Uribe’s campaign managers Colombian coca cultivation in 2005
Apr 132006

If you’ve ever traveled to Colombia, then you’ve seen the DAS, the government’s Administrative Department for Security. As soon as you get off the plane, DAS employees are there to stamp your passport and, perhaps, to ask why you’re visiting.

The DAS does much more than stamp passports, though. It is a powerful agency, a sort of “secret police” institution founded in 1960. Its principal purpose is intelligence and counterintelligence, both domestic and international. However, it is also a law enforcement body whose agents have judicial police powers – they investigate crimes and can arrest and interrogate people. The DAS also provides bodyguards and security services for high government officials and other people at risk.

To someone familiar with the U.S. government, the DAS is a strange beast. It incorporates aspects of the FBI, the CIA, and the ICE (immigration). Plus, it is not part of any cabinet ministry like Defense or Interior – it is a part of the Colombian president’s office.

If you think this arrangement seems like a recipe for disaster, you’re right. Disaster has struck with a vengeance during Álvaro Uribe’s administration. According to recent reports in Colombia’s media and testimony from former officials, between 2002 and 2005 the DAS was essentially at the service of paramilitaries and major narcotraffickers. It drew up hitlists of union members and leftist activists, and even plotted to destabilize Venezuela.

Jorge Noguera

All of this happened under the tenure of Jorge Noguera, Uribe’s DAS director from August 2002 until he left under a major storm cloud of scandal in October 2005. According to Rafael García, the agency’s former chief of information systems who has made a series of explosive allegations, “Jorge Noguera became the Vladimiro Montesinos of Alvaro Uribe’s government. He conspired against the governments of neighboring countries, he did away with leftist leaders, he participated in narcotrafficking operations, he maintained relations with paramilitary groups, etc. etc.”

A witness in jail

García is making his charges against Noguera from the La Picota prison in southern Bogotá. As the official in charge of the DAS computer networks, he was arrested in January 2005 for taking bribes to erase and change the files of paramilitaries and narcotraffickers.

Rafael García

The disgraced DAS director and his defenders argue that García is not credible, that he feels betrayed by his former friend Noguera and has an axe to grind. However, Colombia’s Semana and Cambio magazines claim to have corroborated many of García’s claims with other sources. Other former officials who have provided similar information include Carlos Moreno, a DAS agent who was fired in September, and José Miguel Narváez, the DAS sub-director who split very publicly with Noguera in October 2005, and was fired along with him.

In the end, if even half of what García says is true, it’s more than frightening enough. Since the DAS scandals have received very little attention in the English-language press so far, here is an attempt to summarize these very serious allegations in eight pages or less.

Links with paramilitaries

"Jorge 40"

García contends that Noguera maintained a close relationship with Rodrigo Tovar Pupo or “Jorge 40,” the leader of the AUC paramilitaries’ powerful Northern Bloc who controlled (and probably still controls) much of the narcotics transshipment from the eastern half of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. García says that Noguera met several times with “Jorge 40” to talk about local politics, including support for candidates in the 2003 municipal and gubernatorial elections, among them Magdalena department governor Trino Luna.

“On various occasions Jorge Noguera told me that Jorge 40 was very grateful for the collaboration that he had offered him,” said García. A key point of contact between Noguera and “Jorge 40,” according to García, was the paramilitary leader’s cousin, Álvaro Pupo.

José Miguel Narváez, who as subdirector was Noguera’s second-in-command at the DAS, has told Colombian government investigators that Noguera’s relationships with paramilitaries went beyond “Jorge 40” alone. Other paramilitaries who got help from the DAS included Luis Eduardo Cifuentes (“El Águila”), the paramilitary chief in Cundinamarca (the department around Bogotá); Carlos Mario Jiménez or “Macaco” of the powerful Central Bolivar Bloc; and Miguel Arroyave, who headed the “Centauros” bloc in Bogotá and in the southern llanos (the savannahs of Meta, Casanare, Guaviare and Vichada) until his own men killed him in September 2004.

  • Narváez said that Enrique Ariza, whom Noguera recruited to be the DAS chief of intelligence, ran a telephone wiretapping operation at the request of “Macaco.”

