some demobilized ex-guerrillas] simply took off their camouflage, put on a suit and came to Congress wanting to teach the country about morality. Some have done it well. Others, unfortunately, went from being terrorists in camouflage to terrorists in business suits.” – February 3, 2007
  • I am very worried that the guerrillas’ political friends, who live here constantly posing as political enemies of yankee imperialism, frequently travel to the United States to discredit the Colombian government, for two purposes: the purpose of keeping the Free Trade Agreement from being approved, and the purpose of suspending the aid. … [These are] friends of the guerrillas, politicians who want the guerrillas to triumph in Colombia, but lack the authenticity to call for it openly.” – April 19, 2007
  • You’re biased to the guerrillas and everyone in Colombia thinks that.” – May 2007, addressing Human Rights Watch/Americas director José Miguel Vivanco at a dinner with members of Congress in Washington.
  • Behind this woman is Gonzalo Guillén, who has dedicated his journalistic career to slander and lies.” – October 2007. Uribe responded to a book published by Pablo Escobar’s onetime girlfriend, which alleged that the young Uribe helped Escobar, by attacking Guillén, a reporter for the Miami Herald’s Spanish-language sister paper. Guillén said that he hadn’t even read the book in question.
  • The only thing you do is shield yourself in your rights as a journalist, so that in my case you can wound me with lies. Enough of this cynicism behind your quote-unquote ‘journalistic ethics.’” – October 2007, to Daniel Coronell, a columnist for Colombia’s largest newsmagazine, who has probed questions about the president’s alleged past relations with narcotraffickers and paramilitaries.
  • May they not make the mistake there [in Bogotá] of electing mayors supported by the guerrillas.” – October 2007, before voters went ahead and elected opposition-party member Samuel Moreno, who has no ties whatsoever to guerrillas, to serve as mayor of Bogotá.
  • I have wanted to fight for a safe, prosperous and equitable country. The trap of the power of terrorism in its death agony – to which justices of the Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice have lent themselves – does not appear to have a judicial solution.” – June 26, 2008, referring to the Supreme Court’s questioning of the 2004 constitutional amendment that allowed the president to run for a second term, which only passed a congressional committee with the vote of a legislator who was bribed.
  • 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.” – August 11, 2008, charging that allegations tying the president’s political allies to paramilitary death squads are the product of the political opposition’s manipulation of witnesses.
  • What we have here is … ‘trafficking in witnesses.’ – August 25, 2008, accusing the Supreme Court of trying to build a false case linking him to paramilitary death squads.
Sep 17

On September 1, one of Colombia’s main television news programs broadcast a report alleging that, as part of the FARC guerrillas’ “international support network,” the prominent human-rights group MINGA had been helping FARC and ELN members gain asylum in Canada.

“Since 2001, Canada has become the largest recipient of Colombian refugees. In addition, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), among them ‘MINGA,’ have been responsible for helping FARC and ELN members emigrate to Canada,” read text splashed onto the screen by the “CM&” news program.

This claim is beyond ridiculous, it is false and it is dangerous for MINGA’s employees. We say this as one of dozens of Colombia-focused organizations that have worked closely with MINGA, and admired their brave work, for many years.

When MINGA’s director contacted the news program, she was told that the Canada asylum allegation came from an intelligence report that “government security agencies” had distributed to the news media [PDF excerpt].

It is already dangerous enough to be a human-rights defender in Colombia. Denouncing government human-rights abuse, as MINGA does, is risky – but the risk multiplies many times if an “official” source claims that the group or individual doing the denouncing is somehow allied with an illegal armed group. For cowardly and unnamed Colombian security-force officials to be distributing false reports tying human rights workers to terrorist groups is terrifying and outrageous. It demands a strong international response.

Here is a translation of a letter MINGA sent to the Colombian government’s Inspector-General (Procurador), Edgardo Maya. It demands rectification of the allegations broadcast on September 1, and repeats a years-old recommendation that Colombia’s security forces, with the Inspector-General’s participation, clear false claims about human-rights defenders from the security forces’ intelligence files. It is more than past time for that recommendation to be met.

Bogotá, September 4, 2008

Doctor
EDGARDO MAYA VILLAZÓN
INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF THE NATION

Re: Intelligence Report affects integrity of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia.

Dear Mr. Inspector-General:

Accept a respectful greeting from our peace and human rights organizations.

On September 1, the “CM&” news program, in its 9:30 PM broadcast, published a news piece entitled “The government launches offensive against the FARC’s International Front,” in which reference is made to the supposed collaboration of human rights NGOs, among them MINGA, in Colombian guerrillas’ emigration to Canada.

Afterward, and in response to our request for rectification, the news program indicated on its web page, on September 3, that the information against MINGA propagated on September 1 is based on an intelligence report from state security agencies, recently distributed to the media.

