Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colombia Journal: Honduran Coup, Washington and the Uribe Regime

The U.S. and Colombian Role in the Honduran Crisis

By Garry Leech

Many analysts and sectors of the mainstream media have suggested that the apparent ineffectiveness of the U.S. government to resolve the crisis in Honduras is evidence that the influence wielded by the region’s superpower is waning. They argue that the assertiveness of Brazil in its efforts to have Honduras’ coup regime step down and re-instate the country’s democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya illustrates how the balance of power in the region has shifted. But such conclusions might well be premature. After all, given the stubbornness of the coup regime headed by Roberto Micheletti, it could be argued that it is the United States, and by extension its ally Colombia, that are getting their way in Honduras and not Brazil and its leftist allies Venezuela and Bolivia.

Read the full article at: http://colombiajournal.org/colombia317.htm

CIP: Violence on the Rise in Colombia, Despite seven years of "Democratic Security"


While a lot has been said about the "successes" of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's Democratic Security Strategy, funded wholeheartedly by U.S. taxpayers through the Plan Colombia package, there is growing evidence that an upswing in violence is occurring on the ground in various regions of the country. Our friends at the Center for International Policy - Colombia, have been keeping close tabs on these developments, and point to a number of factors for this increase. Among them, the emergence of new paramilitary organizations that have filled the void of the Uribe government's "dismantling" of the AUC. Here are some notes worth pondering.


FROM CIP-Colombia

After several years of declining violence statistics in Colombia, we are seeing some very serious backsliding. The chief causes are the new FARC leadership’s shifts in strategy, and the proliferation of “emerging” criminal groups, the heirs of paramilitary groups whose leaders have mostly been extradited to the United States. This backsliding should worry both proponents and detractors of Álvaro Uribe’s hardline security policies.

  1. A Reuters piece published Tuesday and a CNN series [1 | 2 | 3] that ran last week attest to the severe wave of drug and gang-related violence sweeping over Medellín. According to Reuters, “The city’s murder rate has more than doubled since the [May] 2008 extradition of its main crime boss, [paramilitary chieftain Diego Fernando Murillo,] known as Don Berna, which left a power vacuum in the local drug and extortion rackets.”
  1. El Tiempo reports on the tense atmosphere in Sumapaz, a mountainous zone just to the south of Bogotá, from which Colombia’s army ejected the FARC in 2003 and 2004. Last Sunday, in broad daylight, the guerrillas killed two town council members in the zone (Sumapaz is part of Bogotá and Colombia’s Capital District).
  1. Herbín Hoyos, host of the Bogotá-based “Voices of Kidnapping” radio program, which broadcasts relatives’ messages to FARC kidnap victims, was forced to leave the country two weeks ago in the face of what Colombian military intelligence said was a recently uncovered FARC plot to kill him.
  1. In the oil-refining port of Barrancabermeja, 99 people have been murdered so far this year, 5 more than in all of 2008. El Tiempo places much of the blame on two “emerging” paramilitary groups, the “Rastrojos” and the “Urabistas.”
  1. Semana notes “three simultanous processes” of violence amid a counter-guerrilla military offensive in Cauca, in southwestern Colombia: “First, the alliance between the ELN guerrillas and a criminal gang known as ‘Los Rastrojos’ to fight the FARC; second, the military forces’ tendency to go easy on the ELN and Los Rastrojos, since the Espada II and III military operations have not touched them, and the whole offensive has been against the FARC. … The third process, however, is the strengthening of the FARC’s offensive military capacity in northern Cauca. So much that the guerrillas have attacked Toribío municipality on 51 occasions this year; the most recent attack was on October 7, which left two police dead and several soldiers wounded.” El Tiempo also reported this week on the ongoing Cauca offensive.
  1. This week the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo) issued “early warning” alerts about FARC threats against the population of Toribío, as well as that of the municipalities of Puerto Lleras, Puerto Rico and Vistahermosa, Meta. The Meta alert covers the heart of the La Macarena region, where a Colombian government “Fusion Center” has been carrying out a U.S.-funded counter-insurgency and “consolidation” program. In Puerto Rico municipality, Amnesty International reports, a FARC attack on the Guéjar river wounded Islena Rey, president of the Meta Human Rights Civic Committee.
  1. Elsewhere in Meta, authorities are concerned about a growing “war” between two powerful paramilitary chieftains who had been believed to be cooperating: Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” and Víctor Carranza, who controls a large portion of Colombia’s lucrative emerald trade.
  1. More than 220 people have been killed this year in the Bajo Cauca region of northern Antioquia department, where four “emerging” paramilitary groups are fighting to control the drug trade: “Los Paisas,” “Los Rastrojos,” “Los de Urabá” and remnants of the AUC’s “Bloque Mineros.”
  1. Two weeks ago in Arauca, a brazen ELN attack managed to free “Pablito,” who until being imprisoned was the guerrilla group’s maximum leader in the zone, one of its longtime strongholds.