  • Semana reported that DAS agents protected alias “Salomón,” the right-hand man for a Cundinamarca paramilitary leader known as “El Pájaro,” whenever “Salomón” visited Bogotá.
  • Semana also charges that on two occasions (April and June 2004), senior DAS officials foiled operations against “El Águila” by giving the Cundinamarca Bloc leader advance warning that the police and DEA knew his whereabouts and planned to capture him.
  • Another witness, a 15-year DAS veteran named Enrique Benitez, has said he witnessed Noguera calling off a secret DAS operation to capture Hernán Giraldo, the head of the AUC’s Tayrona Resistance Front on the Caribbean coast. Shortly afterward, the DAS agent who developed the operation was transferred to a post in far-off Arauca department.
  • García said that some DAS contractors paid 10 percent kickbacks to DAS officials, who then passed most of the money on to the paramilitaries.
  • Miguel Arroyave

    García told Semana, “Once Noguera told me that he had to do a favor for the paramilitaries of the llanos,” meaning Arroyave’s “Centauros Bloc.” Indeed, according to an unnamed DAS agent who complained to Narváez along with fired agent Carlos Moreno, DAS intelligence chief Ariza “stole some intelligence documents on Miguel Arroyave” and erased the information they contained. Added García, “I know that Jimmy Nassar, who ended up being Noguera’s advisor, offered this service. I’ve known people from the Centauros Bloc, here in jail, to whom Nassar offered to erase their files in the system. He charged between 5 million and 10 million pesos (US$2,250 to US$4,500).”

  • Moreno, the fired DAS agent, alleged that the DAS was performing a similar file-disappearance service for Arroyave’s principal rival in the llanos region, Héctor Buitrago alias "Martin Llanos," in exchange for millions of pesos.
  • Cambio reports that the DAS even gave "Jorge 40" an armored SUV intended for President Uribe’s exclusive use. “On November 17, 2004, the DAS sub-director at the time, José Miguel Narváez, called the DAS section chiefs in Atlántico and Cesar and told them that, by Noguera’s instructions, they were to place at the disposal of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, Jorge 40, in Santa Fe de Ralito – where the AUC commanders were concentrated – an armored SUV for his personal protection. That did happen, and days later the paramilitary chief was using a red Toyota Prado, license plate QGC851, with armor and a special chip to allow it to pass through the security forces’ roadblocks. The incredible part of this story is that the vehicle had been acquired by the Atlántico governor’s office and given to the DAS for the exclusive use of President Álvaro Uribe when he visits the Atlantic coast. Informed about the matter, the government ordered a search for the vehicle, which was found in Valledupar with Jorge 40 at the wheel.” 

In his defense, Noguera has admitted that he met with “Jorge 40” and other paramilitary leaders, but only in the context of the AUC’s demobilization talks with the Colombian government.

Helping “Don Diego” and other narcos

Diego Montoya

Diego Montoya (“Don Diego”), the most powerful leader of Colombia’s most powerful drug cartel, the Norte del Valle organization, is on the FBI’s ten most-wanted fugitives’ list alongside Osama bin Laden. That, says García, didn’t stop the DAS from helping Montoya to avoid capture. “Giancarlo [Auqué, who served as DAS intelligence director before Ariza] and Jorge Noguera passed secret information to Diego Montoya, and the idea was not just to help him avoid capture, but to let him know that an informant in his own organization was revealing his location.”

There is more. According to Semana, “Carlos Robayo, alias ‘Guacamayo,’ was for years the right hand of the Norte de Valle boss. Two years ago, Semana witnessed ‘Guacamayo’ calling one of his contacts in the DAS and asking him to remove [from DAS archives] arrest orders, background information, photographs and fingerprint data for a dozen people. He also demanded that these materials be brought to where he was. Less than two hours after ‘Guacamayo’ made his call, a DAS detective arrived with the package.”

The DAS also appears to have helped Montoya’s archrival in the Norte del Valle organization, Wilber Varela, alias “Jabón.” Carlos Moreno, the fired DAS agent, said that he was once sent to the attorney-general’s office (Fiscalía) to steal files about a case tying unnamed individuals to Varela.

