Mar 30

4,483 days after the FARC guerrillas took him hostage, Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo has been freed. The FARC handed him over to a commission of Colombian church representatives, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba.

However, as of this writing bad weather has prevented their helicopters, provided by the Brazilian armed forces, from leaving the handover site in rural Caquetá department. The 30-year-old Moncayo’s family, who have not seen him since he was 18 back in 1997, must wait a few more hours to see him.

The FARC continues to hold 21 more soldiers and police to pressure for a prisoner exchange. While President Álvaro Uribe recently said he was open to negotiating such an exchange, this does not represent a significant departure from his earlier positions. A “humanitarian exchange” dialogue probably remains far off, not least because Colombia is in the midst of a presidential campaign.

Top: Moncayo moments before his release. Bottom: Colombian Sen. Piedad Córdoba meets with FARC members at the site where Moncayo was freed.
Mar 27
El Tiempo’s website has very detailed results of the Datexco presidential-election poll in a PowerPoint file.
  • If all goes according to plan, Brazilian helicopters will pick up two soldiers who have been held by the FARC for years. The guerrillas are releasing Josué Daniel Calvo Marín on Sunday and Pablo Emilio Moncayo. Moncayo, whose father has become famous in Colombia for his campaign to free him, has been a FARC hostage since late 1997. He was 18 when the guerrillas took him after a battle in Patascoy, Putumayo; he is 30 now.
  • The head of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, told reporters that according to “high-quality intelligence,” the FARC are planning a campaign of high-profile attacks between now and the May 30 presidential election. This week saw several FARC attacks in southwestern Colombia: Cauca, Huila, a car bombing in downtown Buenaventura believed to be the work of the FARC, and a package bomb unwittingly delivered by a 12-year-old boy in Nariño.
  • Meanwhile violence attributed to “emerging” paramilitary groups escalated in the northwestern department of Córdoba. Seven people, among them three teenagers, were massacred in a bar in Puerto Libertador. Radio journalist Clodomiro Castillo, a critic of politicians tied to paramilitary groups, was gunned down on the front porch of his house in Montería.
  • The two pro-Uribe candidates lead the polling for the May 30 elections.
    • Gallup March 20-22: Juan Manuel Santos 34.2%; Noemí Sanín 23.3%; Antanas Mockus 10.4%; Gustavo Petro 6.4%; Germán Vargas Lleras 6.2%; Sergio Fajardo 6.1%; Rafael Pardo 5.1%
    • Datexco March 20-23: Juan Manuel Santos 34.1%; Noemí Sanín 21.7%; Antanas Mockus 8.9%; Gustavo Petro 7.1%; Germán Vargas Lleras 6.6%; Rafael Pardo 5.5%; Sergio Fajardo 4.4%
    • Both polls were taken before the first televised presidential debate, which took place the evening of March 23.
  • In Venezuela, you can now be arrested for offending the president, as Guillermo Zuloaga, the owner of opposition-oriented television network Globovisión, found this week. Zuloaga was arrested (and later released pending trial) for comments he made at the Inter-American Press Association mid-year meeting a week earlier. The arrest came days after the detention of opposition politician Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, a former governor of the western state of Zulia, for comments he made on Globovisión alleging that President Hugo Chávez’s government is aiding narcotraffickers and guerrillas.
  • A week after Cuban police roughly dispersed a protest by the Ladies in White dissident group, tens of thousands gathered in Miami for a demonstration led by musician Gloria Estefan. President Obama released a strong statement about the human rights situation in Cuba.
  • The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party, apologized on behalf of the Salvadoran state for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed by an assassin linked to pro-government death squads 30 years ago March 24.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headed a delegation to Mexico March 23 that included the secretaries of defense and homeland security, among other officials. The “Mérida High-Level Consultative Group” meeting made official some changes to the framework that has guided about $1.4 billion in U.S. aid to Mexico since 2008. From now on, the “Mérida Initiative” will be far less military in nature, reports Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations: “most of the requested $330 million for the program’s 2011 budget will be targeted to Mexico’s judicial reforms and programs on good governance.”
  • “Mexico is only one part, though probably the most important one, of a theater of operations that stretches from the Venezuelan-Cuban-Iranian alliance and the Andean Ridge, through Columbia and the FARC, up the cartel-controlled drug routes through Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, and into the United States,” writes Col. Bob Killebrew of the influential Center for a New American Security, on the Foreign Policy blog of former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks. “The Venezuelan alliance is almost a classic geopolitical attempt to deny the US access to Latin America — probably including Mexico — and to gain access to our southern border.”
  • José Miguel Insulza was reelected to a second five-year term as secretary-general of the Organization of American States. He faced no opponent.
Mar 24
Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, in 2008, telling a FARC commander, “We are with you. Be strong.”

