Colombian “neo-pramilitary” groups containing former armed forces personnel were able to infiltrate the state by exploiting past military connections, according to a WikiLeaks cable. The cable, dated Feb. 13, 2007, relates how the then-director of the Rural Security Police, Gen. Jesus Gómez Méndez, told a US official that the three main difficulties in dismantling these organizations were topography, money and infiltration. Gómez said infiltration allows paramilitaries to receive information through collaborators in the armed forces notifying them of an imminent operation against their activities.
An anonymous inteligence officer with the army’s Brigada XVII elaborated that this network of collaborators stemmed from the fact that many members of these groups were former military personnel who could exploit relationships with former colleagues. The official highlights the Urabá region, in the north of the Antioquia department, where they estimated that nearly 250 of approximately 330 to 340 new members of criminal groups had prior military experience.
These networks of illicit cooperation were apparently complicated further by the allegations of ex-leaders of the now officially disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) that the government had agreed with them to incorporate the paramilitaries’ informant networks with the military’s.
Although Administrative Security Directorate (DAS) and government officials denied this, the anonymous intelligence officer confirmed that this was indeed the case and that he had personally incorporated former members of the bloc led by ex-AUC leader “El Aleman” into his network with the government’s consent. He added that they were providing the government with valuable information on new criminal groups and their operations.
The cable adds significant weight to long-standing allegations of the military’s ties to paramilitary organizations, including the post-AUC outfits known as “neo-paramilitaries.” It further highlights issues with the government’s misreading of the threat posed by these new criminal groups, seeing them more as an issue of law enforcement than a problem of national security due to their decentralized structure.
In a report last year, Human Rights Watch condemned this attitude, arguing that the government had not done enough to combat the rise of these organizations and root out corrupt officials who continue to collaborate with them. Last week, the UN added its concerns, stating that links between government officials and neo-paramilitaries are still present and provide the groups with the power to “corrupt and infiltrate the state.”
In a separate cable released last month, government failures during the demobilization of the AUC were shown to have contributed to the rise of neo-paramilitaries. The new cable reaffirms this, with the US official acknowledging that most of the neo-paramilitary organizations were led at the time by former mid-level AUC commanders and were comprised of just under 20% of supposedly “demobilized” paramilitaries. (Colombia Reports, El Espectador, Bogotá, March 4)