García also alleges that Noguera helped to facilitate narcotraffickers’ contributions to Álvaro Uribe’s 2002 presidential election campaign. He mentions relatively unknown figures like Néstor Ramón Caro, a Casanare-based narcotrafficker whose extradition to the United States was requested in 2001; Raúl Montoya from Magdalena department, and Ramón Crespo from Barranquilla.

Uribe’s 2002 campaign: voter fraud and paramilitary ties 

In the runup to the 2002 presidential election, García says, the Uribe campaign did “things that were more serious than what happened in the Samper campaign” [in 1994, when winning candidate Ernesto Samper allegedly took contributions from the Cali drug cartel].

Magdalena

Before Uribe named him to the directorship of the DAS, Noguera managed the Uribe campaign in the Caribbean coast department of Magdalena. This province was (and probably still is) under the heavy influence of two paramilitary groups, both deeply involved in the drug trade: the Northern Bloc headed by “Jorge 40,” and the Tayrona Resistance Front led by Hernán Giraldo. The paramilitaries’ influence on politics in Magdalena is demonstrable: in 2003, mayoral candidates actually ran unopposed in 14 of the department’s 30 municipalities.

According to Rafael García, the imprisoned former DAS official, Noguera and Juan Carlos Vives (who is now the Uribe government’s “drug czar”) campaigned in Magdalena municipalities where it was impossible to do so without paramilitary permission, and they were in contact at the time with “Jorge 40.”

But García’s charges go further. “What I said was that an electoral fraud was organized [for the March 2002 legislative elections] to carry to the Congress the candidates preferred by the AUC’s Northern Bloc. I mentioned three senators from Magdalena, three candidates for the House of Representatives for Magdalena, two Senate candidates for Cesar and two for the House, two House candidates for La Guajira and a Senate candidate for Bolívar.”

In Cesar, Magdalena, La Guajira and Bolívar, García described in detail how Noguera used a computer program and illegally obtained electoral-census data to ensure that, in several districts, those who did not show up at the polls still “voted” for the paramilitaries’ candidates. The same fraud was repeated two months later, said García, to benefit President Uribe. Indeed, while Uribe’s challenger Horacio Serpa did rather well in northern Colombia thanks to the strength of the Liberal Party machinery, Uribe won overwhelmingly in the districts where García alleges that the fraud took place.

García also contends that in 2002, candidate Uribe met with José Gelves, a leader of Hernán Giraldo’s paramilitary group, the Tayrona Resistance Front. Gelves, an AUC member since 2000, told Semana that he did meet with Uribe in 2002 and actively campaigned for him. 

Gen. Rito Alejo

In 2003, García says, Noguera met with “Jorge 40” to discuss the October gubernatorial election in Magdalena. “Jorge Noguera went to see ‘Jorge 40’ and asked him to support his friend José Fernández de Castro, but ‘Jorge 40’ said no because they were supporting Trino Luna [who won unopposed]. Everyone had to vote for him. Jorge [Noguera] went to the meeting with ‘40’ one Saturday, accompanied by retired Gen. Rito Alejo.”

Gen. Rito Alejo de Río is widely viewed as a paramilitary supporter; he ran the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade in the northwestern region of Urabá at a time when the paramilitaries carried out a campaign of near-daily massacres (and at a time when Álvaro Uribe was governor of Antioquia department, which incorporates much of Urabá). Alejo was recently defeated in his bid to win a seat in Colombia’s Senate.

Ordering assassinations of unionists and activists 

One of García’s most frightening claims is that the DAS drew up a list of union leaders, leftist activists and academics, and passed it along to the AUC’s Northern Bloc. According to Semana, several of those on the list were later killed, most have received death threats, and others have been detained by the authorities.

“The detectives who told me about it showed me part of the list,” García says. “I wrote down some of the names. It drew my attention because it included the name of Zullty Cotina, who had already been killed, and that of [Barranquilla professor Alfredo] Correa de Andreis, who was murdered after I saw the list.”