This information, coming from the national government, affects not just the good name of this human rights organization, but puts at grave risk the physical and moral integrity of human rights defenders, of MINGA’s employees and, in general, of the national human rights and peace movement.

Worse, this information constitutes an open attack against the legal and legitimate work that human-rights organizations carry out in Colombia, while directly contravening the recommendation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“The High Commissioner encourages the Government to promote legislation that adequately regulates the use of military intelligence archives, including applicable procedures for their annual review by the Inspector-General. The Defense Minister is urged to cooperate with the Inspector-General to identify criteria, parameters and other relevant aspects to be utilized, with the goal of excluding from their registries erroneous or tendentious information about human rights defenders and organizers.”

as well as the declarations of governments that repeatedly ask the Colombian government to provide effective security guarantees for human rights organizations in Colombia, among them the cleansing of intelligence archives, which have served as a basis for past murders, attacks and forced disappearances against human rights defenders.

It must be emphasized that these pronouncements are taking place at a moment when the government and the central platforms of human rights and peace organizations are discussing, with the international community’s observation, conditions and guarantees for civil society’s participation in the process of developing a National Action Plan for Human Rights and IHL. That makes this new stigmatization a clear declaration from the government that it refuses to accept the role of human rights defenders and peace workers, and that it will not offer the full security guarantees necessary for us to carry out this labor.

Continue reading »

Sep 16

Trying to make the U.S. “war on drugs” appear to be successful has always required its proponents to perform some serious massaging of the numbers.

Statistics about drug production, supply and demand consistently bring bad news – or at least reasons for strong concern. Yet U.S. officials insist on parsing the results, looking for the silver lining in the big gray stormclouds: pieces of data that can at least give the impression that some progress is being made, when it clearly is not.

The latest example comes from two recent press releases from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the office of the “drug czar”), in which some very troubling data undergoes some very serious shiatsu.

In the first, the ONDCP makes an announcement that used to occur in June or July: the amount of coca estimated to have been under cultivation in Colombia during the previous year. The press release finds that coca-growing in Colombia increased in 2007, to 167,000 hectares (from 157,200 in 2006; a hectare is about 2 1/2 acres). That is just 2,800 hectares shy of the most coca ever detected in a single country (169,800 hectares in Colombia in 2001).

This increase in coca-growing is higher than the UN estimate of 99,000 hectares, announced in June. But both entities, the U.S. government and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, found an increase – or in the best of cases, a failure to decrease – last year.

You would have to read the ONDCP press release carefully to detect this troubling data, however, because its headline is all sunny good news. Through a calculation whose methodology is not revealed, the release determines that this higher amount of coca yielded significantly less cocaine. The current estimate is 535 tons of cocaine produced last year, far less than the UN estimate of 600.

How the tonnage estimate is derived is a mystery, especially since the ONDCP release takes pains to emphasize how fuzzy its land-area estimates are (”The actual survey area changes from year to year and cannot be directly compared.”)

It is quite possible, though, that cocaine production is reduced despite the greater land area under cultivation. The UN, which found a 25% increase in coca-growing last year, also estimated a decrease in cocaine derived from that coca (from 610 tons in 2006 to 600 last year).

The reason appears to be that, in response to eradication, growers are replanting so much and so frequently that their coca fields are newer and thus lower-yielding. Much credit goes to manual eradication, which destroys plants completely and forces growers to start over.

The problem is, there are more of those coca fields than ever before. Recall that the coca cultivation estimate reflects what the U.S. government believes to be left over after all eradication takes place. To find out how much coca Colombian growers tried to cultivate, then, one must add the coca estimate to the eradication statistic. Looking at attempted coca growing yields a very disturbing picture:

The U.S. coca statistics tell us that not only was there more coca in Colombia in 2007 than at almost any time before, there was far, far more Colombian land planted with coca. Throughout the country, coca-growers – most of them impoverished rural-dwellers at the margins of the legal economy – planted almost exactly twice as much coca as they had in 2000, the year “Plan Colombia” began.

This is an environmental catastrophe, as virgin rainforests are felled and chemical fertilizers introduced at escalating rates. It also shows the perverse results of a set of incentives created by massive forced eradication combined with insufficient development aid and food security. When Plan Colombia began, officials initially thought that this punitive mix of strategies would discourage poor Colombians from trying to grow coca. It most emphatically has not.

The new data show how far this problem is from resolution. The fields may have yielded less last year, but Colombian campesinos continue to respond to forced eradication by planting even more of the crop – and they are likely to catch up again. As long as drug policy fails to address the poverty and statelessness of vast areas in rural Colombia, we can expect this result to continue. There is nothing to celebrate here.

The second press release claims that progress is also being made at home. It cites an annual survey indicating that “cocaine use among 18-25 year-olds dropped 23 percent (to 1.7 percent [of all those surveyed])” from 2006 to 2007.

This is great news. But a look at the actual survey data should convince us to put away the champagne bottles.