All of these links are from the past two weeks. They indicate that Colombia’s government needs to refocus on its public security strategy, which may have reached the limits of what it can achieve. Significant adjustments are needed, particularly a renewed effort to protect threatened populations (instead of using resources on costly offensives) and a far stronger campaign against the “new” paramilitary groups before they manage to consolidate themselves.

But no adjustments are likely over the next several months, since Colombia’s President and its entire political class are likely to be focusing entirely on Álvaro Uribe’s attempt to win a third term in office.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Santos a Paramilitary? Check this out!

This note from our friends at CIP-Colombia:

Francisco Santos and the paramilitaries

The former paramilitary chief [Salvatore Mancuso] stated that [Vice President Francisco] Santos … also met several times with the paramilitaries’ leaders and that “I was surprised because I noticed how much he identified with the cause” and because “he told [AUC paramilitary leader Carlos] Castaño that he liked the model (of self-defense groups) in [the northern Colombian department of] Córdoba and that he would like to see it repeated in Bogotá.” In one of these meetings, Mancuso continued, “Castaño proposed to Santos that he be the commander of the Capital Bloc, but he turned him down, saying that he did not know about such things.”

That, as recounted by Colombia’s Semana magazine in 2007, was the essence of a series of exchanges between Francisco Santos, Colombia’s vice-president, and top paramilitary leaders about a decade ago. At the time, Santos was an editor at Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper and a leading anti-kidnapping activist. The allegation that Vice President Santos, who holds the Uribe administration’s human rights portfolio, urged the paramilitaries to set up a unit in Bogotá, comes from 2007 testimony to “Justice and Peace” prosecutors by Salvatore Mancuso, a paramount leader of the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Mancuso has since been extradited to the United States, where he awaits trial in a Virginia jail cell.

Santos insists that the comment was a joke – a joke in terrible taste. There is no known evidence that Santos followed up on his suggestion. Another top paramilitary leader, Freddy Rendón (alias “El Alemán“) has testified that while he met with Santos, he did not discuss the “Capital Bloc” idea. While a “Capital Bloc” of the paramilitaries later appeared, under the command of “Centaurs Bloc” leader Miguel Arroyave, it seemed to be largely focused on illicit fundraising: extortion and drug-dealing in poor Colombian neighborhoods, and involvement in sectors like bus transportation, food distribution and black-market items like pirated DVDs.

Still, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), which closed an investigation of Santos in August 2008, announced yesterday that it was re-opening its probe. The decision made headlines in Colombia yesterday, drawing attention to Santos, who said he would cooperate with the prosecutors’ investigation.

It is unlikely that the investigators will find that Francisco Santos was a mastermind of paramilitary expansion. It may find, however, that the vice president’s words and attitude toward the paramilitary leadership were friendlier and more supportive than he would ever acknowledge in public.

Just as 2007 photos of herself wearing a black beret and posing with FARC negotiators were a setback for leftist Colombian SenLinkator Piedad Córdoba, revelations of bonhomie and camaraderie with the mass-murdering paramilitaries could be deeply embarrassing to Francisco Santos.

Here's a link to the Semana article that outlines the links described above.
NOTE: Of course, President Uribe is standing by his man. He called Santos "an outstanding citizen," one who "has the respect of the Colombian people."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Colombian Indigenous Rights Activist to Update New Yorkers on Situation Facing Indigenous Movement in Colombia

The Indigenous Minga – One Year Later: Colombia’s Popular Movement and the Imperial Presidency of Alvaro Uribe

Colombian Indigenous Rights Activist to Update New Yorkers on Situation Facing Indigenous Movement in Colombia

Several Events in the Metropolitan Area Planned

Rafael Coicué is a native Nasa from the indigenous reserve of Corinto, in Colombia’s southwest province of Cauca. A veteran social justice activist and community organizer, he is a member of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, Colombia, ACIN, one of the leading regional social justice organizations in the country.

Rafael is a survivor of the infamous Nilo Massacre of December 1991, where 20 Nasa people, including his brother, were killed by hooded gunman working with the Colombian National Police and local landowners. The attackers were attempting to displace the indigenous community from the Nilo Estate. The massacre, carried out with the complicity of the Colombian state, was condemned internationally, although the victims have yet to be fully compensated for the deed.