García offers new information about what happened to professor Correa, whom the DAS arrested in 2004 on charges of "rebellion." Correa was held in prison for months, then released for lack of evidence, only to be murdered weeks later. Though the DAS arrested Correa in Barranquilla, in Atlántico department, García says that the DAS unit that carried out the arrest came from neighboring Bolívar department, whose DAS section chief at the time, Rómulo Betancourt, is now under investigation for links to paramilitaries. (García says he in fact witnessed Noguera, when hiring Betancourt for the Bolívar post, actually asking “Jorge 40” for permission to do so.)

When Semana asked whether assassinations of those on the DAS list were carried out by the DAS or paramilitaries, García responded, “They were carried out by self-defense groups [paramilitaries]. But they told me that the killing of Alfredo Correa de Andreis had been carried out by people from the DAS. I also told the prosecutor that I had heard mention of a Cartagena union organizer who was killed while holding his child’s hand.”

Three unions with members on the DAS list that have been hit particularly hard are the Association of Health and Social Security Workers (ANTHOC) and two agricultural workers’ unions, Sintragrícola and Fensuagro. Since 2001, two ANTHOC leaders have been killed and 40 have received death threats. The union’s vice-president, Gilberto Martínez, said he began receiving threats in 2001, and they intensified in 2003. He told Semana, “Since that moment we have denounced, in many places, the conspiracy between the DAS and the paramilitaries in Atlántico to follow, threaten and murder members of our union. These denunciations have not prospered in the justice system, but now Mr. García has ratified them.”

A hit on Chávez? 

Though he offers few details, citing concerns about his security, García has told Colombia’s press that “there existed a destabilization plan against the Venezuelan government, and there are many Colombian government people involved.”

Danilo Anderson

García contends that Noguera and others were drawing up plans to kill high officials in the Venezuelan government, including leftist President Hugo Chávez. His allegations recall the 2004 arrest of 114 Colombian men at a compound near Caracas, a combination of young campesinos from Norte de Santander department and paramilitaries from the Jorge 40’sNorthern Bloc. At the time, Chávez described the Colombians’ presence as part of a plot to kill him.

Six months after that episode, Venezuela was shaken by the assassination of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, the first such attack the country had seen in over thirty years. Last November a Colombian man, identifying himself as a demobilized paramilitary member who served the DAS as an intelligence source, told Venezuelan authorities that Noguera had advance knowledge of a plan to kill high-ranking Venezuelan officials like Anderson and President Chávez. García’s testimony lends credibility to this witness’s story. Venezuelan authorities also claim that “Jorge 40” paid a visit to Maracaibo, Venezuela, to meet with anti-Chávez figures.

Murdering informants 

According to Cambio, in his recorded statement Moreno, the fired DAS agent, talks about extrajudicial executions of DAS informants “who were no longer useful or who posed a danger because they knew too much information.”

Fernando Pisciotti

The magazine discusses the case of Fernando Pisciotti, the mayor of El Banco municipality in Magdalena department. In October 2003, Noguera and Juan Carlos Vives (at the time a vice-minister of interior, now Colombia’s “drug czar” as head of the national drugs directorate or DNE) visited Pisciotti’s town. The mayor told them that the paramilitaries were pressuring for their candidate to run unopposed in the upcoming mayoral elections, that they had plans to do the same in the congressional elections, and that he and other local political figures feared for their security.

Noguera and Vives told Pisciotti to meet them at the DAS in Bogotá on November 15, 2003 and to bring a written report of his accusations. When the mayor reported at Noguera’s office, Noguera was unable to meet with him. On December 9, Pisciotti was kidnapped from a taxi outside El Banco, and his body was found hours later with shots to the head and signs of torture. Cambio reports, “Based on testimonies in the casefile, Julio César Pisciotti, a lawyer and the victim’s brother, said that before killing him, the murderers tied his feet together with his shoelaces, beat him, and read to him excerpts from the document that he gave to the DAS.”

