The emergence of a 1991 report from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) naming current Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as a high-level operative of the notorious Medellin Cartel has been an embarrassment for both the US and its top South American ally. Meanwhile, rights groups in Colombia claim that atrocities have doubled under Uribe’s rule–and the anti-militarist movement has again been targeted for attack.
1991 DIA REPORT: URIBE WAS CARTEL OPERATIVE
The Sept. 23, 1991 DIA report was released under the US Freedom of Information Act to a DC-based research group, the National Security Archives. The report asserts that Uribe, then a senator from the department of Antioquia, was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin cartel at high government levels.” It named him as a “close personal friend” of cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar, and claimed he helped Escobar secure his seat as an auxiliary congressman.
An Uribe spokesman dismissed the report as preliminary, saying that Uribe was studying at Harvard in 1991 and had no business dealings in the US. Rob Zimmerman, a spokesman for the US State Department, told the New York Times: “We completely disavow these allegations about President Uribe. We have no credible information that substantiates or corroborates the allegations in an unevaluated 1991 report.”
But the National Security Archives’ Michael Evans said: “We now know that the DIA, either through its own reporting or through liaison with another investigative agency, had information indicating that Alvaro Uribe was one of Colombia’s top drug-trafficking figures.”
The report names 104 figures believed to be top traffickers, including Escobar, former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, international arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi, and Pedro Juan Moreno, a Colombian businessman and one-time friend of Uribe who has been often named as a trafficker but never formally charged.
Washington portrays Uribe as a key ally in the war on drugs and terrorism, boasting that his administration has extradited 150 accused traffickers to the US, more than twice the number extradited in his predecessor’s four-year term. But there have been persistent claims that as chief of Colombia’s civil aviation authority in the late 1980s, Uribe protected drug flights. When he was governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997, paramilitary activity exploded in the department. (NYT, Aug. 2)
Uribe, educated at Harvard and Oxford, was elected mayor of Medellin at the age of 26, just as the cartel was establishing its hegemony over the city. As Antioquia governor he instated the famous “Convivir” program, conceived as a civil auxiliary wing of the armed forces to combat guerillas in the countryside. The program was widely accused of providing a cover of legitimacy for paramilitary activity. (Colombia Journal, May 24, 2004)
RIGHTS ACTIVIST: ATROCITIES HAVE DOUBLED UNDER URIBE
Colombian human rights advocate Yenly Angelica Mendez of the group Humanidad Vigente, which works closely with peasant groups in militarized rural areas, said after the DIA report revelations that assassinations and arbitrary imprisonment have doubled under Uribe, especially in the conflicted eastern department of Arauca, which she called “a laboratory for the so-called Democratic Security policy of the current Colombian administration.”
In an interview with the independent Colombian press agency ANNCOL, Mendez said: “Since the start of the present administration human rights violations in Arauca have risen about 100 percent. The primary victims have been the social movements, who at the moment have more than 10 leaders jailed, primarily those with a record of uncompromising and dedicated protest against human rights violations, and of promoting a model of alternative development…”
Mendez harshly criticized US support for the Uribe regime: “The United States plays a primary role in the violation of human rights in Arauca, principally because they promote and finance the policy of ‘Democratic Security’ and because…they give large amounts of aid to the XVIII Brigade in Arauca, despite the prohibition against giving aid to military units who are involved in human rights violations. This Brigade is involved in many human rights violations, and this aid is used to continue them.”
She also condemned the increasing political-military role of foreign oil companies in Arauca, claiming that money from California’s Occidental Petroleum and Spain’s Repsol “partly finances the Prosecutor for Support Infrastructure, an agency created as part of the ‘Democratic Security’ policy, and which means nothing else but the militarization of the Prosecutor’s Office. Through this office, located inside the barracks of the XVII Brigade, the cases against the social leaders are prosecuted, based on testimony from reinserted former guerillas, who give ‘useful information against the guerillas’ in exchange for economic and judicial benefits. Given this situation, the impartiality and the independence of the Prosecutor’s Office is zero, which allows us to say that these cases are nothing more than judicial frame-ups aimed at stopping the denouncing of human rights violations and the naming of those responsible.”
