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The Collective
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia ‘militia link’ alleged

A commander of Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary AUC has alleged that two members of the current government previously conspired with the group.

[…]

Mancuso, a high-ranking member of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), gave evidence as part of the 2003 peace deal which has led to the demobilisation of thousands of paramilitary fighters.

He has alleged that Colombia’s Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos met paramilitaries between 1996 and 1997 to help plot the overthrow of then President Ernesto Samper.

Mancuso also claimed he met Vice-President Francisco Santos, the defence minister’s cousin, in the late 1990s to discuss the creation of a new militia group to fight guerrillas in the capital, Bogota.

Mancuso has credibility in such revelations, as he is the main source for the entire “Treaty of Ralito” situation that has led to the arrest of over 20 current and former members of congress.

The Santos family has been prominent in Liberal Party politics for over a century (although they now are allied with Uribe, a former Liberal without a formal party affiliation), and has controlled the nation’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo.

Speaking of El Tiempo, in its story on this testimony it states that there were about four meetings between the current VP and paramilitary leader. There is also an allegation that the current Defense MInister met with the infamous Carlo Castaño (one time AUC leader, now deceased):

Sin mencionar nunca el contexto de los encuentros, el ex Auc habló de al menos cuatro reuniones del hoy Vicepresidente con jefes paramilitares en la Costa y Bogotá. Entre ellas incluyó una que, según dijo, fue en la sede de EL TIEMPO con varios periodistas.

Antes, Mancuso había hablado de Juan Manuel Santos, y de dos encuentros suyos con él y con Castaño en Córdoba.

According to the report, Mancuso alleges that the paramilitaries also met with four generals to coordinate activities.

The most explosive element of the testimony, according to the El Tiempo story is that Mancuso accuses the current Defense Minister of discussing a “type of coup” against the Samper administration:

“Durante la charla Santos le preguntó (a Castaño) que tan comprometido estaba el presidente Samper con el narcotráfico, a lo cual Castaño le respondió afirmativamente. Incluso le mencionó que tenía pruebas. En palabras del ex Auc, les propuso “una especie de golpe de Estado”. Fue, cuando, según dijo, el presidente Samper supo y se comenzó a hablar de “los conspiretas”.

The NYT version of the story describes the situation as follows:

President Álvaro Uribe, the Bush administration’s closest ally in Latin America, faces an intensifying scandal after a jailed former commander of paramilitary death squads testified Tuesday that Mr. Uribe’s defense minister had tried to plot with the outlawed private militias to upset the rule of a former president.

Speaking at a closed court hearing in Medellín, Salvatore Mancuso, the former paramilitary warlord, said Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos had met with paramilitary leaders in the mid-1990s to discuss efforts to destabilize the president at the time, Ernesto Samper, according to judicial officials.

The story also notes that Defense Minister Santos states that his meeting with the paramilitary groups was for the purpose of peace talks, and that there was a journalist present at the meetings. Further, the meeting included other important functionaries, including ex-President Betancur. Certainly such facts would be possible to verify, although it is unclear if these meetings are the ones that Mancuso is speaking of.

One of the accused general stated that this was Mancuso’s attempt at revenge.

The government has declined to comment at this point.

Technorati Tags: parapolitical, para politica, para politics, Salvatore Mancuso, Juan Manuel Santos, Francisco Santos

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: Colombia orders the arrest of 19 politicians

The Colombian government ordered the arrest of 19 current and former officials Monday who are accused of signing a 2001 “devil’s pact” with outlawed paramilitary groups in which they promised to work together to “re-found Colombia.”

The orders represent the government’s biggest move yet to bring to justice politicians it alleges were complicit with the right-wing militias in Colombia’s decades-long civil war. Farmers and businessmen formed the militias for self-defense against leftist guerrillas in the 1980s, but many of the groups evolved into mafias engaged in killings, drug trafficking, extortion, land grabs and election fraud.

The document, known as the Treaty of Ralito, came to light this year. Prosecutors here have described it as a “devil’s pact” that candidates signed to obtain political and financial advantage from association with the paramilitaries.

Paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso presented a copy of the document during court testimony he gave earlier this year.

This is one of those situation where on the one hand it is a positive that the justice system appears to be working, but also a radical negative that a substantial number of elected officials have been in secret alliance with paramilitary groups.

The arrested:

Warrants for the arrests of five sitting congressmen were issued by the Supreme Court because only the highest court has the power to file charges against national legislators. Four of the five are in custody, including Sen. Miguel de la Espriella, who first disclosed the existence of the document in January.

The others in custody are Sen. Reginaldo Montes, Congressman Jose de los Santos Negrete and Sen. Juan Manuel Lopez. Still at large is Sen. William Montes. All except Lopez are Uribe supporters.

The other 14 politicians are ex-officeholders who were indicted by Colombia’s attorney general Monday because they have lost their immunity. They include former senators, congressmen, governors and mayors. Eleven were in custody as of Monday evening, including Eleonora Pineda, who frequently defended paramilitaries as a congresswoman.

Among the paramilitary leaders who signed the 2001 pact were Mancuso; Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40; and Diego Fernando Murillo, known as Don Berna. Mancuso and Murillo are wanted on drug-trafficking charges in the United States.

This is not the first set of arrests of sitting congressmen in the current scandal:

Eight sitting members of congress, all Uribe supporters, were arrested in November and February on charges of consorting with paramilitaries to commit crimes that ranged from electoral fraud to mass murder. Among them were the brother and cousin of former Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo.

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Filed under: Colombia | Comments Off |
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia police chiefs forced out

The head of Colombia’s national police force and the country’s intelligence chief have both resigned amid a scandal over illegal wiretapping.

Police and security officials were found to have recorded telephone calls by opposition politicians, journalists and members of the government.