When other age groups are added to the survey data mix, it turns out that the amount of the U.S. population admitting to having used cocaine in the past year was 2.3% in 2007, down from 2.5% in 2006. This is not a significant decline – it is more of a normal fluctuation in a usage rate that this survey has shown to be in the 2-3 percent range since the early 1990s. The survey also indicates that the percentage of Americans admitting to having used crack cocaine did not change between 2006 and 2007: it stayed the same at 0.6%.

The same report in fact shows a dramatic increase in cocaine use among baby boomers: the number of those aged 45-59 who admitted using cocaine in past year increased by 68 percent.

The survey data indicates that cocaine may just be going in and out of style, or simply preferred by addicts of a particular age group. Again, this leaves nothing to celebrate.

We need to believe that our government is making policies based on honest assessments of the data and unflinching analysis of their results. Policies based on distortions or cherry-picking will fail, because such behavior reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the challenges the policy faces. By insisting on celebrating dubious achievements illustrated by heavily massaged numbers, the U.S. government casts doubt on the whole enterprise.

Sep 12

Goodbye to Bolivia’s unlikely ambassador, former journalist Gustavo Guzmán.

Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez have just endorsed their candidates for the U.S. elections. Their choice is John McCain and Sarah Palin. They appear to hope not just that McCain wins, but that he puts the Republican Party’s hardest line back in control of U.S. policy toward Latin America.

This may be a counter-intuitive statement, but the reasoning behind it is not. With Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s expulsions of U.S. ambassadors on Wednesday and Thursday, Morales and Chávez dealt a major setback to the moderates in the U.S. policy debate.

Who are this week’s losers? They are those who favor continued contact, cooperation and dialogue; those who have sought to maintain bilateral relationships on a serious, adult level; those who have abstained from “taking the bait” and responding to provocative statements. These moderates include:

  • The foreign-policy professionals who took over stewardship of the Bush administration’s Latin America policy after the departure of ideological political appointees Otto Reich and Roger Noriega. (Thomas Shannon at State, Stephen Johnson at Defense, and Ambassador Patrick Duddy in Venezuela are pragmatic “grown-ups,” not fire-breathing neocons.)
  • Top advisors to the Obama campaign.
  • Some congressional committee staff from both parties.
  • NGO analysts who support diplomacy over gratuitous confrontation, including CIP. We support dialogue with adversaries, even unpopular scenarios like humanitarian exchange dialogues with the FARC, so of course we oppose a breakoff in bilateral diplomatic contacts with Bolivia and Venezuela.
  • Officials we have known at the Bolivian and Venezuelan embassies who have sought to downplay the rhetoric from the top and keep channels of contact open.
  • (This list does not include the White House, where Drug Czar John Walters has attacked Venezuela and Bolivia’s drug-interdiction failures while downplaying or ignoring those of friendlier governments in Colombia and Peru, and where President Bush has sought to sell the Colombia Free-Trade Agreement by portraying Venezuela as a national-security threat.)

The above groups have little in common, and often disagree sharply on issues like free trade, military assistance, human rights and the U.S. role in the region as a whole. But they have coincided in their advocacy of an approach to elected “leftist” leaders based on avoidance of unnecessary provocation, proportional responses, dialogue, search for common ground, and insistence on facts instead of rumors or spin. They also have in common that they suffered a blow this week. If you believe that it is rarely a good idea to break off communications channels with adversaries, and worry that a lack of contact often leads to further radicalization and conflict, then you have had a bad week too.

Don’t believe for a moment that either expulsion had anything to do with an imminent danger of aggression from a waning U.S. administration already in way over its head in the Middle East and with Russia. What we have here are two leaders badly in need of an external threat to rally their domestic bases at a volatile political moment. In Bolivia, anti-government and separatist violence in eastern provinces is reaching truly alarming proportions, as supporters of local leaders who won the August recall referendum are illegally trying to make half the country ungovernable for a president who also handily won the August referendum. In Venezuela, municipal and gubernatorial elections are coming up. While supporters of President Chávez are likely to make gains, the government remains stung by its unexpected loss in a December 2007 constitutional reform referendum.

This is a moment when both leaders could badly use a strong, radical, angry, irrational U.S. over-reaction to help them rally their bases behind them. They need to sharpen the contradictions. They need Washington to step up and play the role that it so faithfully played for the Castro brothers in Cuba for fifty years: that of an aggressor appearing to be obsessed with their overthrow and constantly plotting to carry it out.

For the most part, those who have run the administration’s policy since 2006 or so have not obliged them. They have refused to play this role. Provocations like meetings with Iran, arms purchases from Russia, kind words for the FARC, or cancellations of USAID programs have met with little more than mild expressions of concern. Which is all they deserve.

That is not good enough, clearly, for these leaders to energize their supporters. So both presidents took it up a notch this week by expelling their U.S. ambassadors.

