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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Colombia: Massacre at El Salado - Conspiracy of Silence?

National Security Archive - The United States harbored serious concerns about the potential involvement of Colombian security forces in the February 2000 massacre at El Salado, an attack that occurred while the two countries were hammering out the final details of the massive military aid package known as Plan Colombia, according to declassified documents posted today on the National Security Archive Web site.

Orchestrated and carried out by paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), an illegal paramilitary army, there have long been allegations that Colombian security forces, including those from the Colombian Navy's 1st Marine Infantry Brigade, facilitated the massacre by vacating the town before the carnage began and constructing roadblocks to delay the arrival of humanitarian aid. U.S. assistance under Plan Colombia required the Colombian military to demonstrate progress in breaking ties with paramilitary forces.

The documents described in the article below—and in Spanish on the Web site of Semana (Colombia's leading news magazine)—show that U.S. officials had significant doubts about the credibility of their Colombian military counterparts and were well aware, even before El Salado, of the propensity of the Colombian military to act in concert with illegal paramilitary forces, whether through omission or commission.

These findings also complement those of Memoria Histórica, an independent group charged by Colombia's National Commission on Reparations and Reconciliation with investigating the history of the country's armed conflict. Its report on El Salado, La Masacre de El Salado: Esa Guerra No Era Nuestra (The El Salado Massacre: That Was Not Our War), was released this week before audiences in El Salado and Bogotá.

Highlights from the documents include:

  • The U.S. Embassy's record of a January 1999 meeting in which Colombia's deputy army commander said that the Army "had no business pursuing paramilitaries" as they were "apolitical common criminals" that "did not threaten constitutional order through subversive activities."
  • Another 1999 report from U.S. military sources found that the Colombian armed forces had "not actively persecuted paramilitary group members because they see them as allies in the fight against the guerrillas, their common enemy."
  • A U.S. military source who opined that evidence indicating some of the paramilitary members were wearing Colombian Army uniforms suggested "that many of the paramilitaries are ex-military members, or that they obtain the uniforms from military or ex-military members."
  • State Department talking points that pointed to the capture of a mere 11 of the 450 perpetrators of the massacre as evidence that the military had actively pursued the perpetrators and was improving its record against paramilitaries.
  • A U.S. Embassy cable based on a conversation with a source apparently close to the investigation who strongly suggested that the Colombian military knew about the massacre ahead of time, cleared out of the town before the killing began and "had been lucky in capturing the eleven paramilitary members."
  • A document casting doubt on the military's explanation of its role in El Salado, including the U.S. Embassy's view that it was "difficult to believe that the town of El Salado had not been subject to threats of an attack prior to the massacre, considering the town is situated in a high conflict area."
  • A U.S. Embassy report on Admiral Rodrigo Quiñones, one of the military members alleged to have facilitated the massacre, noting that "an unmistakable pattern of similar allegations has followed him almost everywhere he has held field command."

Conspiracy of Silence?
Colombia, the United States and the Massacre at El Salado

By Michael Evans

The question of the exact role played by Colombian security forces in the February 2000 El Salado massacre occupies a small but crucial part of the new report issued this week by Memoria Histórica (Historical Memory), the independent group charged by Colombia’s National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation with writing the history of Colombia’s internal conflict. A long overdue account of one of the most horrific and indiscriminate paramilitary atrocities in Colombian history, the report is also a stinging indictment of the culture of impunity that has long shielded members of the Colombian security forces from justice.

The killings unfolded over five fateful days during which time hundreds of paramilitaries, mostly from the Bloque Norte (Northern Bloc), descended upon El Salado and other towns in the region, leaving behind a trail of torture, mayhem and murder that left 60 people dead and forced thousands from their homes, most of whom have never returned.

But while the paramilitary authors of the El Salado massacre were identified long ago, the exact role of the Colombian military has never been definitively established. Nevertheless, and despite very limited access to military records on the case, the report is adamant about the responsibility of the Colombian state.