Last year, from October 11 to November 24, 2008, Colombia’s popular movement, spearheaded by the country’s indigenous organizations, carried out an unprecedented six-week mobilization and march to protest President Alvaro Uribe Vélez’s economic development and military/security policies, as well as the ongoing violations of the rights of indigenous people. The minga popular, as it was called, brought together upwards of 40,000 people throughout the mobilization.

It began in the southwestern department of Cauca, where Colombia’s indigenous movement first emerged in the early 1970s, but it was a national mobilization that included representatives of the many diverse indigenous communities from every region of the country. They marched for days, northward, first to the city of Cali, Colombia’s third largest, culminating weeks later with a massive rally in front of the national palace in downtown Bogotá.

The minga popular, as it was called, galvanized Colombian public opinion and received considerable international solidarity. One year later, the indigenous movement, alongside a broad cross section of Colombia’s popular movement, continues to struggle for its rights, especially in light of President Uribe’s open attempt to change the Constitution and run for an unprecedented third term in office.

Human rights activists and popular sectors are concerned that Uribe’s end-run around the Constitution will further erode protections for the poorest and most marginalized sectors of the population.

These are some of the issues Rafael Coicué will address during his four-day visit to New York, within the context of the MINGA’s five-point agenda.

Is it still relevant today?
What are some of the challenges facing the movement today?
How has the upcoming electoral season impacted the unity of the indigenous leadership, and has it derailed the process in any way?

Coicué will be speaking at several community events in the New York area between October 25 and 28th, and will examine the historic scope of the minga. He will give an update on the minga’s relevance today as the human rights situation continues to worsen in Colombia.

As part of his presentations, he will play highlights of the documentary video of the minga produced by ACIN’s communication team, “A Country of People’s Without Owners.”

Speaking Events for Rafael Coicué’s Visit to NY:

Sunday, October 25th
• 5:00 to 7:30pm – Cafecito Bogotá
• Informal talk with patrons of this Colombian-style bistro in the heart of Brooklyn
o 1015 Manhattan Avenue
o Greenpoint, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Monday, October 26th
• 7:00 to 9:00pm – Movement for Peace in Colombia
o The Renaissance Charter School
o 35-59 81 Street
o Jackson Heights, NY. 11372
o Visit the website at http://mfpic.org/?p=1204

Tuesday, October 27th
• 7:30-9:30pm - Stonybrook University Campus of SUNY
o Graduate program in Latin American Studies
o Student Activities Center ("SAC"), Ballroom B (located on the first floor of the building)
o Stonybrook University Campus, Long Island

Wednesday, October 28th
• 10:00-11:30am Hofstra University Panel – Part of “Day of Dialogue”
o Panel will focus on the U.S. Drug War both North and South;
o To be moderated by Mario A. Murillo, associate professor, Hofstra University
o For more details, email Mario at marioradio@gmail.com

• 7:00-9:30pm The Brecht Forum
o The Indigenous and Popular Minga - One Year Later
o Will include screening of film “A Country of People’s Without Owners”
o 451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets)
o New York City, NY

La MINGA: One Year Later - An update on the indigenous and popular struggle in Colombia

Greetings folks,

One year ago, the world was moved by the courageous and unprecedented mobilization of the indigenous and popular movement in Colombia, which on October 20, 2008 was already in its second week. A lot has happened since then, including most recently, in Cauca, with a series of events that commemorated the one-year anniversary of the historic mobilization. There is considerable concern among many of the most committed activists in the movement that perhaps the initial purpose of the MINGA has been somewhat derailed. Below I share with
you some notes from our friends in Canada who have been paying close attention to the latest events. It includes links to other articles and updates on the situation. Perhaps this will shed some light on where the MINGA stands today, and will allow us to share our concerns next week in New York, when Rafael Coicué of ACIN comes to the metropolitan area to meet with community leaders, activists, students and the local independent media. Hope to see you at some of the events scheduled (details to follow)... MAMA


Hello friends,

The Pre-Congress of the Social and Community Minga was held in the Coliseo del Pueblo in Cali from October 13 - 16. The event brought together indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other social sectors from southwest Colombia to elaborate on how to carry forward the word and action of the Minga's five-point agenda, first articulated in the Indigenous and Popular Mandate of 2004 and brought to the national and international spheres with massive mobilizations last Fall. The Minga has put the national and international spotlight on Colombia's popular movements, demonstrating the dignity of peoples with an agenda of their own. The five points of the agenda illuminate a path for peoples in resistance in Colombia and beyond:

1. No to the Free Trade Agreements and the 'free trade' model.

2. No to all armed actors, each whose presence reinforces the actions of the others and threatens the lives of people in their communities. No more war and terror.