In an unusual moment last week, the four-star general who heads the U.S. Southern Command had to clarify his comments after questioning from members of Congress.

On March 11, Gen. Douglas Fraser, asked by Sen. John McCain about linkages between the Venezuelan government and Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

We have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We have not seen any connections, specifically, that I can verify that there has been a direct government-to-terrorist connection. We are concerned about it, I’m skeptical, I continue to watch for it. …

There has been some old evidence, but I don’t see that evidence, I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.

A week later (March 18), under similar questioning in the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Fraser said something different:

We do see a long-term relationship that exists between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. That has been evidenced, if you go back and look at the computer records that came out of the Rafael (sic.) Reyes— capture of that computer. That continues on. There is safe haven, there is financial, logistic support, there’s safe haven for the FARC provided. And all the evidence I have says that continues— the evidence I have doesn’t say that it— that I can explicitly say it’s continuing, but I can’t say it’s explicitly not continuing. So based on the evidence to date, I would say that support still continues.

The following day, Southern Command posted a clarification to its blog.

Assistant Secretary Valenzuela and I spoke this morning on the topic of linkages between the government of Venezuela and the FARC. There is zero daylight between our two positions and we are in complete agreement:

There is indeed clear and documented historical and ongoing evidence of the linkages between the Government of Venezuela and the FARC.

This recalls the February “Annual Threat Assessment” testimony [PDF] of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

[Chávez] has restricted Colombian imports, warned of a potential military conflict, and continued his covert support to the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

So does the Obama administration believe that Hugo Chávez and the government of Venezuela are helping the FARC? Do the words “linkages” and “support” mean military assistance with lethal consequences? It is very important to be precise about this, because of what it implies.

“Hugo Chávez is helping the FARC” means “Hugo Chávez is helping a group that kills Colombians on Colombian soil and seeks to overthrow the Colombian government.” Or, more simply, “Hugo Chávez is helping to kill Colombians and overthrow Colombia’s government.”

Wars — “just” wars — have been fought over less than that. By this interpretation, a Colombian military response on Venezuelan soil would not even be preemptive. It would be retaliatory.

Words matter. Colombia could interpret (misinterpret?) the administration’s message as a “green light,” a signal that Colombia would be justified in taking military action in Venezuelan territory, and that Colombia would have U.S. support in the political and military firestorm that would follow such action.

Precision is important, because it will determine what actions follow. The question the Obama administration needs to answer unambiguously, then, is: does it believe that Venezuela’s government, as a matter of policy (as opposed to the actions of corrupt or rogue elements), is aiding and abetting the FARC today?

In Venezuela’s interest?

The FARC is widely hated in Colombia, condemned internationally for abuses ranging from massacres to narcotrafficking to the use of landmines and child soldiers, and militarily weaker than it was a decade ago, with no chance of taking power by force of arms. Given all that, it’s hard to argue that it would be in Venezuela’s self-interest to aid them. (And Hugo Chávez has not stayed in power for more than 11 years by neglecting his self-interest.)

Why, then, would Venezuela want to help the FARC? Perhaps out of misplaced ideological solidarity. Or perhaps Hugo Chávez still hopes to win a diplomatic victory by helping to broker a peace in Colombia. Perhaps out of a desire to balance out U.S. power by aligning with all declared enemies of the United States (including Iran). Perhaps out of a belief that the FARC would be a first line of defense against a hypothetical U.S. invasion via Colombia. Or perhaps merely out of corruption.

The evidence we know about

But all of this is pure speculation. What follows is the evidence about Venezuela-FARC ties that we have seen through open sources. If there is more — imagery, documents, communications intercepts, corroborated witness testimony — we don’t know about it.