The El Salado massacre raises not only the question of omission but also the action of the [Colombian] State. Omission in the development of the acts because it is not understandable how the security forces were neither able to prevent nor neutralize the paramilitary action. A massacre that lasted five days and that involved 450 paramilitaries, of which only 15 were captured a week after the massacre ended.*

For the United States, the potential involvement of the Colombian security forces in paramilitary crimes was the crux of the matter. The killings came as the development of Plan Colombia was in its final stages—a package that called for massive increases in aid for the Colombian military, but would also require the Colombian government to show that the military was severing longstanding ties with paramilitary forces.

Declassified records from the era show just how low the bar had been set for the Colombian military. In the view of the U.S. Embassy, the fact that Colombian security forces had captured a mere 11 of the 450 paramilitaries involved in what it characterized "an indiscriminate orgy of drunken violence" was actually reassuring. In its first report on El Salado, sent to Washington just days after the killings, the Embassy, under Ambassador Curtis Kamman, said it was "the first time Post can recall that the military, in this case the Marines, pursued paramilitaries in the wake of atrocities in the region with some vigor." El Salado, it seemed, was a military success story, and the Embassy had little else to say about El Salado for nearly five months.

The United States should not have been too surprised by the allegations that security forces were involved at El Salado. During the previous year, U.S. officials had frequently expressed doubts about the willingness of the military to combat paramilitary forces.

  • During a January 1999 meeting with NGO representatives organized by the Colombian armed forces and attended by U.S. Embassy staff, Deputy Army Commander General Nestor Ramirez said that the Army "had no business pursuing paramilitaries" as they were "apolitical common criminals" that "did not threaten constitutional order through subversive activities."
  • Another 1999 report from U.S. military sources found that the Colombian armed forces had "not actively persecuted paramilitary group members because they see them as allies in the fight against the guerrillas, their common enemy."
  • The United States was also well aware of the "body count syndrome" that fueled human rights abuses in the Colombian security forces. Intelligence reports from throughout the 1990s described "death squad activity" among the armed forces. A Colombian Army colonel told the U.S. that the emphasis on body counts "tends to fuel human rights abuses by well-meaning soldiers trying to get their quota to impress superiors" and that it led to a "cavalier, or at least passive, approach when it comes to allowing the paramilitaries to serve as proxies … for the [Colombian Army] in contributing to the guerrilla body count."
  • Evidence of military participation in the 1999 La Gabarra massacres left little doubt that there were military officers who viewed paramilitary forces as allies in the fight against guerrillas. Army Col. Victor Hugo Matamoros, with responsibility for the region around La Gabarra, told Embassy staff that he did not pursue paramilitaries in his area of operations. Separately, the Vice President’s office told the Embassy that Colombian Army troops had "donned AUC armbands" and participated in one of the massacres.

Eerily similar patterns emerged just a few weeks after El Salado. In March, U.S. military sources reported on the movements of Colombian security forces in the days around the killings. Buried beneath the details in one Intelligence Information Report is a short paragraph, based on an unidentified source, indicating that "many of the captured paramilitaries were wearing Colombian military uniforms." This, the source said, suggested "that many of the paramilitaries are ex-military members, or that they obtain the uniforms from military or ex-military members."

Even so, it was apparently not until July, when the New York Times published a detailed investigation of the alleged military complicity in the massacre, that the Embassy began to take the allegations seriously. Among other things, the Times article found that Colombian police and marine forces had vacated the town before the killings began, set up roadblocks to prevent humanitarian aid to reach the town, and otherwise did nothing to stop the paramilitary carnage. Still, State Department talking points drawn up to respond to press inquiries about the case again pointed to the capture of 11 of the paramilitaries as evidence that security forces had actively pursued the perpetrators.

