The Colombian government hurried up to dismiss the article published by Los Angeles Times on Sunday which, quoting a CIA intelligente report, states that Mario Montoya Uribe, commander of the Colombian army,
…and a paramilitary group jointly planned and conducted a military operation in 2002 to eliminate Marxist guerrillas from poor areas around Medellin, a city in northwestern Colombia that has been a center of the drug trade.
At least 14 people were killed during the operation, and opponents of Uribe allege that dozens more disappeared in its aftermath.
The intelligence report, reviewed by The Times, includes information from another Western intelligence service and indicates that U.S. officials have received similar reports from other reliable sources.
Even though it’s not the first time that Colombians have heard allegations about links between Montoya and the paramilitaries (this site states that Montoya, when he was a lieutenant in the late 70s, was part of an anticommunist paramilitary group known as the Triple A (American Anticommunist Alliance, similar to its Argentine counterpart), which was dennounced by top militaries at the time, according to a now defunct Mexican paper), the fact that an American intelligence agency has an information of this kind is serious, as ruling politicians and Uribe’s supporters don’t believe “communist” NGOs.
Last year, one week before presidential election, ten policemen and one civilian were ambushed by a military group in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca (western Colombia), where the first were holding a counter-drug-trafficking operation. At the time, Montoya said: “We are not going to wait for a group to arrive before opening fire”. The investigation on the massacre, which according to Attorney General Mario Iguarán “was a crime; this was a deliberate decision, a criminal decision… [the soldiers] were doing the bidding of a drug trafficker”, is currently ongoing.
It’s even more serious if we realize that Montoya Uribe is one of the closest people to President Álvaro Uribe, even before he was elected in 2002. There have been more allegations, even before the operation quoted by L. A. Times:
[A] recently declassified diplomatic cable sent by Patterson’s predecessor, Curtis Kamman, the previous June, reported that the U.S.-funded First Counternarcotics Battalion was “bedding down” at the headquarters of the 24th Brigade’s 31st Battalion in Santa Anna just outside Puerto Asis and that the two units were sharing facilities and intelligence. Human Rights Watch documents further ties between the two units in its 2002 annual report:
“The U.S. violated the spirit of its own laws and in some cases downplayed evidence of ties between the Colombian armed forces and paramilitary groups in order to continue funding abusive units. Compelling evidence emerged, in particular, of ties between paramilitaries and Colombian military units deployed in the U.S. antinarcotics campaign in southern Colombia, showing that U.S.-vetted, -funded, and -trained troops were mixing freely with units that maintained close ties with paramilitaries. This occurred in the case of the First and Second Counternarcotics Battalions. On their first joint deployment in December 2000, these battalions depended heavily on the army’s Twenty-Fourth Brigade for support and logistical assistance, particularly with regard to intelligence, civic-military outreach, and psychological operations. Yet there was abundant and credible evidence to show that the Twenty-Fourth Brigade regularly worked with and supported paramilitary groups in the department of Putumayo. Indeed, the Twenty-Fourth Brigade hosted counternarcotics battalion troops at its facilities in La Hormiga—a town where, according to witnesses, paramilitaries and Colombian Army troops were indistinguishable.”
At the time, Montoya was the head of the U. S. -funded Joint Task Force South, and of course those operations were on his charge. L. A. Times even goes beyond:
The allied intelligence agency said its informant was a yet-unproven source and cautioned that the report was to be treated as raw intelligence.
But the document also included a comment from the defense attache of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Col. Rey A. Velez: “This report confirms information provided by a proven source.”
According to the document, the attache said information from the proven source “also could implicate” the head of the Colombian armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla de Leon, who commanded the military in Barranquilla, in northern Colombia, during the same period.
After Uribe was elected in 2002 on a platform of tough measures against the rebels, he quickly organized the Medellin offensive. It was commanded by Montoya, 57, who hails from the same northern region of Colombia as the president.
Operation Orion sent 3,000 Colombian army soldiers and police, supported by heavily armed helicopter gunships, though a vast shantytown area controlled by Colombia’s largest left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The operation has been widely considered a success and has been a key to Uribe’s popularity. But there have long been allegations that after the army swept through, the paramilitaries filled the power vacuum, asserting their control with killings, disappearances and other crimes.
As Montoya remains silent, will Uribe say that CIA agents, or the military attache, are “terrorists in business suits”, as he labels the people who don’t support him? Let’s see how this story develops, unless another “smoke screen” appears.