  • Evidence from files recovered from the laptop computer of Raúl Reyes, the FARC Secretariat leader killed in a March 1, 2008 Colombian Army raid into Ecuador. These files point to discussions between FARC representatives and Venezuelan government officials about financial support and the provision of identity cards and weapons. These discussions seem to have increased in 2007, during President Chávez’s short-lived tenure as an authorized facilitator of talks to free civilian hostages in FARC custody. According to an indictment [PDF] issued recently by a Spanish judge, the files also mention FARC cooperation with Spain’s ETA terrorist group via an ETA member working in the Venezuelan government. Colombian officials believe that a Venezuelan referred to in the files as “Angel” is Hugo Chávez.

    These two-year-old computer files remain the strongest evidence indicating a FARC-Venezuela tie, and Venezuela’s insistence that they are a fabrication has not been a convincing response. However, the Reyes files are not sufficient evidence on their own. They contain some inaccuracies and wild fabrications, and often appear to be the words of far-flung guerrilla leaders relying on secondhand information to make inflated claims of their own success. There is no reason at all to doubt that the FARC has asked Venezuelan interlocutors for support. What remains unclear — in part because the Reyes computer claims have not been corroborated — is whether Venezuelan officials truly complied, and if so, whether they had President Chávez’s authorization.

  • Words of support for the FARC from President Chávez and other Venezuelan officials. In the days after Raúl Reyes was killed, President Chávez held a moment of silence in his honor on Venezuelan national television. Participating in a 2008 unilateral hostage release, Venezuela’s interior minister at the time, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, shook a guerrilla’s hand and told him on camera, “We are with you. … Be strong. We are following your cause.” (The U.S. Treasury Department later called Rodríguez Chacín “the Venezuelan government’s main weapons contact” for the FARC.)

    These and other words of support for the FARC have yet to be explained away. But Chávez has, on other occasions, also called on the FARC to release all of its hostages and disband. So statements alone prove nothing beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • The Swedish rockets. Last July, the Colombian government announced that it had recovered from the FARC a number of AT4 shoulder-fired rockets, manufactured by Saab in Sweden. The rockets’ serial numbers corresponded to those Sweden had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. Chávez later claimed that the rocket launchers had been stolen from a Venezuelan port in 1995, years before he became president.
  • The freedom with which the FARC operates on Venezuela’s side of the border. Colombian officials frequently contend that the FARC maintains encampments in Venezuela, that top FARC leaders spend much time there unmolested, and that Venezuelan officials routinely issue Venezuelan identity cards to FARC members. It is unclear whether this is a result of official Venezuelan policy or local-level corruption. No matter what, though, it is absolutely certain that Venezuela is doing almost nothing to prevent the FARC from using its territory, or punishing officials who assist, or fail to confront, the Colombian guerrillas.

    One could say the same, however, about other illegal Colombian groups that operate in Venezuela, both “new” paramilitaries and narcotrafficking organizations. Paramilitary groups are active in the northern part of the border region (across from Norte de Santander, Cesar and La Guajira). And one of Colombia’s most powerful narcotraffickers, Wilber Varela alias “Jabón,” was killed by a rival gang in the resort town of Mérida, about 100 miles from the Colombian border, in early 2008.

    Is the FARC’s latitude on the Venezuelan side of the border, then, a result of a Venezuelan policy to aid and abet them? Or is it part of a general lack of control of territory, and dysfunction in the security forces, that extends from the greatly increased flow of drugs across Venezuela to the alarming murder rate in Caracas? (Either way, it’s a huge problem for Venezuela.)

The response

If the U.S. and Colombian governments conclude from this (or from classified evidence) that Venezuela continues to aid the FARC, then both countries have an important choice to make. Ambiguity and vague accusations are not a proper response to such a serious charge.

Nor, however, should the response be military. War between Colombia and Venezuela is in nobody’s interest. It could escalate, with significant loss of life. It could destabilize the Andes. And it’s hard to define what a military “victory” in such a scenario would even look like.