Days after the New York Times story, the Embassy sent a cable to Washington summarizing what it knew about El Salado and the status of the investigation. Repeated requests by the National Security Archive have now produced two very different versions of this cable, telling two very different stories. A copy of the cable declassified in 2002 omits several paragraphs that were later declassified in a version released in December 2008. These portions of the document, based on a conversation with a source apparently close to the investigation, strongly suggest that the Colombian Army knew about the massacre ahead of time and cleared out of the town before the killing began.

[Source] believes that the Army likely knew from intelligence reports that the paramilitaries were in the area, but left prior to the massacre. The paramilitaries then entered in trucks from Magdalena, went to Ovejas first and then onto El Salado…

The source also believed that the military "had been lucky in capturing the eleven paramilitary members," adding that "the military was attacked at La Esmerelda ranch and then proceeded to detain eleven paramilitary members after successfully overtaking them." The new information seemed to change the conversation. For the Embassy, the question now was not whether the military had been involved, but rather, to what "degree."

U.S. Embassy suspicions about the military’s role in El Salado are also evident in an August 2000 cable on a briefing given the Embassy by Colonel Carlos Sánchez García of the Navy’s 1st Marine Infantry Brigade. Sánchez defended the actions of his unit, saying, among other things, that military resources were stretched thin and that they "did not receive any prior knowledge of an attack in or around the area of El Salado."

A version of this cable declassified in 2001 lets Col. Sánchez’s explanation stand on its own, omitting any further analysis. However, a more complete version of this same document, declassified in 2008, includes portions of the document not previously released that question the credibility of Col. Sánchez.

Comment: Colonel Sanchez stated that his purpose was to present the Embassy with the Brigade’s version of events surrounding El Salado and dispute allegations made in the July 14 New York Times article. Because Colonel Sanchez was dispatched for this purpose, his report should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Embassy also doubted Sánchez’s assertion that his unit had no prior knowledge of the paramilitary incursion.

It is difficult to believe that the town of El Salado had not been subject to threats of an attack prior to the massacre, considering the town is situated in a high conflict area.

Ultimately, the question of military culpability in El Salado came to revolve around Sánchez’s commander, Admiral Rodrigo Quiñones Cárdenas, an officer dogged throughout his career by allegations of human rights abuses, assassinations, drug trafficking and complicity with paramilitaries.

In 1994, Quiñones was investigated for the murders of more than 50 unionists, journalists, politicians, human rights workers and other individuals in Barrancabermeja, then considered a guerrilla stronghold. His ultimate exoneration by a military tribunal did little to quell suspicions about his links to death squads and paramilitaries. Despite a reprimanded issued in October 1998 by the Colombian Attorney General’s office for the Barrancabermeja killings, Quiñones was promoted to the rank of rear admiral that same year.

Quiñones was certainly no stranger to the United States. As Director of Naval Intelligence in the early 1990s, he was in frequent contact with his U.S. counterparts, including a meeting with the U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence in 1993. A U.S. military biographic sketch of Quiñones from 1992 listed numerous details about his personal habits ("Enjoys reading," "Teeth – Yes/Natural") and noted that he participated in "unknown training" at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia.

With respect to El Salado, Quiñones has long maintained that he was in Bogotá during the killings, and thus not responsible for the actions of the brigade at that time. A strong alibi in place, Quiñones was also sanctioned for El Salado, leading Memoria Histórica to lament that certain lines of investigation were not followed. Why, the report asks, did the Procuraduría not look at the information available to the Brigade in the months before the attack?

If it is indeed certain that [Quiñones] was in Bogotá when the paramilitary incursion began, beginning on February 15, and in this sense the operational decisions on the ground were the responsibility of Colonel Sánchez García, it is also certain that as Commander of the First Brigade of the Marine Infantry, Rear Admiral Quiñones Cárdenas should have known of information that, according to the Inspector General of Colombia, the First Brigade received in the preceding months about the Self-Defense Forces and about the risk to the population living in the Montes de María. Information that, in accordance with the evaluation of the Inspector General, should have served to prevent the paramilitary incursion, and not only to counteract it when it was already happening.