In the United States, the State Department’s tit-for-tat response was predictable. It is a shame, though, to see the departure of Bolivian Ambassador Gustavo Guzmán, a pragmatist who was by no means an attack dog. Guzmán seemed to place high value on the relationships he had built with Assistant Secretary Shannon and other officials. He also appeared to support the idea of President Morales visiting Washington, which Morales has not done during his presidency. But Guzmán is gone, and a main channel of communication has been cut.

This week’s crisis may help rally both presidents’ bases, for a time at least. But the expulsions’ timing, 54 days before the U.S. elections, is no accident either.

This week’s crisis is an investment in guaranteeing a continued U.S. hard line toward Bolivia and Venezuela. Doing so would require the defeat of Barack Obama, whose promise of a less confrontational, not-taking-the-bait approach is of no use to them. They want McCain and his hard liners to bring U.S. policy back to the open hostility of George W. Bush’s first term. And with this week’s actions, they have given the McCain-Palin campaign more red meat for its “country first” foreign policy rhetoric.

These “leftist” leaders have just contributed their grain of sand to the McCain-Palin campaign’s election effort. And their message to the moderates and pragmatists is clear: get out of the way.

Sep 10

From Colombian Embassy lobbying materials being distributed this week (PDF).

We’re hearing reports from Capitol Hill that an enormous delegation of Colombians has descended on them.

Led by Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata and funded (or at least mostly funded) by the Colombian government, at least eighty government officials, businesspeople, pro-trade labor unionists, former combatants and others have fanned out across the U.S. Congress this week. Divided into eight separate groups, each with a different agenda of legislative lobby visits, their goal is to sell the controversial U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The FTA’s ratification has been stalled since April, when House Democratic leaders responded to the Bush administration’s effort to force a debate by removing the strict timetable, known as “fast track,” in the rules governing congressional consideration of trade treaties.

The Colombian visitors hope to nudge the U.S. Congress into considering the FTA before the 110th Congress adjourns at the end of the year. That is unlikely to happen. Congress will recess on September 26 – two-and-a-half weeks from now – so that members can return to their home states and campaign for the November 4 elections. It is not clear whether they will come back between the elections and the early January inauguration of the 111th Congress, a period punctuated by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays known as a “lame duck session.”

There may not be a lame duck session this year, Reuters, repeating what we have also been hearing, reported yesterday: “Democratic leaders in Congress say their plan is to finish up whatever work there is to do in the next several weeks and not return until early 2009, when a newly elected president and lawmakers will take office.”

The Colombian government has nonetheless pulled out all the stops. Just consider the expenses incurred for the current lobby visit.

Assume a four-day stay in Washington for 80 people. We have hosted enough visitors from Latin America over the years to know that a visit to Washington is not cheap. These are very conservative estimates:

  • Airfare, visa fees, aiport taxes – assume $900 per person. (More if the visitor didn’t fly coach, or had to fly first from a Colombian city without an international airport.)
  • Hotels, four nights – assume $1,000 per person. (Go to hotels.com and try to find a room in downtown DC for less than $250, including taxes, this time of year.)
  • Food and ground transportation, four days – assume $200 per person.

That brings us to $2,100 per person, or $168,000 for this week’s lobby visit. The real figure is likely higher, but even this is about 50% higher than CIP’s expenditures on all Colombia-specific work this year. On the other hand, it is equal only to what the U.S. government provides to Colombia’s police and military every 3 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, President Álvaro Uribe will be passing through Washington next week, while visiting the United States to attend the UN General Assembly. The blitz continues.

Sep 09

Here is a translation of a column, published last weekend by the Colombian daily El Espectador, by noted author and essayist Héctor Abad Faciolince. Abad, a native of Medellín, reacts to Friday’s arrest of retired Colombian Army Gen. Rito Alejo del Río.

Gen. del Río headed the 17th Brigade, in the Urabá region of Antioquia, the department of which Medellín is the capital, from 1995 to 1997. During this period, Urabá suffered a horrific wave of paramilitary violence against civilians, widely alleged to have been aided and abetted by army units under Gen. del Río’s command. During this period, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe was Antioquia’s governor.

Rito’s Rituals
By Héctor Abad Faciolince
El Espectador (Colombia), posted September 5, 2008, 10:45 PM

During 1996-1997, the Secretary of Government [sort of "vice-governor" or cabinet chief] of Antioquia, Pedro Juan Moreno, on several occasions accused the El Colombiano newspaper of being an ally, or at least a useful idiot, of the FARC subversives.

The motive was the following: when this daily’s journalists traveled by land in Antioquia’s part of Urabá, they noted with astonishment, and published in the newspaper, that the paramilitary groups’ illegal roadblocks were located only a very few kilometers away from the Army’s legal roadblocks.

The strangest thing was the following: these “paraco” roadblocks were not mobile, but fixed, yet the Brigade appeared to be doing nothing to pursue them. During those years, the 17th Brigade was commanded by General Rito Alejo del Río. When told of these roadblocks’ existence, Gen. del Río denied it vehemently. But the journalists saw them.