Instead, if Washington and Bogotá have evidence that Venezuela is sponsoring killing and attempted state overthrow in Colombia, they must go to the UN Security Council. Article 39 of the UN Charter says the Council “shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken.” Sponsorship of the FARC would certainly qualify as a threat to peace and an act of aggression.

Unless the evidence presented is clear beyond a reasonable doubt, going to the UN — much less the OAS General Assembly — might not succeed. But such a decisive step would be preferable to the ambiguity and — as we saw last week — apparent contradiction in the administration’s message.

Instead of confusing signals that Colombia could misinterpret as a green light for military action, it’s time for more precise language. And if the precise language leads to more direct and decisive diplomatic action, then so be it.

Mar 19

  • The Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, presented his annual “Posture Statement” to the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, a week after doing the same in the Senate. This document (PDF), presented to the oversight committees every year, explains how the regional unified command views threats in the region, and how it plans to address them. This was the first such testimony for Gen. Fraser, who assumed command in July. (Video of his House testimony is here, and video of his Senate testimony is here.)
  • The two testimonies were most notable for conflicting responses on Venezuela — a country that is only mentioned in 2 paragraphs in Gen. Fraser’s entire 42-page Posture Statement. Asked about Venezuelan support for Colombia’s FARC guerrillas in the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11, the general responded that there was no solid evidence indicating that Caracas is, as a matter of official policy, supporting the group.

    “We have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We are concerned about it. I’m skeptical. I continue to watch for it. … But I don’t see that evidence. I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.”Yesterday, however, according to Reuters, “Fraser said Venezuela continues to provide the FARC a safe haven and ‘financial logistical support’ based on information found on a laptop computer of a FARC commander seized by Colombian soldiers during a raid on a guerrilla camp in Ecuador in 2008.”

  • More than his predecessors, the general’s statement directly links organized-crime activity with a potential terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland: “the same routes and networks by which illicit traffickers smuggle 1,250-1,500 metric tons of cocaine per year around the region could be used wittingly or unwittingly to smuggle weapons, cash, fissile material or terrorists.” This quote is also notable because it clashes strongly with State Department estimates, presented in the March 1 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, that the entire region produced only 705 tons of cocaine in 2008.
  • Colombia’s Supreme Court has refused to extradite Daniel Rendón, alias “Don Mario,” to the United States to face narcotrafficking charges. Rendón is the brother of Freddy Rendón (alias “El Alemán”), former head of the AUC’s Élmer Cárdenas Bloc, and is widely accused of being a chief sponsor of the new generation of “paras” that is proliferating throughout the country. The court denied the extradition because it determined that “Don Mario” is cooperating with prosecutors in the “Justice and Peace” process, which was designed for paramilitaries who demobilized willingly.
  • Two FARC hostages, Pablo Emilio Moncayo and Josue Daniel Calvo, could be released by the FARC sometime this week. Moncayo has been a guerrilla hostage since 1998. Brazilian helicopters are standing by near the Colombian border as they await coordinates for the handover.
  • Days after the murders of 3 people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Mexico City on March 23rd for the “Mérida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group.” A long list of top Obama administration officials will join the Secretary. The Washington Post editorial board, however, writes that the United States is not doing enough to help Mexico, calling on the Obama administration and Congress to expand funding for the Merida Initiative and to make “stabilizing a neighbor and major trading partner” a higher priority.
  • At the behest of President Evo Morales, Bolivia’s armed forces are adopting a new coat of arms incorporating the wiphala, the checkered-rainbow flag used by the country’s indigenous groups. The new shield also includes the slogan “patria o muerte, venceremos” (“fatherland or death, we shall overcome”), a saying most frequently associated with Fidel Castro.
  • The Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing Thursday on “Next Steps for Honduras.”
  • Just days before the 30th anniversary of the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the “Latin Americanist” blog shares a video from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show depicting the Texas School Board’s recent decision not to include Romero in its history textbooks. Apparently Romero was not “famous” enough to make the cut.
Mar 18

Here’s how the results of Sunday’s legislative elections look, with nearly all ballots counted. The numbers don’t yet total up to the total number of legislators in each house, because the counting is not complete.

It appears that pro-Uribe parties will continue to have a very solid majority in both houses of Congress. Opposition and non-aligned parties’ share will remain about the same as they did in 2006.