(ANNCOL, Aug. 6)
PARA BOSSES ADDRESS CONGRESS
Meanwhile, Uribe’s so-called “peace dialogue” with the right-wing paramilitaries continues–which critics see as a means of legitimizing the terror network and bringing it under closer government control. On July 28, Salvatore Mancuso, now de facto leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), spoke before Colombia’s congress along with his fellow warlords Ramon Isaza and Ivan Roberto Duque. The leaders of the 20,000-strong AUC had been given safe-conduct to travel to Bogota from the “safe haven” the paramilitary network has been granted in the north of country as a condition of the talks. In his televised remarks, Mancuso said the para leaders should not be imprisoned, but should be honored for saving Colombia from becoming “another Cuba.”
Uribe is proposing that AUC leaders be “confined” for five to ten years, but not necessarily in prison, as a compromise measure. This possibility was not raised in prospective talks with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), whose imprisoned leader Francisco Galan addressed Colombia’s congress in June. (AFP, July 28)
Mancuso and four others are wanted in the US on drug charges, and the AUC is including “no extradition” among its demands. US Ambassador William Wood refuses to budge on this question, saying of the AUC: “They have only one program: narcoterror. And only one agenda: destruction.” The two most recently indicted AUC commanders are Diego “Don Berna” Fernando Murillo and Vicente Castano, the brother of the group’s top commander Carlos Castano, who has been missing for several months. (NYT, July 23)
Another paramilitary network, the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Casanare, is not involved in the AUC negotiations, and is demanding a second demilitarized zone. It has been waging a local war with the AUC’s Centauros Bloc. (NYT, Aug. 3)
PEACE MOVEMENT UNDER ATTACK
Violence continues throughout the country. On Aug. 3, a car bomb exploded on a highway near Andinapolis where government troops were attacking FARC guerillas, killing nine National Police. (NYT, Aug. 4)
While the paras claim to oppose leftist guerillas, Colombia’s anti-militarist movement has been recently targeted for attack. On July 29, the home of a leading member of Red Juvenil, an anti-war group in Medellin, was visited by two armed men who first said they were from AUC, and later claimed to be from the Administrative Security Department (DAS), a government enforcement agency. The Red Juvenil activist was out at the time, but her mother was at home with a two-month-old baby. The mother was menaced with pistols, tied up and locked in the bathroom as the men searched the house. The men left with the mother still trapped and the baby asleep in another room–she managed to eventually free herself. Red Juvenil considers the invasion an implicit threat to members of the organization. (Red Juvenil press release, July 30)
New threats and violence are also reported from the Antioquia village of San Jose de Apartado, a self-proclaimed “peace community” which has declared its non-cooperation with all armed groups. On Aug. 11, a home in San Jose was torn by an explosion which left two women dead and two others injured, including the ten-year-old son of one of the women. The community’s statement on the incident said the explosion was caused by a grenade left behind by the army in March fighting with FARC guerillas in a banana-field in the hamlet of La Union. The grenade was brought back to the house by local residents, who alerted the authorities and were told a government agent would come to collect it. No agent ever showed up.
The statement also said that members of the peace community have been verbally threatened by paramilitaries in recent weeks, and that the road linking the village to the nearest town, Apartado, has become increasingly dangerous. On July 30, a local merchant who sold water in San Jose was killed by paramilitaries on the road. On August 2, paramilitaries told San Jose residents in the Apartado bus terminal that they would launch another blockade of the community and again threatened to kill the community’s leaders.
The statement closed with an expression of determination in the face of the threats and violence: “We again reiterate our commitment to continue building paths of dignity in the midst of the war.” (San Jose de Apartado Peace Community press release, Aug. 11)
Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Sept. 6, 2004 Reprinting permissible with attribution