Why too did the Procuraduría’s inquiry not scrutinize the actions of Quiñones after his return from Bogotá on February 18?

Then-Colonel Quiñones Cárdenas returned from Bogotá to his base on February 18, and for this reason it would have been reasonable to investigate not only his actions before and during the paramilitary incursion, but also his actions after the incursion.

In any case, Quiñones was promoted to the rank of rear admiral in the wake of El Salado, and it was not until 2001, after allegations that he was involved in yet another paramilitary attack, that the Embassy finally turned up the pressure on Quiñones. U.S. documents on the August 2001 Chengue massacre are few and highly excised, but the existing record leaves little doubt that by 2002 the Embassy had had enough of Quiñones and was ready to cut him loose. In April 2002, the Embassy requested the revocation of his visa, but not for his involvement in assassinations or paramilitary massacres. Rather, the State Department used the only evidence it was willing to bring to bear: "information indicating that he had received payments from narcotraffickers"—adding yet another serious crime to the increasingly long list of allegations against Quiñones.

The cancellation of his visa effectively ended the Quiñones’s career, a fact confirmed by Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez during the announcement of his "voluntary" resignation. And while he has never truly faced justice for the killings in Barrancabermeja, or his supposed role in El Salado and Chengue, it seems clear that the sheer number of denunciations leveled against him throughout his career finally forced his removal. Reporting his resignation to Washington, the Embassy noted that although "establishing Quiñones’s guilt in any particular case is problematic, an unmistakable pattern of similar allegations has followed him almost everywhere he has held field command."

The real debate about El Salado is not about its authors or its magnitude, but about the culture of impunity that has prevented an honest investigation of security force members tied to the killings. As important as the new report is to the preservation of historical memory, the story will remain incomplete as long as the military continues to deny the group meaningful access to its records on the case. So too has the U.S. been unwilling to declassify many of its key records on the El Salado case. Repeated requests for reports specifically cited in the documents described above have been stonewalled by the Pentagon and other agencies.

Without access to these records, we may never know exactly what the United States knew about military complicity in El Salado or whether the massacre had any impact at all on the development of the aid package then being prepared for Colombian security forces, nor will we know whether the U.S. government’s tepid response to the case was due to simple negligence, poor analysis, or an active effort to assist in the cover-up of the military’s role in El Salado.

Michael Evans is director of the Colombia Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. The Colombia Project would like to thank the Fund for Constitutional Government for its generous support of this investigation and the John Merck Fund for its continuing support of the Colombia Project.

* All translations by Michael Evans

Published by Mike Hitchen i On Global Trends, world news, analysis, opinion
Putting principles before profits