A key part of the government coalition is the National Integration Party (PIN), many of whose members are related to, or from the same political groupings of, legislators imprisoned for ties to paramilitary groups. The PIN party, says Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, was “designed in jail.” However, the La Silla Vacía website notes, several other parties had candidates suspected of ties to organized crime and armed groups, and most of them won.

For the first time, two leaders of Colombia’s non-governmental human rights movement did well, both as candidates of the leftist Polo Democrático party. Iván Cepeda of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes was elected to the Congress, and Gloria Flórez of Asociación Minga was elected to the Andean Parliament.

Senate (102 members; 94% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 58

La U 27 (20 in 2006) – the party headed by President Uribe’s former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the front-runner in polling for the May 30 presidential elections.
Conservative Party 23 (18 in 2006) – the Conservatives also held a presidential primary pitting former ambassador and minister Noemí Sanín against former agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias (known as “Uribito” for his loyalty to the President). The final result is not yet known.
PIN 8 - the party most associated with the “para-politicians.”

Opposition 26

Liberal Party (center-left) 18 (18 in 2006)
P
olo Democrático (left) 8 (10 in 2006) – the Polo lost seats in part because of internal infighting, and in part due to the unpopularity of Bogotá’s current mayor, Samuel Moreno.

Other 15

Cambio Radical (center-right) 8 (15 in 2006) – the party of right-wing politician Germán Vargas Lleras, part of the pro-Uribe coalition until Vargas Lleras broke away in early 2009. Many members of Cambio Radical defected to “La U.”
Green Party (center-left)
5
– the party of three popular former Bogotá mayors, Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Luis Eduardo Garzón. The Greens also held a presidential primary on Sunday, which Mockus won.
MIRA (evangelical) 2

Chamber of Representatives (166 members; 90% of ballots counted) (Source)

Pro-Government 101

La U 49 (30 in 2006)
Conservatives 37 (29 in 2006)
PIN 14
Alas Equipo 1 (8 in 2006) – a small party many of whose members were caught up in the “para-politics” scandal.

Opposition 39

Liberals (center-left) 34 (35 in 2006)
Polo Democrático (left) 5 (10 in 2006)

Other 24

Cambio Radical (center-right) 15 (20 in 2006)
Green Party (center-left) 3
Apertura Liberal 2 – tied to DMG, a failed pyramid scheme
Unidad Liberal (regional / Huila department) 2
MIRA (evangelical) 1

Indigenous Social Alliance 1 – allied with center-left former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, whose movement made a surprisingly weak showing.

Mar 17

I’m back from Europe as of last night and will resume “real” posting tomorrow; there’s a lot to say about last weekend’s legislative elections in Colombia.

In the meantime, here in two parts is Felipe Zuleta’s recent video about the “False Positives” scandal in the poor Bogotá suburb of Soacha. CIP Intern Cristina Salas added English subtitles to the content by Zuleta, a Colombian journalist who ran unsuccessfully for a Senate seat on Sunday. Zuleta’s original unsubtitled Spanish videos are posted to YouTube here.

Part 1

Part 2

Mar 09

I’m off to France, to be a panelist at a conference on human rights in the Americas (PDF – and no, we don’t get a lot of invitations like these).

I hope to be able to post from the road, though I don’t know what my Internet access will be like. Regular posting should resume by Wednesday the 17th.

Mar 08

“Within the Armed Forces, some think that the battalions have been paralyzed by fear of ending up on trial, and as a result are not fighting,” noted Colombia’s main newsmagazine, Semana, last July.

This is something that we’ve heard too, in conversations with Colombian military officers and others close to the country’s defense establishment: the “false positives” scandal has left Colombia’s Army reluctant to leave the barracks for fear of being accused of committing human rights abuses, and ending up losing officers and soldiers to years-long legal processes.

The “false positives” scandal refers to members of the military, seeking to pad their results and win incentives, allegedly killing more than 1,600 civilians in recent years, presenting their bodies as those of armed-group members killed in combat. With more than 2,000 members of the armed forces under investigation, the argument goes, Colombia’s Army is now unwilling to go on the offensive and risk more prosecutions.

