Former Colombian Prosecutor General Luis Camilo Osorio.
El Espectador, Colombiaâ€™s second-most-circulated newspaper on Sundays, ran an important article in its last edition. It is a confirmation and a reminder of an especially nasty 2001 episode from which Colombiaâ€™s judicial system has not fully recovered.
Immediately after taking office in July 2001, Prosecutor General Luis Camilo Osorio acted aggressively to end investigations of both military human-rights abuses and alleged ties to paramilitary groups. For four years with Osorio at the helm, the Prosecutor-Generalâ€™s Office (FiscalÃa, a separate branch of government whose leader is nominated by the president and ratified by the congress) did remarkably little to pursue human-rights cases, while its Human Rights Unit â€“ a beneficiary of generous U.S. aid over the years â€“ was rendered toothless.
This huge step backward for Colombia’s fight against impunity got some international attention; it was the subject of a 2002 Human Rights Watch report entitled A Wrong Turn. But Colombia has yet to have a real reckoning with what happened under Osorioâ€™s four-year tenure.
That is why El Espectadorâ€™s interview with Marcela RoldÃ¡n, one of several effective prosecutors fired from the Human Rights Unit in 2001, is so important. As you read the translated excerpts here, keep in mind:
â€¢ Generals Rito Alejo del RÃo and Fernando MillÃ¡n, the two officers whose charges of aiding paramilitaries were dropped upon Osorioâ€™s arrival, had been fired in mid-1999 by then-President AndrÃ©s Pastrana. A few weeks after their firing, an association of retired officers, along with a cross-section of Colombiaâ€™s right wing, held a large dinner in a BogotÃ¡ hotel to honor the two generals.
The keynote speaker at this event was the former governor of Antioquia department, Ãlvaro Uribe. (”The extreme right, just days before the year 2000, has become as obsolete as the radical left,” read an El Espectador editorial at the time. â€œFor these reasons so many concerns have been raised by the presence of Ex-Governor Ãlvaro Uribe VÃ©lez. â€¦ It is inexplicable that for his return to politics after several months of reflection, he has chosen a forum that lends itself to useless confusions.â€)
â€¢ The ultraconservative journalist who wrote a column accusing Judge RoldÃ¡n of being a guerrilla supporter, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, went on to become the Uribe governmentâ€™s ambassador to Portugal.
â€¢ And Prosecutor-General Osorio? He went on to be the Uribe governmentâ€™s ambassador in Italy, and today is Colombiaâ€™s ambassador to Mexico.
â€œOsorio devastated the FiscalÃaâ€ â€“ El Espectador, January 6, 2008
For several years, lawyer Marcela RoldÃ¡n was one of the most successful investigators at the Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor Generalâ€™s Office. However, three months after Luis Camilo Osorio arrived at the investigative body, she was fired. Now, three years later, she practices as a municipal judge in BogotÃ¡, but since the public has taken an interest in the â€œpara-politicsâ€ scandal, she has decided to publicly accuse former prosecutor Osorio.
At the end of its 2007 sessions, the House of Representativesâ€™ Investigations Committee was preparing to resolve the legal situation of ex-prosecutor Osorio â€“ now Colombiaâ€™s ambassador to Mexico. These investigations have brought forth the allegation of supposed paramilitary infiltration into the Prosecutor Generalâ€™s Office during his administration. Judge Marcela RoldÃ¡n anticipated that the commission would bear her testimony in mind.
Against Osorio, moreover, are weighed grave accusations formulated this past October 30 by the same Committee of Accusations by the star witness of the â€œpara-politicsâ€ scandal, former information systems director of the DAS [presidential intelligence service] Rafael GarcÃa. According to GarcÃa, DAS ex-director Jorge Noguera said that Osorioâ€™s collaboration could be depended on with regard to [his alleged relations to] the paramilitaries. RoldÃ¡n, the lawyer, intends to see this collaboration clarified through legal processes.
Q: What positions did you hold in the Prosecutor Generalâ€™s Office?
A: I began as an advisor to the National Direction of Prosecutors in 1998. After I joined the National Human Rightsâ€™ Unit as a prosecutor delegated to criminal circuit courts, and later I became a prosecutor delegated to specialized courts.
