Updated “para-politics” list Congress takes back some military aid
Apr 252007

While on Capitol Hill viewing yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Colombia, we started getting calls and emails. Colombian police were raiding the offices of Gustavo Petro, the opposition senator and nemesis of President Álvaro Uribe. This was happening a mere seven days after Petro’s congressional hearing on paramilitarism in President Uribe’s home state of Antioquia had transfixed the country.

It sounded like something a hack screenwriter would have written: the scene where the would-be dictator begins his crackdown on the opposition. By the end of the day, however, the episode – while troubling – appeared to be much less serious than that.

Two police delegations appeared at Petro’s office. One was there to discuss Petro’s own security, apparently with a prior appointment. A prosecutor had ordered the other – perhaps improperly – to obtain information from Petro’s records about allegations the senator had made regarding bribery of army officers in 2003.

The Uribe administration’s interior minister, Carlos Holguín, disassociated the government from the episode. Attorney-General Mario Iguarán, whose office is a separate branch of government beyond the president’s control, added that he had no role in the prosecutor’s decision to send police to Sen. Petro’s office.

The incident appears to have blown over. What happened yesterday was not an all-out frontal attack on President Uribe’s opponents. But it is still serious in the current context. Consider the following recent developments.

1. Espionage against the peaceful political opposition? In his extensive comments to the media last Thursday, President Uribe offered this startling piece of information.

Reporter: What evidence, what indicators do you have, that the free trade agreement is being attacked directly with this kind of information [allegations about President Uribe's past ties to paramilitaries]?

Uribe: I have proof, which I am not going to reveal – it is from military and police intelligence – that some of those who have gone to the United States say: we’re going to attack the Treaty by accusing this guy Uribe.

I have this proof. And going [to Washington] to discredit the government has been a persistent purpose. And the coincidences. Many of the critics who go there to defame the government are the adversaries of the FTA here. And I have specific proof. In order not to reveal them, I will not make any personal references.

Did Uribe really mean to say that Colombian “military and police intelligence” are reporting on members of the peaceful opposition who oppose a free-trade agreement with the United States? An agreement that Colombia’s Congress itself hasn’t even ratified?

2. A plot to kill Sen. Petro, with a name we’ve heard before. Sen. Petro offered a new revelation to the Associated Press yesterday.

Sen. Gustavo Petro told The Associated Press that the public prosecutor’s office learned of the plot from one of the would-be assassins, who testified he met with retired army Col. Julian Villate and others in January in the coastal city of Santa Marta to plan the killing.

The assassination was not carried out, and Petro said he had no more details about the plot.

Col. Julián Villate is a familiar name. He is a former U.S.-trained officer (Fort Leavenworth and the School of the Americas, where he was an instructor), who has headed a consulting / private security firm since retiring in 2004. The firm appears to specialize in helping companies embroiled in labor disputes.

Col. Villate is implicated in “Operation Dragon,” an alleged assassination plot targeting a colleague of Sen. Petro’s – opposition Sen. Alexánder López Maya – his companion Berenice Celeyta, a prominent Cali human-rights activist, and several other Cali-based union leaders who opposed the privatization of the local utility company.

According to the Associated Press piece, another of Col. Villate’s clients is Drummond Co. Inc., the Alabama-based coal company that is currently facing a civil suit in U.S. federal court for allegedly paying paramilitaries to kill three union leaders in 2001.

Why does Col. Villate’s name keep popping up?

3. President Uribe’s defenders in the U.S. Congress fan the flames. Listen to this characterization of Sen. Petro from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.


Transcript: I’m a little distressed that we jump to conclusions so rapidly. You know, I just read that a leading opposition senator said Tuesday that “far right paramilitary fighters established a hold over the province of – Anticola? – while President Uribe was the governor of the region.” And that he said that he was allowing these paramilitary death squads to convene on his property with his knowledge.