3. No to laws and legislation that evict people from their lands and deny them the right to the use of the earth's resources for sustaining life, laws that instead put people and nature at the service of transnational capital and accumulation.

4. Yes to the Colombian government honouring its agreements with indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other communities.

5. Yes to weaving an agenda of the peoples. All causes are our own.

This agenda has mobilized tens of thousands of people across Colombia, Latin America, and the world. At the march in Cali this past October 16, some 30,000 people walked together from the Coliseo del Pueblo to the centre of Cali. There were two other Pre-Congresses in Cartagena and Bogotá. People also marched in solidarity in other countries, such as Peru and Ecuador.Â

The mobilizing capacity of the Social and Community Minga has also garnered much attention from outside, which has arguably threatened its autonomy as a process of political and social change and community-based resistance. With the massive influx of interest from international funding agencies, some of the participating organizations have sought to change the Minga's agenda. These changes are not expressed explicitly but through subtle manoeuvres and strategic re-articulation of the five points, such as placing opposition to the FTAs alongside laws of eviction (calling not for their rejection but a public 'discussion') and replacing the first point with one that focuses on human rights, reflecting the interests of hundreds of NGOs and funding agencies operating in Colombia. That is not to say that human rights is not an important issue. The problem is that the changes to the agenda have occurred without discussion and debate, outside the spirit of the communities that have given the Minga its force; decisions are now being made through the leadership of organizations in private discussions with funding agencies, and the tens of thousands who continue to participate in the Minga are thus largely unclear on how the five-point agenda currently stands. In sum, there is much confusion.

The following notes, courtesy of some of the primary defenders of the original spirit of the Minga, the Tejido de Comunicación in Northern Cauca, not only provide journalistic reports of the events of the Pre-Congress in Cali earlier this week, but also provide an analysis that focuses on the voices of the participants, those who have walked the word in every sense and right from the beginning.

We share them in English below:

From the Minga in the People's Pre-summit
"Whether indigenous, Afro-Colombians, mestizos or peasants, we're all here with the same objective: a Colombia where we all belong, where we all have justice, a Colombia where we all decide and not just the oligarchy-government that we have now. The people rule, the people choose, the people decide," said an Afro-Colombian leader.

The Minga and its word move on
"I don't care about the traffic [caused by the march]," said a taxi driver stopped outside the Coliseo del Pueblo. Someone has to do something different. This country is full of blind and ignorant people, people who refuse to see their own reality."

Colombia has to wake up
In improvised tents, the communities will rest in the city of Cali until Friday, ignoring discomforts. They will continue walking the word woven from thought and feeling, from the teachings of the elders to defend the agenda of the Social and Community Minga that began with the Indigenous and Popular Mandate in 2004.

The Popular and Campesino Minga attacked by the Public Forces
On the 12th of October, the Campesino and Popular Assembly, which includes about 2,000 campesinos, students, and popular sectors in the departments of Cauca, Nariño and Huila, began a session of reflection in five working groups to establish the central points and proposals to present at the Pre-Congress [of the Social and Community Minga] to be carried out in the city of Cali on the 14th and 15th of October.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The MINGA Continues in New York with Nasa Leader Rafael Coicué

For Immediate Release!

Contact: marioradio@gmail.com

October 12th, 2009

Colombian Indigenous Rights Activist, Rafael Coicué, to Visit New York in Late October

Focus of his meetings: The Indigenous Minga – One Year Later: Colombia’s Popular Movement and the Imperial Presidency

Rafael Coicué is a native Nasa from the indigenous reserve of Corinto, in Colombia’s southwest province of Cauca. A veteran social justice activist and community organizer, he is a member of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, Colombia, ACIN, one of the leading regional social justice organizations in the country. Rafael is a survivor of the infamous Nilo Massacre of December 1991, where 20 Nasa people, including his brother, were killed by hooded gunman working with the Colombian National Police and local landowners. The attackers were attempting to displace the indigenous community from the Nilo Estate. The massacre, carried out with the complicity of the Colombian state, was condemned internationally, although the victims have yet to be fully compensated for the deed.

Last year, the indigenous and popular movement in Colombia carried out an unprecedented six-week mobilization to protest the government’s security and development policies, and their failure to make good on many pledges made to the indigenous communities of Colombia, including reparations for the Nilo Massacre. Today, one year later, the actions of resistance continue throughout Colombia, and in particular in the department of Cauca, where this week, a number of activities are unfolding to commemorate and rekindle the spirit of last year's historic events.