A nice apartment

The most shocking allegations against Noguera are those having to do with serious human rights crimes and electoral fraud. However, even the more petty offenses paint a picture of a severely morally challenged individual. According to Cambio, shortly after President Uribe appointed him in August 2002, Noguera asked the Colombian drug czar’s office – the DNE, whose duties include managing properties seized from narcotraffickers – to assign him a penthouse apartment, complete with a private elevator, in a wealthy Bogotá neighborhood. He and his family soon moved into what had been a drug trafficker’s luxurious flat near the corner of Carrera 7 and Calle 98 in northern Bogotá. “It is now known that the DAS paid condo fees and all utilities during the time that Noguera lived there,” reports Cambio.

Noguera resigns

The present scandal over Noguera’s paramilitary ties first exploded in October 2005, when Narváez, Noguera’s number-two as DAS subdirector, presented the attorney-general’s office (Fiscalía) with some of the information gained from his discussion with Carlos Moreno, the fired DAS agent. Noguera, Narváez, and Ariza, the DAS intelligence director, were all fired amid a crossfire of accusations.

Within a month, the new DAS director, former Vice-Minister of Defense Andrés Peñate, had fired the DAS section chiefs in six departments with a significant paramilitary presence: Boyacá, Bolívar (Rómulo Betancourt, named in the case of Professor Alfredo Correa above), La Guajira, Tolima, Cesar and Meta.

Though Noguera remains under investigation for several of the charges listed above, he faces no formal accusation. In fact, President Uribe did Noguera the great favor of naming him to the post of Colombia’s consul in Milan, Italy, where he remains today.

Where is President Uribe? 

Citing concerns about his family’s security, Noguera has said little about what Álvaro Uribe knew about his intelligence agency’s paramilitary ties, and when he knew it. He also says that he doubts that Uribe knew anything about the alleged 2002 electoral fraud. But he did have this to say.

SEMANA: You accompanied Noguera on various visits to the Palacio de Nariño (the Colombian president’s “White House” in Bogotá). How much did President Álvaro Uribe know about this?

R.G.: I can’t answer that for you. I will tell the attorney-general’s office (Fiscalía) or a foreign government what I know after my family is protected. What I will say to public opinion is: Could it be that Fujimori didn’t know what Vladimiro Montesinos was doing? I don’t know how a person could have done so many things without his superior knowing about it.

Miami’s El Nuevo Herald tells us that Uribe was informed about problems in the DAS back in January of 2004, when Enrique Benítez, the head of the DAS bodyguard division, denounced evidence of corruption in a major purchase of arms supposedly destined for those assigned to protect union members. (Not only did Benítez’s whistleblowing fail to get the case properly investigated, but Noguera demoted him and transferred him to the distant, poor and conflictive department of Chocó near the Panama border.)

Benítez met to discuss his situation with José Roberto Arango, at the time an advisor to Uribe in the Palacio de Nariño. According to Benítez, Arango told him, “President Uribe is already aware of all the corruption in the DAS, but I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to get this [expletive] out of the DAS director’s position.” 

Who is in power?

For commentary on what these allegations mean about the current moment in Colombia, we defer to Semana, the Colombian newsmagazine that has been doggedly investigating the DAS scandals.

These episodes cannot now be reduced to a few functionaries with axes to grind, or to a few “bad apples.” There are abundant indicators of a criminal takeover of Colombia’s most important intelligence agency.

How did it come to these extremes? How did Jorge Noguera come to be the director of the DAS? Who recommended him? How is it possible that Noguera could have lasted for three years in charge of the agency, when the excesses that were being committed were being spoken of during the past two years? And, even worse, how is it possible that Noguera, after leaving the DAS in the wake of revelations of paramilitary penetration, could have been named consul in Milan?

… The president has a great responsibility for this. Perhaps the commander in chief was not aware of what happened. That in itself would be serious enough. But the DAS is the intelligence body of the President, and its director must have the President’s absolute trust. What happened, then?

… What is certain is that these accusations have worsened an atmosphere already charged with suspicions and fears surrounding the demobilization and negotiation process with the paramilitaries, at a moment when some of the government’s critics are already speaking of the formation of a “mafioso” state.

Finally, we second a recommendation made by El Espectador columnist Ramiro Bejarano.