After the military deployments that were known as “Operation Genesis,” the campesinos in that zone near the border of Chocó and Antioquia denounced, in shaky voices, in the presence of Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, that several boats had gone up the Atrato River loaded with paramilitary troops, and that they had passed, like Pedro in his own house, right past several military detachments. Shouting, and in front of the interior minister, who at the time was [top Liberal Party politician] Horacio Serpa, Gen. del Río denied it. He also denied having carried out indiscriminate bombings in which civilians had been killed. The journalists from El Colombiano took photos of the bomb craters, which were as big as houses.

Gen. Rito Alejo has testified in his defense several times, as proof that he did pursue paramilitary groups, the fact that he detained the paramilitaries who committed the Aracatazo massacre. This is true. What is curious is that in declarations also given to journalists from El Colombiano, [now-deceased top paramilitary leader] Carlos Castaño said that he himself had called (as an anonymous citizen) the 17th Brigade, to denounce the paramilitaries’ excesses in Aracatazo. Castaño believed himself to have “purified” from his group some of its most savage members, those who played soccer with the heads of the dead, or those who killed the wrong targets.

The Catholic Church of Chocó denounced, at the time, the free passage on the Atrato River given to the paramilitaries who supported “Operation Genesis” by land. With rage, Gen. del Río denied these accusations, as well as those of the zone’s human-rights ombudsman. Colombian justice believed neither the campesinos who were the victims of these deeds, nor the Church, nor the human-rights ombudsman.  Or at least it believed them for a little while, until Prosecutor-General [Luis Camilo] Osorio dropped all the investigations against this general [in mid-2001, shortly after Osorio was inaugurated]. Those who did believe the campesinos and the Church were the officials from the State Department, who abruptly canceled the general’s visa, without regard to the fact that they had trained him themselves.

In a ritual of making amends, the defenders of Gen. Del Río’s actions (Fernando Londoño Hoyos [President Uribe's first interior-justice minister], Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza [a far-right-wing writer], President Uribe himself) carried out an homage to the retired officer in one of the ballrooms at the Hotel Tequendama [in downtown Bogotá, in May 1999]. The so-called “Pacifier of Urabá” was acclaimed as a hero. To them, this brigadier-general had simply opposed with courage the FARC guerrillas in that zone of the country, and was a victim of the NGOs’ idiocies. Nobody denied that the Army could and should, now as then, take the fight to the subversives.

What cannot be done now, as could not have been then, is to ally with the country’s bloodiest warriors (the so-called “self-defense groups”) to massacre campesinos. Some of them, in effect, were guerrillas, but they cannot be killed outside of combat, much less those who had nothing to do with the armed groups. Even supposing that all the campesinos were guerrillas, there still remain those children younger than 10 years old, who also died, and whom it would be difficult to accuse of being allies of subversion.

The Prosecutor-General’s office has once again arrested General del Río, because several demobilized paramilitaries, in particular [Salvatore] Mancuso and “H. H.” [Éver Veloza, who headed the Urabá paramilitaries at the time], have indicated that he was their ally in Urabá. It will be the justice system that must determine whether the deeds of which he is accused are true, or whether they are simply idiocies invented by wicked people, by NGOs and by reporters allied with, or at least useful idiots of, the FARC.

Sep 05
  • Colombian authorities yesterday arrested retired General Rito Alejo del Río, charging him with complicity in the 1997 paramilitary murder of campesino leader Marino López. Ever since Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office abruptly and controversially dropped its case against him seven years ago, Gen. del Río’s name has been synonymous with impunity for human-rights crimes.

Gen. del Río ran the Army’s 17th Brigade in northwestern Antioquia department’s Urabá region from 1995 to 1997. During his tenure, the paramilitaries multiplied their presence in Urabá, carrying out one of the most gruesome offensives against civilians in recent Colombian history. (In Marino López’s case, for instance, paramilitaries played a soccer match using the local leader’s severed head as a ball.)  Testimonies from demobilized paramilitaries have confirmed what witnesses – including other military officers – have long alleged: that Gen. del Río played a leading role in the paramilitaries’ campaign of massacres, torture and forced displacement.

(In 1999, after human rights allegations forced Gen. del Río to resign, Álvaro Uribe – the governor of Antioquia during the general’s tenure – was the keynote speaker at a Bogotá dinner held in his honor.)