The minga popular, as it was called, galvanized Colombian public opinion and received considerable international solidarity. One year later, the indigenous movement continues to promote its five point agenda, especially in light of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s attempt to change the Constitution and run for an unprecedented third term in office. Human rights activists and popular sectors are concerned that Uribe’s end-run around the Constitution will further erode protections for the poorest and most marginalized sectors of the population.

Rafael Coicué will be speaking at several community events in the New York area between October 25 and 28th, and will examine the historic scope of the minga. He will give an update on the minga’s relevance today as the human rights situation continues to worsen in Colombia.

He is also available for interviews with local media representatives.

As part of his presentations, he will play highlights of the documentary video of the minga produced by ACIN’s communication team, “A Country of People’s Without Owners.”

Rafael Coicué will be in New York from October 25th through the 29th.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Human Rights First: US Stalling on Visa for Human Rights Activist from Colombia

US Government Stalls on Visa for Colombian Activist

Delays Could Prevent Activist from Being Present to Receive Human Rights Award

- Human Rights First has chosen Colombian activist Gabriel Gonzalez as the 2009 recipient of its prestigious human rights award. The award will be presented at a gala ceremony in New York on October 22, but instead of being part of the celebration in New York, Gonzalez may be thousands of miles away. His visa is being held up by the U.S. government, apparently because of false charges lodged against him by the Colombian authorities – despite U.S. agreement that those charges amount to nothing.

“Rather than welcoming Gonzalez, the U.S. government is letting him languish in a bureaucratic black hole.” said Elisa Massimino, CEO and Executive Director of Human Rights First. “The State Department has long supported Gonzalez’ work as well as his effort to fight the very trumped up criminal charges that may now prevent him from entering the United States. Yet, almost four months after Gonzalez first applied for his visa, his application is stalled in a seemingly endless bureaucratic back and forth between the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. This sends the wrong message to the Colombian authorities and undercuts U.S. policy to support Colombian human rights defenders who are under attack.”

Gonzalez is a groundbreaking student activist and regional coordinator of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee in Colombia where he has worked to promote access to justice for prisoners and victims of Colombia’s conflict. Ironically, Gonzalez’s advocacy led to his own arrest. He was detained for more than a year on the false charge of being a guerilla leader, and now faces seven more years in prison if his test-case appeal to Colombia’s Supreme Court is unsuccessful.

Both the State Department and various UN bodies - including the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia –
have expressed concern that his prosecution is baseless and intended to discredit him and undermine his work. Earlier this year, Gonzalez received support from the State Department to appeal the criminal investigation to Colombia’s Supreme Court. And, in 2007, the State Department included Gonzalez in its human rights country report citing his baseless prosecution as being emblematic of “the government's attempts to harass human rights defenders.”

The Colombian courts have confirmed that Gonzalez is free to travel to the US.

“Gonzalez’s case is
just one example of a systematic problem in Colombia. Colombian activists from all walks of life are routinely subjected to trumped-up charges intended to stigmatize and silence them,” said Massimino. In February 2009, Human Rights First released a groundbreaking report In the Dock and Under the Gun: Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia, that, for the first time, documented the widespread and systematic nature of the problem. Last month, after an extensive visit to Colombia, and a meeting with Gonzalez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders decried the problem of unfounded criminal proceedings against Colombian activists.

Gonzalez was chosen by Human Rights First for the 2009 Human Rights Award in recognition of his courageous defense of human rights in Colombia. He will be honored at an event hosted by legendary newsman Tom Brokaw on Thursday, October 22 at Chelsea Piers in New York City.

CIP: Analysis of Colombia's Internal Spying Program

Colombia’s Domestic Spying Scandal

By Adam Isacson, CIP Latin America Security Program. Last updated October 8, 2009.
A PDF version of this document is available at www.cipcol.org/files/factsheets/das_scandal.pdf

On February 21, 2009, Colombia’s most-circulated newsweekly, Semana, broke an important story. It revealed that the Administrative Security Department (DAS), the Colombian Presidency’s internal intelligence agency, had been carrying out a campaign of wiretaps and surveillance of human rights defenders, Supreme Court justices, opposition politicians, and journalists. DAS agents also followed their targets’ children, wives, and assistants.

New evidence has emerged over the course of 2009. It indicates that the DAS was conducting warrantless wiretapping since at least 2003 through 2008, and possibly this year. The full extent of the illegal spying, and the identity of the individual(s) who ordered the program, remain unknown.

What does the DAS do?