Q: What were your cases there?
A: The first one they gave to me was the investigation into generals Rito Alejo del RÃo and Fernando MillÃ¡n, although the investigation came to me as a criminal complaint [of slander] against Ana Teresa Bernal of [the peace activist group] Redepaz, y Hernando HernÃ¡ndez of the [oil workersâ€™ union] USO. Because of this we opened two different proceedings, but when I called the plaintiffs of the original case, in the presence of the Public Ministry these witnesses retracted their testimony. â€¦ They became nervous and they alleged that they had been contacted by the generals and asked to present false charges. â€¦
Q: How did the investigation end?
A: It took an unexpected direction. I investigated until we arrived at an investigative interview of the generals in the presence of their lawyer, Orlando Perdomo, who is now defending former DAS director Jorge Noguera. All this is linked. I called the generals in for questioning and I ordered them arrested as the originators of the crime of making false charges.
Q: What happened next?
A: Prosecutor Luis Camilo Osorio arrived and Dr. Pedro DÃaz, coordinator of the National Human Rights Unit, was immediately fired, along with those who had prosecuted generals Del RÃo and MillÃ¡n for [encouraging] paramilitarism. So I said to mysef, â€œIâ€™m next.â€
Q: From this moment on, what happened at the Prosecutor Generalâ€™s Office?
A: A functionary in the National Direction of Prosecutors began to ask about the generalsâ€™ case. So Osorio asked me for the trial proceedings to transfer to the federal prosecutor before the Supreme Court, who in turn suggested that I continue on the case. The process returned to my hands. The [defense] lawyer Perdomo asked for a suspension of the proceedings but I filed a motion to deny it.
Q: Are we talking exclusively about the case of false testimony or the paramilitarism case?
A: We are talking about false testimony, but really the importance of this process could not be seen as separate from the paramilitarism case. The two proceedings together were a bomb. We at the Human Rights Unit knew it.
Q: What happened with the suspension of proceedings?
A: Days after my motion to deny that the case be suspended, they sent me to a newly named prosecutor before the Supreme Court. Then they gave the process to a prosecutor in the Human Rights Unit, who called off the proceedings against the generals. With an absurd argument: that two people had already been condemned as the â€œmaterial authorsâ€ of the false accusation, so the generals could not have had anything to do with it.
Q: Do you think that your transfer had anything to do with all of this?
A: Of course. The only way to remove me from the case was to remove me from the Unit. â€¦
Q: With what arguments?
A: In Prosecutor Osorioâ€™s administration, there were no arguments for me and the other prosecutors. That is why so many injunctions to be re-hired were successful, because there was no motivation to force them out. We all knew what the motivation was.
Q: Were there similar cases?
A: Prosecutor LucÃa Luna, who carried out the proceedings against generals Rito Alejo del RÃo and Fernando MillÃ¡n for paramilitarism, was forced to leave. Pablo ElÃas GonzÃ¡lez, who was also responsible for the arrest warrant of general Rito Alejo del RÃo, left. MÃ³nica GaitÃ¡n, who carried out the proceedings for the  Chengue massacre, also left.
Q: And what happened with the generalsâ€™ cases?
A: They were assigned to Guillermo Mendoza Diago, who today is the Vice-Fiscal, who called off the proceedings.
Q: And they called you a guerrilla?
A: Without saying how, where, or why, journalist Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza wrote that I was a FARC infiltrator. It still terrifies me.
Q: What youâ€™re saying is that you think that paramilitarism was protected during the Osorio era?
A: What we saw was that General Rito Alejo del RÃo was certainly involved with the paramilitaries, and that during the era of Dr. Osorio many things occurred that kept me from continuing to investigate.
Q: And are you willing to testify before the House of Representativesâ€™ Investigations Committee?
A: That would be no problem. There should be a reckoning with the context that surrounded the FiscalÃa during Dr. Osorioâ€™s administration, and the country must know about it. Each and every one of the prosecutors who had to leave then, we have an explanation for what really motivated our firings. I believe that the country has still not grasped the devastating force of Mr. Osorioâ€™s passage through the FiscalÃa.