  • Threats against the Colombian human-rights group Justicia y Paz, mentioned in last Friday’s links post, grew more serious this week. Members of the group, which works with displaced communities in Chocó department, were briefly kidnapped and threatened by “new” paramilitaries, while two men were detected after midnight several days ago while en route to a house where several slept.
  • You know things are bad when the president of Colombia’s Supreme Court says things like this in a public speech: “The Supreme Court will keep complying, with no fear, with the functions the Constitution and the law have assigned to it, despite the constant attacks that are coming from the government, which seeks to discredit and de-legitimize the ["para-politics"] investigations it is carrying out. Just as it did not allow itself to be intimidated by the violent groups who tried to silence it and consume it in flames more than twenty years ago, the Court will not do it now before those who intend to silence it in order that impunity may reign.”
  • President Álvaro Uribe’s post-hostage rescue bounce in Colombia’s opinion polls seems to have faded, though his approval rating is still 78 percent, according to Gallup’s polling [PDF] of residents with telephones in Colombia’s four largest cities.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a measured speech at the every-18-month meeting of the hemisphere’s defense ministers, held this week in Banff, Canada.

[I]n areas such as law enforcement and public administration, civilian capacity may not match the expertise found in many of our armed forces. It is important that non-military capabilities receive adequate manning and funding – a point I emphasize frequently with respect to our State Department’s budget.

The meeting itself – the eighth since 1995 – got almost no attention in the regional media, mainly due to its remote location and its unambitious agenda (not much hope for consensus when the United States and Colombia are in the same room with Venezuela and its allies). The conservative Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser argues that the ministerial summits have little reason to exist today, and that the United States should pursue bilateral relationships instead.

We would argue that while the meetings offer little hope of achieving regional consensus, there is a significant confidence-building and civil-military relations benefit to having the region’s mostly civilian defense ministers meet regularly. Also, these forums provide an increasingly rare opportunity for U.S. and allied officials to have exchanges, formally or informally, with counterparts from Venezuela and other countries whose relations with Washington have grown very distant.

  • Interesting pieces this week in major U.S. papers. The Washington Post documents rising coca cultivation in the Andes and discusses Ecuador’s refusal to renew the U.S. military presence at the Manta counter-narcotics base. The Los Angeles Times writes about “new” paramilitary groups’ dominion over the northeastern department of La Guajira, Colombia.
  • Beautiful column in the Los Angeles Times by author and former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, condemning the Ortega government’s judicial harassment of Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua. Cardenal, one of Latin America’s most celebrated poets, served with Ortega in the first Sandinista government (1979-1990) as minister of culture.
  • Civil-military relations notes from around the region: The head of Nicaragua’s armed forces attacked human-rights groups who alleged irregularities in the military pension fund. Paraguay’s armed forces are openly quarreling with the new government about authority over promotions, nominations and transfers. In Bolivia, the Morales government is seeking to try the governor of Beni and the mayor of Trinidad in a military court, alleging that they were responsible for a protest in which an officer was wounded.
  • Colombian soldiers forced Michael Fabricant, a Conservative Party member of the British Parliament, to eat several spoonfuls of non-dairy coffee creamer during a recent visit to Colombia. Fabricant thus proved that the white powder was not cocaine, though he did give himself a stomachache.
Sep 04

Here is an English translation of a table compiled in mid-August by the Colombian think-tank INDEPAZ. It lists the 39 members of Colombia’s Congress who are under investigation, and the 29 currently in detention, on suspicion of having colluded with paramilitary groups.

The list has been updated to reflect the release, two weeks ago, of Sen. Mario Uribe (the president’s cousin) and other very controversial cases of charges dropped by the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

Thanks to CIP Intern Anthony Dest for the translation.

Members of Congress implicated
in parapolitics; the list includes those under current investigation and
those detained as of September 3, 2008.

And the count continues…

PARAPOLITICS

INDEPAZ investigative unit

Members of Congress INVESTIGATED

 Department
 
 Name  Title  Party

Antioquia

5

Atlántico

2

Mauricio
Parodi Díaz

Representative

Liberal

Oscar
Suárez Mira

Senator

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Antonio
Valencia Duque

Senator

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Jorge
Morales Gil

Representative

Liberal

Mario
Uribe Escobar

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

David
Char

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Armando
Benedetti

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Bogotá

Juan
Carlos Restrepo Escobar

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Bolívar

3

Javier
Cáceres Leal

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Héctor
Julio Alfonso López

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Fernando
Tafur Díaz

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Cauca

Luís
Fernando Velasco

Senator

Liberal

Caldas

2

Adriana
Patricia Gutiérrez Jaramillo

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Víctor
Renan Barco López

Senator

Liberal

Cesar

Alfredo
Cuello Baute

Representative

Conservative

Córdoba

3

Musa
Besaile Fayad

Representative

Liberal

Zulema
Jattin Corrales

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Julio
Manzur

Senator

Conservative

Cundinamarca

Nancy
Patricia Gutiérrez

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Guainia

Sandra
Velásquez

Representative

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Magdalena

Rodrigo
Roncallo Fandiño

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Meta

Luís
Carlos Torres Rueda

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Nariño

2

Eduardo
Enríquez Maya

Senator

Conservative

Myiam
Paredes

Representative

Conservative

Norte
de Santander

3

Carlos
Emiro Barriga

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Juan
Manuel Corzo

Senator

Conservative

Manuel
Guillermo Mora

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Putumayo

Guillermo
Rivera Flórez

Representative

Liberal

Risaralda

Habib
Merheg Marun

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Santander

4

Luís
Alberto Gil Castillo

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

José
Manuel Herrera Cely

Representative

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Oscar
Josué Reyes Cárdenas

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Luís
Alfonso Riaño

Representative

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Sucre

2

Jairo
Fernández Quessep

Representative

Social Action (Acción Social)