  • In 1953, Colombia’s only military dictatorship of the 20th century created a Colombian Intelligence Service (SIC) within the president’s office. The SIC became the DAS in 1960.
  • The agency’s roles have since expanded. Its 6,500 members now gather intelligence about domestic threats, handle passports and immigration, guard threatened individuals, and serve as Colombia’s main interface with Interpol. The DAS has been a key counterpart for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

This is not the Uribe administration’s first DAS scandal

Jorge Noguera.
  • Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s first DAS Director (2002-2005) was Jorge Noguera, who directed Uribe’s 2002 campaign in the department (province) of Magdalena. In early 2006, Noguera was revealed to have collaborated closely with some of Colombia’s most notorious narcotraffickers and right-wing paramilitary leaders. He allegedly facilitated drug shipments and gave the paramilitaries lists of human rights defenders and labor leaders to assassinate. Since December 2008, Jorge Noguera has been in prison and facing trial for aggravated homicide.
  • In late 2008, the DAS was found to have been ordering illegal surveillance of opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, a revelation that forced the resignation of DAS Director María de Pilar Hurtado.
  • Four appointees and one interim director have led the DAS during Uribe’s seven years in office.

The February 2009 revelations

The “G-3”

  • In 2003, then-DAS Director Noguera created the “Special Strategic Intelligence Group,” a unit known as G-3 which appeared nowhere in the agency’s organization chart. The G-3, whose very existence the DAS denied until March 2009, was created to carry out intelligence operations including, according to one folder found in the agency’s headquarters, “Surveillance of organizations and people with tendencies to oppose government policy in order to restrict or neutralize their actions.”
  • The G-3 was abolished when Noguera left in November 2005. However, many of its functions passed to another DAS unit, the “National and International Observation Group” (GONI). The G-3’s original coordinator, Jaime Fernando Ovalle, remained in the DAS until November 2008, when he was fired for his role in the illegal surveillance of Senator Petro. The GONI was dissolved in March 2009.

Spying on human rights defenders

The G-3 closely followed members of Colombia’s most prominent human rights groups, as well as some labor leaders and independent journalists. The extent of the surveillance is alarming.

  • Prosecutors showed Alirio Uribe of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective (no relation to President Uribe), a human rights group, some of his DAS files from the 2003-2005 period. According to the New York Times, they “included photos of [Uribe’s] children, transcripts of phone and e-mail conversations, details on his finances [including bank account information] and evidence that DAS agents rented an apartment across from his home to monitor him.”
Hollman Morris.
  • Investigative journalist Hollman Morris, reports Inter-Press Service, found a file with “photos and information on his parents, siblings, wife and children, and on his day-to-day movements, with a level of detail that reminded those looking at it of the thorough investigations carried out by hired killers while planning their hit jobs.”
  • International human rights workers were targeted by DAS too. Emails from Human Rights Watch ended up in DAS files, and the G-3 recommended carrying out “offensive intelligence” against the organization’s Americas director, José Miguel Vivanco. The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission protested revelations that the DAS had spied on a June 2005 visit of Special Rapporteur for Women’s Rights Susana Villarán.

Spying on judges

  • The G-3 appeared to focus principally on non-governmental activists. The GONI’s targets, however, included Supreme Court magistrates who have been investigating dozens of President Uribe’s political allies’ alleged ties to murderous paramilitary groups. (The charges of politicians’ support for paramilitaries, known in Colombia as the “para-politics” scandal, have put about one-quarter of Colombia’s current Congress [.doc file], nearly all of them government supporters, under investigation, on trial or in prison.)
  • Documents found in a DAS detective’s office contained brief biographies of Supreme Court magistrates, information on their families, and personal information ranging from their political affiliations to intimate details.
Iván Velásquez.
  • A chief target has been Iván Velásquez, the magistrate charged with leading the “para-politics” investigation against President Uribe’s political allies. Judge Velásquez “was never left alone for a minute,” reported Semana. During one three-month period in 2008, DAS spies recorded 1,900 of his phone conversations. The DAS also spied on members of Judge Velásquez’s investigation team and their families.

Spying on political figures

  • In May 2009, investigators found recordings revealing that all candidates running against President Uribe’s 2006 re-election bid were wiretapped. Colombia’s daily El Espectador published a list of 36 prominent politicians, nearly all from the opposition, and six noted journalists who were under surveillance at the time.
  • One DAS detective said he was assigned to monitor people like ex-presidents Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana. This included wiretapping and wearing disguises to meetings and events, as well as following their children, wives, advisors, and assistants.
  • Semana columnist Daniel Coronell noted a series of “inexplicable coincidences” in which DAS agents made a series of searches into the agency’s restricted database for information about former president César Gaviria, a critic of President Uribe. Days later, on April 27, 2006, Gaviria’s sister was murdered.