This argument was taken up in yesterday’s edition of Semana by left-of-center columnist María Jimena Duzán, a fierce critic of Álvaro Uribe.

After the successful Operación Jaque [2008 hostage rescue], which was preceded by a series of blows that pierced the innermost layers of the FARC, the Army has stopped combatting, and that decision has produced an increase in the FARC’s terrorist acts in some zones of the country. According to the government’s own statistics in the last year and a half, the most important attacks against the FARC have been the work of the Police and the Air Force.

The reasons for this stoppage in the Army have to do with protuberant flaws in the Democratic Security policy that the government has not wanted to accept. Flaws that allowed, for nearly six years, inhumane practices like camouflaging extrajudicial executions as acts against terrorism, murdering innocent campesinos to make them appear to be guerrillas killed in combat.

Is this true? Has the military really stopped fighting for fear of human rights trials? Probably not: the July Semana article noted that, in fact, the Army’s statistics for the first half of 2009 showed an increase in operations, as well as soldiers killed and wounded.

If it were true, though, it would be a historically foolish overreaction to a legitimate outrage. After the horror of the “false positives” scandal, the Army’s proper reaction would be to improve training in international humanitarian law and focus more strictly on the rule of law in military operations. And to do so while continuing its offensive against the groups that are killing Colombian citizens every day.

To instead leave Colombians unprotected, while quietly blaming human rights prosecutors for its inaction, would be the height of irresponsibility. Let’s hope this “soldiers paralyzed by fear of human rights trials” notion is just a red herring.

Mar 06

  • On her six-country visit to Latin America this week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed support for Argentine-British dialogue over oil drilling in the Falkland Islands (a step Great Britain has resisted); failed to convince Brazil to cast a Security Council vote in favor of sanctions on Iran; and “un-froze” all remaining aid to Honduras, including military aid, that was held up after the country’s June 28 coup. The un-freezing occurred even though, as Human Rights Watch noted, violent attacks on coup opponents continued in the month of February.
  • A handful of articles about Chile’s devastating earthquake explore the meaning of sending out the Army on its biggest internal-security mission since Gen. Augusto Pinochet left power.
  • Spanish judge Eloy Velasco is accusing Venezuela of facilitating collaboration between Colombia’s FARC guerrillas and Spain’s ETA separatist group — both on the U.S. and EU terror lists — on a range of activities including plots to assassinate Colombian presidents on visits to Spain. The judge’s indictment (PDF) focuses on a suspected ETA member living in Venezuela since 1989, Arturo Cubillas, who as of 2005 was an employee of the Venezuelan government’s Agriculture Ministry. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez rejected the charges. The indictment, which relies heavily on files recovered from the computer of deceased FARC leader Raúl Reyes, isn’t clear about whether the Venezuelan government knew about Cubillas’ alleged activities. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe cautioned on Thursday against jumping to conclusions: “The fact that it’s necessary to investigate a government official for participating in terrorism does not mean that that government or that state, are terrorist, or that they are participating in terrorism.”
  • The State Department’s International Narcotics Control bureau released its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. The report only includes 2009 coca-growing data for Bolivia; Colombia and Peru will have to wait until later in the year. The report is strongly critical of Bolivia for an apparent 50% increase in coca-growing from 2007 to 2009. The blog of the Cochabamaba-based Democracy Center offers a succinct analysis. The report also criticized Colombia, but praised Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Praise for Mexico was tempered by concerns about cartels’ continued strength and the likelihood that narco-crime is moving increasingly south into Central America.
  • “The Obama administration’s newly released 2010 trade agenda gives little indication that the White House will quickly advance long-stalled pacts with Panama, Colombia or South Korea,” says CQ Politics.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, released her full report on the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia (PDF). She wrote that she is “deeply concerned about the widespread phenomenon of threats being made against human rights defenders and their families.”
  • After more than 11 years in captivity, FARC hostage Corporal Pablo Moncayo may finally be freed between the 12th and 14th of March. Colombia holds legislative elections on the 14th, though, and Defense Minister Gabriel Silva says that the military will not cease activities in any part of Colombian territory while electoral activities are occurring. So Moncayo may have to wait at least a few days more.
  • Thanks for Foreign Policy for publishing on Thursday a piece I wrote about Colombian politics now that President Uribe cannot run for a third term.
  • A little-noticed constitutional change last year could be interpreted as prohibiting former members of guerrilla or other armed groups from running for public office. The National Electoral Council must decide next week whether Gustavo Petro, the former M-19 guerrilla leader running a distant second in a February 27 opinion poll (PDF), can continue his campaign.
  • The Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV) found that only 9 people were arrested for every 100 murders committed in Venezuela between 2007 and 2009.
  • Ecuador’s El Comercio ran a very interesting analysis of how drug-trafficking corridors are shifting along the violent border between Putumayo, Colombia and Sucumbíos, Ecuador.
  • The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a March 10 hearing on  ”U.S. Policy Toward the Americas in 2010 and Beyond.” The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, will give his annual “Posture Statement” before the congressional Armed Services Committees next week; he will be in the Senate on the morning of the 11th.
Mar 04
Guatemalan National Police Chief Baltazar González was arrested Tuesday, along with the head of the U.S.-aided police narcotics unit, for plotting to steal cocaine. (Photo Source: El Periódico [Guatemala].)