José
Maria Conde

Representative

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Tolima

Mauricio
Jaramillo Martínez

Senator

Liberal

Valle

3

Dilian
Francisca Toro

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Juan
Carlos Martines Sinisterra

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Luis
Carlos Restrepo Orozco

Representative

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Total Members of Congress INVESTIGATED 

 Political Party   Senators  Representatives  Total

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

1

3

4

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

1

0

1

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

5

1

6

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

1

1

2

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

1

0

1

Conservative

3

2

5

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

4

2

6

Liberal

3

4

7

Social Action (Acción Social)

0

1

1

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

5

1

6

Total

24

15

39

PARAPOLITICS

INDEPAZ investigative unit

Members of Congress DETAINED

 Department  Name  Title   Party

Antioquia

3

Rubén
Darío Quintero

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Humberto Builes

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Guillermo
Gaviria Zapata

Senator

 Liberal

Atlántico

2

Dieb
Nicolás Maloof Couse

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Jorge
Castro Pacheco

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Bolívar

Vicente
Blel Saad

Senator

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

Boyacá

Ciro
Ramírez Pinzón

Senator

Conservative

Caldas

2

Emilio
Enrique Angel Barco

Representative

Liberal

Dixon
Ferney Tapasco

Representative

Liberal

Caquetá

Luís
Fernando Almario Rojas

Representative

Popular Participation (Participación
Popular)

Casanare

Oscar
Leonidas Wilches Carreño

Representative

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Cesar

3

Álvaro
Araujo Castro

Senator

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Álvaro
Morón Cuello

Representative

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

Mauricio
Pimiento Barrera

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Córdoba

3

Magdalena

6

Norte de Santander

Sucre

2

Tolima

3

Miguel
De La Espriella Burgos

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Reginaldo
Enrique Montes

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Juan
Manuel López Cabrales

Senator

Liberal

Jorge
Luís Caballero Caballero

Representative

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

Alfonso
Campo Escobar

Representative

Conservative

Karley
Patricia Lara Vence

Representative

Moral Movement (Movimiento
Moral)

Luís
Eduardo Vives Lacourte

Senator

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

Miguel
Pinedo Vidal

Senator

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

Alonso
de Jesús Ramírez

Representative

Moral Movement (Movimiento
Moral)

Ricardo Elcure Chacón

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Álvaro
García Romero

Senator

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Eric
Julio Morris Toboada

Representative

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

Gonzalo
García Angarita

Representative

Conservative

Pompilio
Avendaño

Representative

Liberal

Carlos
García Orjuela

Senator

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

Total Members of Congress DETAINED

 Political Party   Senators  Representatives  Total

Liberal Opening (Apertura Liberal)

0

1

1

“Wings” Team Colombia (Alas Equipo Colombia)

1

1

2

Radical Change (Cambio Radical)

4

1

5

Democratic Colombia (Colombia Democrática)

3

1

4

Long Live Colombia (Colombia Viva)

3

0

3

Conservative

1

2

3

Citizen Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana)

1

0

1

Moral Movement (Movimiento
Moral)

0

2

2

Liberal

2

3

5

Participación Popular

0

1

1

Social National Unity (”La ‘U’”)

2

0

2

Total

17

12

29

Modified September 3, 2008

Sep 03

“President Salinas is leading Mexico through an era of exciting, unprecedented reform. Like the Aztec eagle, Mexico is rising again as a 21st-century giant, greater than ever. The Mexican renaissance has begun.” – President George H.W. Bush, November 27, 1990

“We have to have the courage to change, and a part of that change should involve a closer relationship with Mexico now under better leadership than ever in my lifetime.” – candidate Bill Clinton, October 4, 1992

“I want to just get to know President Menem a little better. … I admire very much the program of economic reform that Argentina has pursued under his leadership, their respect for human rights, their support for democracy. … I wanted him to come here and to be the first Latin American leader to come because of the remarkable, some would say astonishing, progress in Argentina in the last couple of years.” – President Bill Clinton, June 29, 1993

“The government of Peru has shown renewed political will against narcotrafficking with President Fujimori emphasizing counternarcotics as the Peruvian military’s #1 mission.” – Brian Sheridan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Drug Enforcement Policy and Support, April 4, 1995

“I have tremendous admiration for Alberto Fujimori.” – U.S. “Drug Czar” Barry McCaffrey, May 1997.

