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Jan 102008

Former Colombian Prosecutor General Luis Camilo Osorio.

El Espectador, Colombia’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 Colombia’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-General’s Office (Fiscalía, 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 – a beneficiary of generous U.S. aid over the years – 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 Osorio’s four-year tenure.

That is why El Espectador’s interview with Marcela Roldán, 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:

• Generals Rito Alejo del Río and Fernando Millán, the two officers whose charges of aiding paramilitaries were dropped upon Osorio’s arrival, had been fired in mid-1999 by then-President Andrés Pastrana. A few weeks after their firing, an association of retired officers, along with a cross-section of Colombia’s right wing, held a large dinner in a Bogotá hotel to honor the two generals.

The keynote speaker at this event was the former governor of Antioquia department, Álvaro 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. “For these reasons so many concerns have been raised by the presence of Ex-Governor Álvaro Uribe Vélez. … 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.”)

• The ultraconservative journalist who wrote a column accusing Judge Roldán of being a guerrilla supporter, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, went on to become the Uribe government’s ambassador to Portugal.

• And Prosecutor-General Osorio? He went on to be the Uribe government’s ambassador in Italy, and today is Colombia’s ambassador to Mexico.

“Osorio devastated the Fiscalía” – El Espectador, January 6, 2008

For several years, lawyer Marcela Roldán was one of the most successful investigators at the Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor General’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 Bogotá, but since the public has taken an interest in the “para-politics” scandal, she has decided to publicly accuse former prosecutor Osorio.

At the end of its 2007 sessions, the House of Representatives’ Investigations Committee was preparing to resolve the legal situation of ex-prosecutor Osorio – now Colombia’s ambassador to Mexico. These investigations have brought forth the allegation of supposed paramilitary infiltration into the Prosecutor General’s Office during his administration. Judge Marcela Roldán 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 “para-politics” scandal, former information systems director of the DAS [presidential intelligence service] Rafael García. According to García, DAS ex-director Jorge Noguera said that Osorio’s collaboration could be depended on with regard to [his alleged relations to] the paramilitaries. Roldán, the lawyer, intends to see this collaboration clarified through legal processes.

Q: What positions did you hold in the Prosecutor General’s Office?

A: I began as an advisor to the National Direction of Prosecutors in 1998. After I joined the National Human Rights’ 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 Río and Fernando Millán, although the investigation came to me as a criminal complaint [of slander] against Ana Teresa Bernal of [the peace activist group] Redepaz, y Hernando Hernández of the [oil workers’ 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. … They became nervous and they alleged that they had been contacted by the generals and asked to present false charges. …

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 Díaz, coordinator of the National Human Rights Unit, was immediately fired, along with those who had prosecuted generals Del Río and Millán for [encouraging] paramilitarism. So I said to mysef, “I’m next.”

Q: From this moment on, what happened at the Prosecutor General’s Office?

A: A functionary in the National Direction of Prosecutors began to ask about the generals’ 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 “material authors” 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. …

Q: With what arguments?

A: In Prosecutor Osorio’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 Lucía Luna, who carried out the proceedings against generals Rito Alejo del Río and Fernando Millán for paramilitarism, was forced to leave. Pablo Elías González, who was also responsible for the arrest warrant of general Rito Alejo del Río, left. Mónica Gaitán, who carried out the proceedings for the [2001] Chengue massacre, also left.

Q: And what happened with the generals’ 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 you’re saying is that you think that paramilitarism was protected during the Osorio era?

A: What we saw was that General Rito Alejo del Río 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 Representatives’ Investigations Committee?

A: That would be no problem. There should be a reckoning with the context that surrounded the Fiscalía during Dr. Osorio’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. Osorio’s passage through the Fiscalía.

4 Responses to ““Osorio devastated the Fiscalía””

  1. jcg Says:

    I missed the EL ESPECTADOR article, so thanks for highlighting it here.

    Talk of what happened Osorio’s term continues to be quite worrying, especially if these specific allegations by Marcela Roldán are true and can be confirmed.

    Whether that actually means that the investigations and subsequent trials would automatically find all of the accused to be guilty is another matter…but the mentioned interference does sound suspicious at best and seriously criminal at worst.

    It may be too late to undo all the potential or merely apparent damage, but at least part of it is coming to light and may in fact lead to re-opening a few cases, if we are lucky.

  2. Camilla Says:

    Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza is one of the authors of ‘The Complete Guide To The Latin American Idiot’ cowritten by Alvaro Vargas Llosa and Carlos Alberto Montaner. Vargas Llosa is a moderate who writes for magazines like The New Republic and Montaner is a Cuban who lives not in Miami but in Spain. The three men’s effort blew the lid off the Latin American elite and its comfortable romantic Euro-influenced truisms that have held back the entire hemisphere for a century. Apuleyo can’t be dismissed as an ideologue, his work broke new ground to discredit a rotten elite that continues to remain around. Given his impact and moral authority, based on that book, if Apuleyo accuses this judge of being a FARC supporter, it’s probably true.

  3. lfm Says:

    So, probably all the FARC’s high command is concentrated in Guaviare; a military operation could put them out of business…. Someone should email this to General Padilla. Chances are he hasn’t thought about it.

  4. Matthew Stiles Says:

    “Apuleyo can’t be dismissed as an ideologue”. Well, maybe not but it is quite obvious that he is a right-winger. I have just seen an article of his that accused Chavez of being a disaster for Venezuela.

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