If the government is toying with the possibility of reducing the valuable work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office in Colombia, as has been insinuated, they had better abandon that proposal. Now more than ever, the country needs the vigorous work of independent organizations. Only these can guarantee for us that the dirty war which appears to have been unleashed within the framework of this government’s security policy does not grow worse, as has happened in the past.

2 Responses to “The DAS scandals”

  1. jcg Says:

    First, I must say that that’s well-done post, which quite efficiently sums up most of the significant issues that the English language press has largely overlooked about the recent DAS scandals. The very good and reasonable conclusions by Semana and Mr. Bejarano are fine too, btw.

    Now for the commentary. I’ve always had a prudently mistrustful opinion about intelligence services, not only Colombian but foreign ones as well, because they tend to succumb to the temptation of acting outside the law (whether marginally or grossly so), so I haven’t been personally surprised by these potential revelations. In fact, I also think that the DAS had already become far too bloated of an organization (a true beast, so to speak), assuming too many functions that should be kept separate.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that anyone really has “corroborated many of García’s claims”. Some of his claims, especially the ones you’ve mentioned, have been partially corroborated by the Semana and Cambio reports that you’ve cited, among other sources. So yes, it’s clear enough that many of these accusations seem plausible and there are some evidences which show that horrible things were going on inside the DAS. Not just a few “bad apples”, but apparently whole harvest of them at least.

    But the devil is in the details, because it is the details that will determine who is responsible, to what extent, and exactly for what. And that, IMHO, definitely matters.

    A lot of the details and claims in Rafael Garcías’ accusations have not been corroborated at all, and it’s quite possible that his declarations may include some truths, but also more than a few lies and half-truths designed to serve his own interests. As some people say, the best lies aren’t all false, they may often contain many elements of truth.

    It’s curious, to say the least, that Rafael García’s public declarations to the media seem to have a significantly different content than his official testimonies before the prosecution, according to the Attorney General’s deputy. Why has he only decided to reveal all these things in such a piecemeal fashion, only now and not even in a consistent manner? What has he only told prosecutors and what has he only told Semana and Cambio?

    As for the “Colombian man”, G. V. de Armas, (the exact spelling of his name escapes me right now) who originally testified to Venezuelan authorities about the Danilo Anderson murder, he has a ton of credibility problems due to some very outrageous claims on his record (he has falsely claimed to be a certified doctor, an FBI agent, a martial arts master, among other things, and not just an AUC member). He may also be telling part of the truth, but his record as a liar doesn’t inspire much confidence in him.

    In fact, it is not unreasonable to state that Rafael García’s words might possibly have more truth to them than those of G.V. de Armas, and not the other way around.

    In any event, regardless of the real facts that may well lie inside Rafael García’s declerations, the main issue remains: The DAS is in urgent need of proceeding with its restructuring, and the accusations need to be fully corroborated before the necessary responsibilities can be properly assigned.

    President Uribe definitely must be held accountable for, at the very least, turning a blind eye to the scandals, for giving Noguera a free hand and for reacting in a very selective and misguided manner to their consequences, but a lot of things remain to be proven before he can be considered personally guilty for the committment of any and all wrongs involved.

  2. Durandal Says:

    Indeed. Though it seems that DAS is overdue for some good spring cleaning, Rosso José Serrano-style. Mr. García’s claims should be taken with a grain of salt, though. Being in prison makes anybody start coming up with all kinds and sorts of claims, and Colombians in trouble are prone to outrageous lying. Plus, if all he is saying is true, and if now he’s such a whistleblower, why didn’t he denounce these things before, as he saw them take place? El ladrón juzga por su condición.

    The Milan consulate thing is what I find the most offensive. Somehow I’d thought that we had put the days in which the Prez put his friends in nice, fancy diplomatic positions abroad behind us. I suppose I was wrong.

    I don’t know much, but I do know this: This whole mess just makes me feel all the better about being a Mockus supporter.

    And yeah, thanks for the summary, Adam! Must’ve invested quite a bit of time on that one. Us lazy (but concerned) folk thank you for it.

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