“The United States is proud of its strong relationship with Argentina, and I am grateful for the personal and national partnership that President Menem and I have developed together. … Mr. President, under your leadership Argentina has been at the forefront of Latin America’s resurgence.” – President Bill Clinton, January 11, 1999

“I think it’s important for everyone to get a look firsthand at the situation in Colombia, at the progress that the Uribe administration has made toward providing a more secure environment for the Colombian people, a more just environment and in laying a foundation for greater prosperity. … [E]very time we talk with the Uribe government or representatives, we talk about human rights and the need to continue to improve the human rights record in Colombia. I think that most would agree that this has been a high priority for President Uribe himself.” – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, January 24, 2008

“Colombia is one of our strongest allies in the Western Hemisphere. They are led by a very strong and courageous leader, President Uribe. He’s taken courageous stands to defend our shared democratic values. He has been a strong and capable partner in fighting drugs and crime and terror. And he’s delivering results.” – President George W. Bush, April 7, 2008

  • Today, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1998-2004), his government’s reputation stained by widespread allegations of corruption and authoritarian behavior, only visits Mexico on occasion.
  • Today, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) is imprisoned, on trial for human-rights crimes. He abruptly resigned from office amid corruption allegations in 2000, and was extradited to Peru from Chile in 2007.
  • Today, Argentine President Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999), disgraced by corruption and economic mismanagement allegations, won only 22 percent of the vote in his 2007 campaign to run for Argentina’s state of La Rioja.
  • Today, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe enjoys a domestic approval rating of 78 percent, and is the recipient of generous praise from the U.S. government.
Sep 02

Here is a translation of a video interview posted to the website of the Colombian magazine Semana.

The interviewer visits what is left of the town of El Salado, in Colombia’s department of Bolívar not far from Cartagena. In February 2000, hundreds of paramilitaries poured into this village where, in the middle of town before the eyes of horrified residents, they killed more than 40 people over four days. The military and police did nothing to stop it.

“Diego Vecino,” the paramilitary leader whose unit carried out the El Salado massacre, has revealed very little to Colombian prosecutors so far, Semana reported a month ago. His number two, “Juancho Dique,” gave grisly testimony at the end of July about how the massacre was carried out.

The testimony in the video and translation below is disturbing not only because of its graphic nature, but because of the matter-of-fact, emotionless way that the two women recount it.

Questioner: How did the massacre happen here?

Witness: They took everyone out here to this soccer field. By the church were some bleachers, that is where they made everyone sit. They would point to people there and take them away. They took them to be killed right here [pointing]. Those whom they hacked to death, those whom they killed with lead [shot], were taken from there. Some bodies were taken to the church and laid out on tables. After there was no room, the rest of the bodies were left here in the open, out in the sun. Later, the smell was unbearable. So they had us dig a common grave, there, where the monument is. They were thrown in there in sheets, wrapped in sheets.

Q: In one grave, there was room for 3 or 4 people?

W: In the same grave, yes. And they were unrecognizable. We recognized them only from the clothes they were wearing. And we didn’t know, because the families had fled from the town, where there was anyone who could identify the body from the clothes, some sweater or something. They were unrecognizable. When we brought them over there, we nearly fainted because the smell was so strong. We used alcohol, cologne, soaked in cloths over our faces, but it just wasn’t enough.

Q: How many days did this take?

W: This began… it lasted three days … part of four.

Q: With El Salado so close to El Carmen, why was there no reaction from the security forces?

W: That is what we all ask ourselves. I fled to El Carmen del Bolívar, to ask for help. The mayor wouldn’t listen to us. I called the national and international Red Cross, everything I could. I was already desperate when the people arrived from Bogotá, from Venezuela, from everywhere, and they asked me, “you escaped?” I said yes. And I told them about everyone they had killed. … But by then, the deed was done, by then it was the fourth day. They had already gone, by that night.

Q: It has been said that in the video that the Prosecutor-General’s office has, that they talk about drums, that they were playing music.

Second Witness: Yes, that is true. The drums were kept there, in the Casa del Pueblo, where we had a band and they were donated. I can tell you because I saw it. Everytime they killed someone, they played the drums. That was true.

Q: They were sober, or were they drunk?

SW: Well, some seemed sober, but others appeared to be on drugs, because of the way they acted, the way they killed people, and played music. A few seemed well, but the others, yes, must have been on something.

Q: How did they kill people? With bullets?

SW: Yes, some with bullets. Some were hung, one was beaten to death. Some they tortured, ears cut off while still alive, fingers from hands, later they put a garbage bag over their heads, still alive and screaming for help. But we were just a few people, what could we do.

Q: You all saw this?

SW: I did. I saw the whole thing from the beginning until they left the town.

Q: And why did they torture those people so much?

SW: Well, what I heard, they were saying that they were guerrillas. That’s what they explained to us.

Q: Those paramilitaries, were they known, had you seen them here before?

SW: No, I never had.