Prosecutors have re-opened an investigation into charges that Colombia’s Vice President Francisco Santos attempted to organize illegal paramilitary groups, the office of the Fiscalía announced Oct. 19. The Fiscalía opened an initial investigation in 2007 after a former paramilitary boss, Salvatore Mancuso, testified that Santos had proposed creating the Bloque Capital paramilitary group in the late 1990s.
The investigation was suspended for lack of evidence. Prosecutors said they reopened the probe to put to rest any lingering suspicions. Testifying before the Regional Reparations Commission in Bucaramanga, one of several local bodies created by the government to facilitate the peace process, Santos denied the charge and spoke of his work to aid victims of Colombia’s conflict—while emphasizing campaigns against the FARC guerillas, such as last year’s state-supported protest campaign against kidnapping. (El Tiempo, Bogotá, Oct. 20; Reuters, Once Noticias, Mexico, Oct. 19)
But in testimony before the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Capitol Hill, formerly imprisoned Colombian journalist Gabriel González spoke in favor of the investigation of Santos. González, who spent 15 months in prison on charges of collaborating with the FARC before a judge threw out the charges as baseless, was honored by the committee for his work. He said the human rights climate in Colombia is again deteriorating, and that journalism remains a “high-risk profession.” (Miami Herald, Oct. 21; EFE, Oct. 20)
Kelly Nicholls, director of the non-governmental US Office on Colombia, warned of Washington’s complicity in the atmosphere of impunity. “Senior US government officials should continue to send a clear public message of support for human rights defenders, condemning any attempts by the Colombian government to stigmatize them,” she said. (VOA, Oct. 20)
Warlord admits to massacre
Former paramilitary chief Uber Enrique Banquez Martínez AKA “Juancho Dique” admitted to prosecutors Oct. 13 that he participated in the February 2000 massacre at El Salado village in the Medio Magdalenda region, in which over 60 were killed. “Juancho Dique,” ex-leader of the Heroes de Montes de Maria Bloc, confessed he was guilty of homicide and forced displacement in the notorious incident. Vice President Santos recently asked forgiveness for the fact that almost a decade later those responsible for the massacre have still not been brought to justice. (Colombia Reports, Oct. 13)
Ecuadoran court seeks extradition of ex-defense minister
Ecuador’s National Court of Justice declined to process an extradition request for Colombia’s former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, upon finding that the judge making the request had incomplete documentation. Ecuador’s authorities charge that Santos is responsible for the deaths of 25 people, including four Mexican students and an Ecuadoran civilian, in a March 2008 attack on a FARC encampment within Ecuador’s territory. President Rafael Correa broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia after the raid. The two countries are in the process of repairing relations. The local court in Sucumbios also seeks the current commander of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla de Leon. (Colombia Reports, Oct. 20)