Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced Feb. 26 that the Department of Administrative Security (DAS) will no longer be able to conduct wiretaps with just a court order, and will now require the cooperation of the National Police. This order follows allegations that the DAS illegally recorded the conversations of Supreme Court magistrates, media directors, and politicians from the opposition. According to Uribe, the police will need to verify the legality of the requests and will act as a check on the power of national intelligence gathering, improving transparency. DAS Director Felipe Muñoz has acknowledged the existence of evidence supporting the allegations. DAS Intelligence Director Fernando Tabares resigned Feb. 26, the fourth DAS official to step down in the scandal.
On Feb. 23, Uribe denied ordering any of the illegal wiretaps. Last year, Uribe and his administration were cleared of similar allegations after claiming they were unaware of a plan to record the conversations of journalists, government officials and opposition members—including Uribe’s runner-up in the May 2006 presidential elections, Carlos Gaviria Díaz of the left-wing Polo Democratico Alternativo. That scandal similarly sparked a flurry of high-level resignations.
The new scandal comes at an inopportune time for Colombian officials, as Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez are trying to convince the Obama administration to continue military and counter-narcotics aid despite human rights violations, corruption and a failure to reduce cocaine production. (Jurist, Feb. 27; Colombia Reports, Feb. 26)
Santos and Bermudez visited Washington this week to plead for continuation of military aid. The US gives Colombia some $500 million a year—which Santos, in an interview with Reuters, described as a drop in the ocean when compared to what the United States spends in Iraq or Afghanistan. He expressed confidence that the aid will continue.
“This strategic alliance we’ve had will keep going and it will get stronger,” he said. “We’ve got common interests in the region, we have the same vision about democracy and…that means we’re united on geopolitical issues. Because of that we hope there won’t be any kind of cutback. We hope we can at least maintain that figure going into next year… A reduction [in funding] means more cocaine ends up on the streets of U.S. cities.” (Reuters, Feb. 21)
Santos also broached opening Colombian military bases to more US aircraft to make up for the potential loss of Ecuador’s Manta air force base. “We’re expanding cooperation in every sense, including access to our bases and that is what we’re negotiating,” Santos told reporters. (AFP, Feb. 27)
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