The government described the recordings as illegal and “totally unacceptable”.

What? A governmental official abusing power? Moreover, a law enforcement officer charged with maintaining the safety of the population in the face of an ongoing threat of political violence abused his powers? I bet that they were just looking for links to the guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug dealers. So, really, what’s the harm?

Good thing that can only happen in other countries…

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Thursday, May 10, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The US and Colombia have negotiated a trade free that has yet to be ratified by the US Congress. This is starting to cause a little tension with the Colombians.

As Bloomberg reports: Colombia May Rethink U.S. Ties Without Trade Deal, RCN TV Says

Colombia’s Vice President Francisco Santos said the government may rethink relations with the U.S. should the U.S. Congress fail to approve the two countries’ free trade accord, RCN Television reported in its online edition.

Santos’ comments came as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, in Colombia to meet with President Alvaro Uribe, pledged backing for the free trade deal, RCN reported.

Quite frankly, Santos’ comments are mostly bravado. Given the amount of money that the Colombians get from the US, it is rather unlikely that there will be any major “rethinking” of US-Colombian relations.

Indeed, to back my point is another report from Bloomberg: Uribe Orders Santos to Correct U.S. Comments, W Radio Reports :

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ordered Vice President Francisco Santos to correct his comments saying that the government may rethink relations with the U.S. should the U.S. Congress fail to approve the two countries’ free trade accord, Radio W reported.

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Filed under: US Politics, Latin America, Colombia | Comments Off |
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Here is a transcript of an interview that Deputy SecState JOhn Negorponte gave to Colombia’s RCN TV this morning: Scoop: Negroponte IV With Adriana Vargas of RCN TV Bogotá.

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia hunts underwear robbers

Police in Colombia are searching for members of a gang who target women and steal their underwear in public.

A succession of women, mainly young women and students, have been attacked in the western city of Pereira, often at bus stops early in the morning.

The gang has become known across the city as the “knicker robbers”. They do not usually hurt their victims, instead demanding only underwear and valuables.

Police in Pereira have described the gang as “sexual maniacs”.

Gee, ya think?

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AFP: US aid to Colombia is stemming flow of cocaine: official

US aid to Colombia is helping stem the flow of cocaine coming out of the South American country, the head of Washington’s top anti-narcotics agency said here Tuesday.

“Plan Colombia is working. The amount of land used for the cultivation of coca is at an historic low in Colombia,” the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Karen Tandy, told a drug law enforcement conference in Madrid.

Of course, the cultivation metric is a favorite amongst drug warriors, never mind that it doesn’t really mean much.

Two problems:

1) Even if the numbers of hectares under cultivation in Colombia are at “historic low[s]” that doesn’t mean that a) the overall number of hectares under cultivation are at similar lows (it can be grown elsewhere, and cultivation has been increasing in Peru), and b) that still doesn’t mean that the actual supply of cocaine has been substantially altered. (Note, also, a careful reading of the first paragraph that aid is “helping”-hardly as definitive an outcome as the headline suggests).

and

2) There is still the problem that price isn’t going up, a key metric for determining if interdiction policies are actually working.

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Filed under: War on Drugs, Colombia | Comments Off |
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: U.S. Colombia aid fails to drive up cocaine price

Billions of dollars in aid to Colombia have failed to drive up the price of cocaine on American streets, the head of the top U.S. anti-narcotics agency said on Tuesday.

Officials in Washington have said crop spraying and military pressure on drug-smuggling guerrillas and paramilitaries would make cocaine more expensive in the United States following a U.S.-backed offensive launched in 2000.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief said that a higher price — a key indicator of success in the war on drugs — had failed to sustain itself for long.

Imagine that.

It seems like I recall reading somewhere that the recent spike in prices was going to be temporary and repeated pieces about how the current policies don’t work. I wonder where I read that?

And I am sorry, but this is perhaps one of the saddest examples of rationalization that I have seen in a long time:

U.S. and Colombian officials say the failure of the cocaine price to move may be due to effects including hidden stashes of cocaine coming on to the market.

Yeah, that’s it, that’s the ticket: the policies really are working, but it is just those secret stashes that are keeping prices down.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Colombia cuts drugs haul figure

The authorities in Colombia have revised the total of drugs seized in a haul on Monday from around 25 tonnes of cocaine to just over 13 tonnes.

It was found buried in 1,000 separate packages near the town of Pizarro, west of the capital, Bogota, buried in an estuary accessible only by sea.

Ok, less than originally reported, but as I have been known to say in these instances: that’s still a lot of blow.

Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos had said on Monday the haul was the “biggest in the history of Colombia”.

No explanation has been given for the sharp downward revision of the weight.

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Filed under: Latin America, War on Drugs, Colombia | Comments/Trackbacks (1) | | Show Comments here
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Colombia Seizes 27 Tons of Cocaine Worth $500 Million

Colombia’s navy made the largest drug seizure in the nation’s history when it uncovered up to 27 tons of cocaine buried along the Pacific coast, the defense minister said Monday.

The cocaine, with a wholesale value of more than $500 million, was found Sunday buried in 1,000 packages of 55 pounds each near the coastal town of Pizarro, 250 miles west of Bogota, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told a news conference.

Later, Navy Adm. Guillermo Barrera told The Associated Press by telephone that 919 packages of cocaine had been found. The different numbers could not be immediately explained. The figures put the cocaine seizure between 24 tons to 27 tons.

That’s half a billion dollars worth of cocaine. Amazing.

And the truly amazing thing is that this seizure will not significantly affect the supply of cocaine on the streets nor the price of the drug-it never does.

Technorati Tags: Cocaine, Drug Trafficking, Colombia, War on Drugs

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