Colombia: kingpin named in Trujillo Massacre

The Fiscalía, Colombia's public prosecutor, on Dec. 9 formally charged a notorious drug kingpin for masterminding several massacres between 1988 and 1994 in which hundreds of people were killed. The crimes, dubbed the Massacre of Trujillo after the town where they were committed in Valle del Cauca department, resulted in the deaths of up to 342 people. Among the victims were unionists, alleged guerrilla supporters, and a priest. Some of the victims were tortured and dismembered as a warning to rebel groups FARC and ELN, and their sympathizers. Diego Montoya AKA "Don Diego" is accused of conspiring with members of the army, police, regional politicians and paramilitary groups aligned to the infamous Cali Cartel. Several members of the security forces have also been charged for their alleged role in the killings.

Diego survived the crushing of the Cali Cartel in the late '90s, going on to lead a successor organization, the Norte del Valle Cartel. He was extradited to the US in 2008 to face charges including murder, drug trafficking, obstruction of justice and money-laundering. He was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Colombian authorities say he is responsible for some 1,500 drug-related killings. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 10; El Espectador, Bogotá, El País, Cali, Dec. 9) The case again raises concern about whether Colombian criminals extradited to the US on drug charges will ever face justice for gross human rights violations at home.

With peace talks with the FARC underway in Havana, the Colombian government is trying to portray a country emerging from its ultra-violent recent past. The Defense Ministry reported in November that guerilla attacks on the security forces dropped 46% in the first nine months of 2013 compared to the same period last year—from 141 to 76. "Acts of terrorism" (mostly attacks on infrastructure) dropped 15% from 715 in the first months of 2012 to 607 in the same period this year. Attacks on bridges and roads dropped drastically—by 40% and 53%, respectively. However, the number of attacks against the oil industry did go up in 2013. According to the ministry's statistics, there were 147 attacks on oil pipelines, 18% more than last year. (Colombia Reports, Nov. 26)

Colombia's Supreme Court this week also issued statistics on the "para-politics" scandal, saying 45 congressmen and seven departmental governors have been convicted for connections to paramilitary organizations since 2006. The investigation was opened after Vicente Castaño, late leader of the United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC), bragged to magazine Semana, that "paramilitary groups count more than 35 percent of the Congress as friends." (Colombia Reports, Dec. 10)

The political right retaliated for the "para-politics" probe by alleging a "FARC-politics" scandal, and pushing for an investigation. But while the "para-politics" scandal touched members of Colombia's elite, the "FARC-politics" investigation has overwhelmingly targeted community leaders in rural areas. Last year, the Fiscalía, army and National Police carried out sweeps in several municipalities in Cauca department, arresting 26 on charges of FARC collaboration in the municipalities of Corinto, Caloto, Guachené, Caldono and Toribío. Those arrested included campesino and indigenous leaders, as well as municipal officials. (El Tiempo, June 11, 2012)

Cauca remains one of the most conflicted parts of Colombia. In the most recent FARC attack on a National Police post there, reported Dec. 10 from Toribio village, four guerillas were killed and two police troops wounded. Authorities speculate that the FARC and its sometime rival the ELN, traditionally more powerful in the north of the country, may now be collaborating in Cauca. (Colombia Reports, Dec. 10)

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