But what nobody really focuses on, is that this fella – this fella was with a – a terrorist organization down there for some time, and for him to be taken at his word, I think, is something that we should – really look at with a jaundiced eye. He was with – MI-21, was it? I’m trying to read – MI-19, MI-19. And he says he never fired a gun while he was with them, but nevertheless, he was one of their spokespeople. Now he’s in the Senate accusing President Uribe of things that he probably has done. So I think we ought to look at that very carefully.

3 Responses to “President Uribe and his opponents”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    As for the police at Petro’s office, it is good news that it was not much to worry about. The rest on the other hand is quite telling.

    #1) This does beg some questions, which Adam asked, but also “Why do the military and police intelligence services need to report on these people?” I assume here that what Uribe says is accurate, he just may not know the serious nature of what he had said, at least not until later. This, amongst other information (very high numbers of arbitrary arrests, paid civilian informants, Uribe’s past), leads me to wonder if using these intelligence services against peaceful opposition or civilians in general has become the norm in this administration. I have a feeling it already has.

    #2) Maybe he is a shady guy, maybe he is not. His name popping up a lot should raise eyebrows, but we should wait to see if more information becomes available about the Petro plot and Col. Villate before we come to anything, which I think is what Adam is also implying here.

    #3) This is just great. Defamation, and of the embarrassing kind. Burton has always had a strong voice on Colombia, but he should know what the M-19 was, and that they were a rebel group, not terrorist group. That mis-distinction is key. It can give people the very wrong impression about Petro, and any other former rebels that have entered politics (which is what rebels with guns should do, put down the guns and run for office. That is in general, not to Petro who apparently did not fire a shot).

    Also, Burton is wrong in that we should not be looking at Petro’s past as much as the evidence he lays out. The evidence laid out is evidence, no matter who it comes from. Uribe’s opponents obviously will do things like this, but if Petro is wrong and purey politically motivated, he will be exposed as such. So far, we do not see people saying much of that, with the exception of Uribe (who does that a lot) and Burton. Burton is right that we should not take Petro at his word. But we should examine Petro’s evidence, not his past.

    For some reason my type-key only works sporadically; normally I post under KyleHanky, but feel free to refer to me as Kyle.

  2. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Churlish and ignorant, Mr. Burton is surely an embarrassment to many of my American friends. That he and others of his kind should represent them says much about what today deeply troubles a land that many of us have long loved and admired. We hope that that land can weather the storm and one day return to what it once was.

    The influence and power of Mr. Burton and his ilk–seditionists, in their own way–allow the evils of Colombia to flourish: They at best turn a blind eye to those evils, and at worst directly support them. They do so in the name of fighting terrorism, or fighting drugs, or fighting insurgents. They cynically wrap themselves in the flag, they vaunt their patriotism, they wear it on their sleeves. Clearly, their power and influence are not in the best interests of the United States. They weaken rather than strengthen the country they pretend to love…

  3. jcg Says:

    My TypeKey ID isn’t being too kind to me either, so I can sort of feel KyleHanky’s pain there.

    That said, I completely agree with Kyle and Camilo Wilson in that Mr. Burton really has no idea what he is talking about. The M-19 was far from an Army of Angels, though still preferable to the FARC and ELN, but that is absolutely irrelevant to the discussion at hand and the finer details of the accusations against Uribe. That is what we should focus on, not on character attacks.

    As for the use of intelligence against opposition figures, the wording is troubling but it’s hard to tell exactly what he meant by that.

    The day after, the government tried to defend or clarify Uribe’s words. DAS Director Andrés Peñate (who appears to be a much less shady character than Jorge Noguera, by most acounts), who was directly referenced by Mr. Uribe during that part of the press conference, argued that the President was referring to “soft” (human) intelligence, such as testimonies and third party accounts, as opposed to “hard” intelligence (wiretaps, cameras, etc.).

    I cannot tell whether Mr. Peñate was telling the entire truth or only part of it. We’ll see what comes up later. It could be equal or even far worse than Watergate or, hopefully, nothing that grave.

    That aside, I too find the Col. Villate situation curious and troubling. This doesn’t mean that I consider Mr. Villate to be automatically guilty, but it’s something worth keeping in mind and digging into.

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