August 2009 revelations of new spying

  • In its August 30, 2009 issue, Semana reported that, in the wake of the DAS surveillance revelations, “Things not only have not changed, but they have even gotten worse. The wiretaps and surveillance of [Supreme] Court members, journalists, politicians and some lawyers continue. And if that weren’t enough, they have extended to some presidential candidates [Colombia has elections in 2010] and, recently, to members of Congress.”
  • “Some of the [wiretapping] equipment being used was hidden from the Prosecutor-General [Fiscalía] and Inspector-General [Procuraduría] during the wiretap investigation,” an anonymous DAS source involved in the operation told Semana. “Two weeks ago, some of the equipment returned to Bogotá to monitor members of Congress, based on the referendum voting.” The “referendum” refers to a bill, passed by Colombia’s Congress in September, to schedule a plebiscite on whether to change the country’s constitution to allow Álvaro Uribe to run for a third straight term.
  • Among the new wiretaps are more recordings of Judge Iván Velásquez, the Supreme Court’s chief “para-politics” investigator. One recording (audio) is of a mid-2009 phone conversation between Velásquez and James Faulkner, a Justice Department official assigned to the U.S. embassy. “It worries me to hear the voice of my judicial attaché in a wiretapped call,” U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield told reporters.

The extent of the spying, and who ordered it, are unknown

Removing boxes (more photos).
  • Security videotapes from the first week of January 2009 show boxes and computers being removed from the DAS offices. Colombia’s prosecutor-general at the time, Mario Iguarán, told the Associated Press that when prosecutors first went to the DAS offices to start investigating, they were “given the run-around by DAS personnel, who directed them to the wrong offices or went searching for keys.” Much information is probably lost.
  • Jorge Lagos, the DAS chief of counterintelligence, told the Prosecutor-General’s Office that he gave information about some Supreme Court justices to President Uribe’s general secretary, Bernardo Moreno, and the president’s controversial personal advisor, José Obdulio Gaviria.
  • Former DAS Director Maria del Pilar Hurtado said in an interview that the warrantless wiretaps and investigations of Supreme Court magistrates were born out of concerns voiced by President Uribe.

The U.S. government’s response

  • In February 2009, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield recognized that the United States provided eavesdropping equipment to the DAS.
  • “[W]e obviously think that the steps that have already been made on issues like extrajudicial killings and illegal surveillance, that it is important that Colombia pursue a path of rule of law and transparency, and I know that that is something that President Uribe is committed to doing.” – President Barack Obama, June 29, 2009, hosting President Uribe at the White House.
  • “Allegations of illegal domestic wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) are troubling and unacceptable. The importance that the Prosecutor General’s Office has placed on prosecuting these crimes is a positive step for Colombia, but media and NGO reports allege that illegal activity continues, so it is even more vital that the Colombian government take steps to ensure that this is not the case, and that the Prosecutor General’s Office conduct a rigorous, thorough and independent investigation in order to determine the extent of these abuses and to hold all perpetrators accountable.” – September 2009 Department of State press release announcing that Colombia, in the department’s view, meets human rights conditions in U.S. foreign aid law.

The Colombian government’s response

  • The scandal has led to the exit of at least 33 DAS employees, including resignations of the deputy directors for counterintelligence, Jorge Alberto Lagos; intelligence, Fernando Tavares; analysis, Gustavo Sierra; and operations, Marta Leal.
José Miguel de Narváez.
  • In July 2009, the Prosecutor-General’s office [Fiscalía], which is a separate branch of government in Colombia, ordered the arrest of ten DAS officials in connection with the spying allegations. Those arrested include Lagos, Leal, Tavares, and José Miguel de Narváez, who served as the number-two DAS official under Jorge Noguera and is widely accused of very close ties to paramilitaries. The arrest orders came one day before Prosecutor-General Mario Iguarán left office, at the end of his four-year term. Lagos and Tavares were released in late September 2009 on claims that prosecutors committed “procedural errors.”
  • In mid-September 2009, acting Prosecutor-General Guillermo Mendoza revealed that two prosecutors in his office – not the DAS – had illegally wiretapped Justice Iván Velásquez, the “para-politics” investigator, in 2009. These recordings included the judge’s conversation with the U.S. embassy official. However, it is not clear why Justice Velásquez’s phone number was among those given to the Prosecutor-General’s office for wiretapping. An unknown party added the judge’s number to a list of numbers to be tapped for a routine extortion case of a hardware-store owner in a town near Bogotá.
  • The Uribe administration has repeatedly maintained that the spying occurred behind the president’s back. Following the September 2009 revelation that some phone numbers for wiretapping had been passed to the Prosecutor-General’s office, officials began to advance the theory that the entire scandal was the product of a plot to sabotage the Uribe government. In mid-September 2009, President Uribe spoke of “a criminal plot to discredit the government and affect its international relations.” Vice-President Francisco Santos claimed that the DAS spying and related revelations owed to “a big, well-orchestrated, well-funded defamation campaign.”