2002

“The Government of Guatemala (GOG) is actively working to strengthen its drug enforcement capability. Extensive training, and the provision of equipment and infrastructure for the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN), and the Narcotics Prosecutors, continues.”

— From the 2003 Congressional Budget Justification of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in May 2002.

“Corruption forced the dissolution of the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN), which was plagued by scandals ranging from extra-judicial killings in Chocon, to the theft of 200% more drugs than were officially seized by police. INL support for interdiction efforts will include the training of the new counternarcotics unit (the SAIA), as well as operational support and equipment maintenance. … After the dissolution of the DOAN, INL provided extensive training to the 400 new SAIA agents at the Regional Counternarcotics Training Center.”

— From the 2004 Congressional Budget Justification of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in June 2003.

2005

“Three high-level members of the Guatemalan Anti-Narcotics Police (Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos, or SAIA) have been arrested on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States. … The three defendants named in the indictment are Adan Castillo Lopez, a/k/a ‘Adan Castillo Aguilar,’ Jorge Aguilar Garcia, and Rubilio Orlando Palacios. Castillo is Chief of the SAIA and the highest ranking anti-narcotics officer in Guatemala. ‘More than corrupting the public trust, these Guatemalan Police Officials have been Trojan horses for the very addiction and devastation that they were entrusted to prevent,’ said DEA Administrator [Karen] Tandy.”

— From a November 16, 2005 Department of Justice press release.

2010

“FY 2010 funds will support GOG efforts to recruit and vet new SAIA (anti drug police) by providing polygraph examiners and investigative training, and training that incorporates an anticorruption component. INL provides equipment and logistical support for SAIA law enforcement and interdiction operations.”

— From the 2010 Program and Budget Guide [PDF] (successor to the Congressional Budget Justification) of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in late 2009.

“The director-general of the Guatemalan police, the chief of its anti-narcotics unit and a third official were arrested Tuesday as suspects in a case involving the theft of a cocaine shipment and a handful of dead policemen. … [T]he five murdered policemen, five more under arrest and the three detained commanders formed part of a criminal structure dedicated to stealing drugs. [Arrested National Police Chief Baltazar] Gómez was, at the time, the chief of the Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos (SAIA), [Current SAIA Director Nelly] Bonilla the deputy director, and the ten policemen were investigators or agents from that unit.”

Associated Press, reporting the evening of Tuesday, March 2, 2010.

Mar 02

Apologies for the light posting this week. I’ve written two articles for two other outlets in the last two days, which has left no time for blog entries. (I’ll link to those articles when they appear.)

Instead, here is a cross-post of a Colombia-related podcast produced for the CIP-LAWG-WOLA “Just the Facts” program. It’s an interview with Roxana Altholz of the University of California at Berkeley Law School Human Rights Clinic, author of “Truth Behind Bars,” a hard-hitting report on 30 Colombian paramilitary leaders’ extradition to the United States, which has complicated efforts to win justice for their victims. (The report was summarized in a recent entry to this blog.)


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