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Summer of the Patriarch

Translated by: Nancy Bieter, a CSN volunteer translator

By: Héctor Abad Faciolince
IN LATIN AMERICA, but for a pair of exceptions, we have renounced the gradual progress of liberal democracy and have chosen the illusion of the Providential Man and the prodigal son.
Amongst our neighboring lands is the belief that miraculously, at dawn, we can emerge from poverty and isolation with Indian or mestizo dictators;  here we believe that thanks to our great white leader we can reach the end of the scourge of insecurity and guerilla savagery. In seven years, although he has tamed the brutality of the FARC and curtailed kidnappings, the guerillas have not been eliminated, and the lewd paramilitary groups have enjoyed a resurgence along with the organic manure of their narco-trafiking, forming gangs that impose their will with blood in the marginalized neighborhoods and amongst the rural poor.  But he presents himself as The Savior and the people (the divine voice) believe it still.
We will see in 12 years how the leader Uribe succeeds with the FARC, but perhaps they will need not four more years, but eight, or perhaps 16 or 20 (or maybe 40 or 50 like Fidel or Franco).  Why don’t we just prepare, once and for all, a constitutional reform that permits us to have a Peron, our own Porfirio, to govern until 2030?  Or until there is a soldier for every coca plant and half the country's budget is sucked up by the pot-bellied army.
And so we will grown old watching him thrive among his powerful clique of the old and new rich. We will continue to fatten the feudal lords of sugar; we will watch the highway and waste lobbyists grow more chubby; the gifts of palm oil and flowers increase; some rich banks will continue to exploit us; urban land speculators will have too much money; weapons contractors will continue to vomit money out of their ears; the houses  of the neo-cons will come to occupy and even greater portion of their lands; the cities will explode with poverty, insecurity and the displaced people from the countryside.
And while the country is being sacked by this mafia or contractors and exploiters, we will pass our lives discussing new reforms for the Constitution to enable our Leader to continue to satisfy his incommensurable ego, his lack of humor, his appetite for dominance, his tyrannical tirades, his smug and devious ways of presenting himself as a well-mannered dictator.
The Patriarch walks through the country and through the world on the reigns of his secretary; the Patriarch mounts his horse with the reins in his left hand and a red flag in his right; the Patriarch shouts to his children not to engage in excessive pleasures and not to enrich themselves anymore than they ought to; the Patriarch insults the press and accuses the  opposition of complicity with the guerillas; the Patriarch never yields; the Patriarch is uncompromising and does not extend any humanitarian gesture to those who have been abducted for 13 years; the Patriarch uses his rough hands to tame and dominate his colts; the Patriarch, assisted by the enormous ears of DAS, hears all, searches all, knows all, rewards all, punishes all.
We are far from the autumn of the Patriarch, farther still from his winter.  Already we have passed his happy spring, but the summer continues long, hot and dry.  And here we will be watching him scream, here we will be watching him scold us from dawn until the dark of night; here he will play on our ears, every 20th of July, speaking of country, putting his hand on his chest against his still heart.  Here will be the Patriarch, acclaimed by the State of the Opinion of the People.   And this shameful country will be crawling forward, with its bloody anger, with its thugs running loose, with its Congress of disgust,  with its military operetta, with its erratic courts, with its gringos immune from everything; with its ministers with no character ( or old clones of the Patriarch who failed to win re-election with both hands tied behind their backs), with its neighborhoods burning, with its rivers flowing with cadavers, with beggars in the streets, with its bullfighters and horseback riders hysterical with joy and the absolute impotence of those who have only the word.  
Héctor Abad Faciolince

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CSN 's official letter regarding the FTA, 9.14.09

CSN ‘s official comments submitted on Sept 14, 2009 to the Office of the United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk
Washington, D.C.

http://colombiasupport.net/2009/Laun_Comments_to_FTA_Questions-9-14-09.pdf  <http://colombiasupport.net/2009/Laun_Comments_to_FTA_Questions-9-14-09.pdf>

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why the mining project in La Colosa should not be allowed

(Translated by Silvaine Zimmermann, a CSN volunteer translator)

By Yuri Navarro and Alexey Bridges
Environmental geologist.
The environment is an intangible asset belonging to all mankind

 Wednesday March 4, 2009  

As a Colombian citizen, as a professional in the field of geology, and a resident of the town of El Espinal (Tolima), which is in the area of influence of the Colosa mine, I have written to the Ministry of Environment requesting that no exploration or mining should be authorized in those areas designated as environmentally protected or restricted for the development of renewable natural resources.

Some reasons for this request are as follows:
Exploration stage
It involves the removal of approximately 515 acres of forest reserve in Andean forests and wilderness areas, whose soils are characterized by a high content of organic matter, which play an important role in water regulation for the Coello River Basin.

In this type of project, in order to recover one gram of gold, one ton of earth is removed; so if the project is to be profitable, more than 300 million tons of earth will have to be removed, using around 800 thousand tons of dynamite, which has an impact on the ecosystem that we do not know how to mitigate.