How is President Uribe proposing to reform the DAS?

President Uribe makes his September 17 announcement.
  • On September 17, 2009, President Uribe surprised many by declaring, “I’m in favor of eliminating the institution [the DAS] and leaving a small entity lending immigration and intelligence services, which can be managed by the National Police.”
  • Functions proposed to pass from the DAS to the National Police, or to the Prosecutor-General’s Technical Investigations Corps (CTI), include security for threatened individuals, liaison with Interpol (official as of October 7, 2009), and judicial police powers.
  • According to a September 18, 2009 DAS communiqué, “The DAS will be liquidated to give way to a new civilian intelligence agency. … The new intelligence agency will have as its only mission to produce the intelligence and counter-intelligence that the country needs.”
  • It remains unclear how this new agency will be safeguarded and monitored to avoid a repeat of politically motivated wiretapping and surveillance in the future.

State Department Cable says Colombian Army Responsible for Palace of Justice Deaths, Disappearances

National Security Archive Update, October 8, 2009

State Department Cable says Colombian Army Responsible for Palace of Justice Deaths, Disappearances

Document Introduced as Evidence in Trial of Col. Alfonso Plazas Vega

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Washington, DC, October 8, 2009 - A declassified U.S. State Department document filed in a Colombian court yesterday blames the Colombian Army, and Col. Alfonso Plazas Vega in particular, for the deaths of over 70 people during military operations to retake the Palace of Justice building from insurgents who had seized the building in November 1985. The document, a January 1999 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, was obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act.

The cable states in paragraph four that Col. Plazas Vega (misspelled as "Plazas Vargas") "commanded the November, 1985 Army raid on the Supreme Court building" and that the operation "resulted in the deaths of more than 70 people, including eleven Supreme Court justices." The Embassy adds that soldiers under the command of Col. Plazas Vega "killed a number of M-19 members and suspected collaborators hors de combat, including the Palace's cafeteria staff."

Col. Plazas Vega is currently on trial for the disappearances of eleven civilians during the course of the operation, several of whom worked in the Palace cafeteria. The Palace of Justice tragedy began on November 6, 1985, after insurgents from the M-19 guerrilla group seized the building, taking a number of hostages. The building caught fire and burned to the ground during Colombian military and police force efforts to retake the Palace, killing most of the guerrillas and hostages still inside.

"The information included in this brief description of Col. Plazas Vega is the clearest, most concise statement we have seen in declassified records about the Army's responsibility for the deaths and disappearances in the Palace of Justice case," said Michael Evans, director of the Archive's Colombia documentation project.

"The Palace of Justice tragedy is one of the most searing events in Colombian history," Evans added, "and with both this case and the Truth Commission on the Palace of Justice in progress, now is the time for the U.S. government to come forward with all human rights related information it has pertaining to the Palace of Justice tragedy."

Other documents published today provide new details on military operations to retake the building and on Colombia's fruitless efforts to find a diplomatic post for Col. Plazas Vega in the mid-1990s.

* In the midst of the crisis, the Embassy reported, "We understand that orders are to use all necessary force to retake building." Another cable reported that, "FonMin [Foreign Minister] said that President, DefMin [Defense Minster], Chief of National Police, and he are all together, completely in accord and do not intend to let this matter drag out."

* A pair of contradictory Embassy cables: one reporting that "surviving guerrillas have all been taken prisoner," followed by another, two days later, reporting that "None of the guerrillas survived."

* A February 1986 Embassy cable reporting that Colombian military influence on society and politics, "no doubt exercised at times of crisis such as the Palace of Justice takeover, is also sometimes overdrawn."

* A highly-redacted U.S. Embassy document from 1996 regarding an inquiry about "human rights and narcotics allegations" against Col. Plazas Vega. Discussing his rejection as Colombian Consul to Hamburg by the German government, the cable notes that "[the State] Department concurred that the [Colombian government] be informally asked to withdraw Plazas' nomination…" The Embassy adds that, "None of the above allegations [against Plazas] were ever investigated by the authorities -- a common problem during the 1980's in Colombia."

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