A retired Colombian army general accused by prosecutors of forming a “macabre alliance” with illegal paramilitary groups was sentenced to 25 years in prison Aug. 24 in connection with the 1997 murder of a peasant leader. The sentencing of former general Rito Alejo del Río Rojas brings closure to a case that has long languished in the Colombian justice system and focuses renewed attention on the collaboration between top military officers and paramilitaries affiliated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
Del Río was commander of the army’s 17th Brigade and in charge of the northwestern Urabá region when paramilitary forces of the AUC’s Elmer Cardenas Bloc carried out an operation in Riosucio municipality, where they beheaded and dismembered a village leader. The court ruled that del Río had allowed the paramilitaries to enter the region after the 17th Brigade secured the area that was a base of guerrilla activity. According to the prosecutor, “Operation Genesis” was a joint miltary-paramilitary operation.
The United States cut ties with del Río more than 14 years ago, cancelling his visa after finding convincing evidence of his ties to paramilitary groups. One declassified US Embassy cable published by the National Security Archive said that del Río’s “systematic arming and equipping of aggressive regional paramilitaries” was “pivotal” to his military success as commander of the 17th Brigade in Urabá. (Unredacted via UDW, Aug. 28; Colombia Reports, Aug. 24)