In the concession area there are 161 natural drainage areas that provide water to different socio-economic activities that are performed in the department of Tolima, such as aqueducts for the municipalities of Espinal and Coello and soon the alternate aqueduct of Ibague as well. Moreover, as a result of the use of the Usocoello irrigation district’s water resources (an area of 63 hectares), approximately 1,800 farmers and other users of the district who plant rice, sorghum and fruits, will enter into crisis due to the ensuing pollution and scarcity of water resources.
Operational phase
The exploitation or extraction process can last 20 years, which will affect 9,500 hectares around the base zone located on the El Diamante, in the municipality of Cajamarca.

To extract the gold (which is scattered in small amounts in rocks) given its low tenor, will be by open pit mining methods and the use of cyanide and other lethal toxic substance. These, when in contact with eyes, skin or inhaled, also destroys wildlife.

Finally, I endorse the 20 points presented by the Prosecutor's Office for Environmental Affairs, Claudia Cristina Serrano Evers in a letter to Bertha Cruz Forero, director of Ecosystem Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development, in which she relates to the possible effects on our natural resources if the removal of the work area from the protected zone is authorized and approved for exploration and gold mining.

The representative of the Attorney General notes that the technical reports conclude that "the impacts that would be generated by mining the (environmentally protected) area would be negative and they would be massive (on a large scale)":

1. Irreversible alteration and destruction of native environments in the area of operation, and impacts on adjacent natural environments s such as the transfer of highly noxious agents via processes of infiltration, runoff and wind transport.

2. Deforestation of large areas of native forests, secondary forests and moors. This deforestation would cause unique biotopes to disappear from the ecosystems in question, whose highly adapted biodiversity has a relatively low rate of metabolism.

3. Removal of vegetation buffer exacerbates the effects of erosion and sedimentation.

4. Reduction in surface area, volume and density of the original ecological forest cover. The smaller endemic environments that exist, the greater the loss of biodiversity.

5. Loss of vegetation cover, which causes the drainage of surface water and groundwater to be altered to a high degree, thus leading to sudden increases or decreases in availability of water resources for the communities within the area of direct influence of the project .

6. Loss of biodiversity alpha, gamma and beta, mainly birds, amphibians and macroinvertebrates.

7. Contamination of water bodies in the area of direct and indirect influence of the project, with sediment, heavy metals, solid waste and pathogens.

8. Changes in the hydraulic structure of the soil.

9. Soil compaction.

10. Alteration of temperature.

11. Alteration of texture and structure.

12. Reduction of interception and infiltration capacity of the ground.

13. Geomorphologically irreversible changes in ecological time between one and one hundred years, only recoverable in centuries and millennia.

14. Distortion of surface and ground water basins.

15. Air pollution emissions from mobile and stationary sources of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide and particulate matter.

16. Routine and accidental contamination of surface and groundwater, soil and biota with hazardous waste residuals. There will be contamination due to acid drainage which would solubilize (dissolve-dislodge) heavy metals in the rock thus increase to the inherent  pollution load (cyanide).

17. Accidents could occur during the transport of dangerous substances (cyanide).

18. Accidental spills in the area of operation.

19. Irreversible destruction of landscape mosaics, of the cryptosystem and phynosystems as well as the aesthetic (environmental) perception of the affected site.

20. Generation of hazardous waste repositories whose contents are released during varying periods of time despite the use of geomembranes and other containment systems, even decades after the cessation of operations.

Let us reflect: It's a shame that the Government obliges us to play the  lottery so that Colombians have healthcare, that it forces us to drink liquor, to get drunk so that our children have education and now ...? Could it be that we must deliver our planet’s lungs (which is what the special forest reserve area is) so that the people of Cajamarca can collect on few miserly royalties? "In exchange for more polluting our planet? Recall that the environment is an intangible asset of the province of all mankind!

History will prove us right!


Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org



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