Local Colombian officials have accused two US soldiers, Michael J. Cohen and César Ruiz, of sexually assaulting a 12 year-old girl on Aug. 25. The soldiers are stationed at the Tolemaida Airbase near Melgar, Tolima, as part of Plan Colombia. According to witness statements collected by local authorities and published in El Tiempo [Oct. 8], at 4 AM, the soldiers entered the base with a young girl they had met at the “Ibiza” nightclub in Melgar earlier that evening. The girl claims that Ruiz assaulted her in the car on the way to the base and later lent his apartment to Cohen, who reportedly raped her. The pair later left the girl in the central park in Melgar in front of several witnesses.
The case was reported to the authorities on 8 September 2007. According to Paula Rueda, a psychologist from the Comisaría de Familia in Melgar, “there was, without a doubt, sexual intercourse.”
Although the investigation is still underway, Cohen, using the diplomatic immunity granted him under Plan Colombia, has fled the country. The Colombia Support Network, an US-based Colombia solidarity organization, claims that Cohen’s flight was facilitated by the US government, an action which “appears to put US military personnel above the law [and] must be rescinded.”
While sexual assault of someone under the age of 14 carries a jail sentence of up to 30 years in prison, Colombian authorities are hesitant to seek Cohen’s extradition due to the special provisions provided US personnel under Plan Colombia and a 1974 bi-lateral agreement. Ruiz, however, remains stationed in Colombia.
This is not the first instance of US Plan Colombia personnel behaving badly in Colombia: In May 2005, 5 US soldiers were arrested for attempting to send 16 kilograms of cocaine in a military plane to the United States from the Apiay base in Villavicencio. [BBC, April 7, 2005] That same month, a US sergeant and military technician were captured in the outskirts of Melgar with 32,900 rounds of ammunition, apparently bound for illegal armed groups. In 2004, pornography appeared on the black market in Melgar featuring local youths and US military personnel from the Tolemaida base. [BBC, May 5, 2005]
Micheál Ó Tuathail for Upside Down World, Oct. 9