Thursday, September 15, 2011

Uribe's Former Intelligence Chief Sentenced to 25 Years for Paramilitary Links

Jorge Noguera, former head of Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS), was convicted on Wednesday of working with paramilitary groups and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the 2004 killing of sociologist Alfredo Correa de Andreis. As El Espectador reports, the court found that Noguera worked closely with leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia –AUC) to carry out assassinations of trade unionists, journalists and academics during ex-President Alvaro Uribe’s first term in office. Noguera was also convicted of destroying public documents to avoid incrimination.

This is not the first time that a politician close to Uribe has been convicted of corruption. Two of Uribe’s closest advisers are currently in prison, one for using his position to grant agricultural subsidies to a political ally, and the other for ordering the DAS to spy on judges, journalists and opposition politicians. However, as the Washington Post points out, the sentence is the harshest yet granted to a figure in Uribe’s 2002-2010 administration. Even as other members of his cabinet came under investigation, Uribe unwaveringly supported Noguera. Yesterday Uribe responded to the decision via his personal Twitter page, saying:  “I have trusted him, if he had committed an offense, it pains me and I offer apologies to the citizenry.”

Although Uribe himself is not currently under investigation, it appears that scrutiny towards him is increasing, and pressure is mounting for him to be tried in person. According to Semana, former opposition lawmaker Ivan Cepeda has called on the federal prosecutor to open a probe into Uribe for alleged ties to paramilitaries while he was governor of Antioquia department. Meanwhile, a September 8 Gallup poll found that these allegations have taken a toll on Uribe’s once-soaring popularity.  In just two weeks, Uribe’s approval rating has dropped four points, from 67 to 63.

News Briefs
  • CNN and Latin America News Dispatch report that two individuals have apparently been targeted for criticizing the Zetas via blogs that report on organized crime. On Tuesday officials in Nuevo Laredo discovered the mutilated bodies of a man and woman hanging from a bridge in the city, accompanied by a sign which read: "This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet. You better (expletive) pay attention. I'm about to get you." The sign was signed with the Zetas’ trademark “Z,” and also explicitly mentioned one of the most popular blogs that reports on drug violence, El Blog del Narco.
  • Meanwhile, despite the ongoing violence in the country, Financial Times’ Adam Thomson argues that multinational corporations remain relatively unaffected by the violence. Thomson uses Nestlé as an example, pointing out that the Swiss company has claimed to notice “no significant change” in relation to the security of its goods or vehicles in Mexico. 
  • Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard furthers a more comprehensive definition of “border security” in an essay for the Immigration Policy Center. In "How to Fix a Broken Border: Hit the Cartels Where It Hurts," Goddard calls for more bilateral cooperation, immigration reform, and increased crackdowns on the finances of cartel bosses.
  • As pointed out in yesterday’s post, former Governor Bill Richardson’s recent trip to Cuba failed to result in the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who is currently jailed on espionage charges. In reponse to criticism from Richardon, it seems that officials on the island are striking back. The AP reports that Cuba has accused Richardson of "blackmail,” and “slander,” contradicting his claims that he was first invited to the island to negotiate Gross’s release.
  • In other Cuba news, career diplomat John Caulfield began his three year post as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  AP says Caulfield has previously expressed doubt about the success of his work owing to Gross’s incarceration.
  • Around 300 protesters gathered in Port au Prince yesterday to protest the presence of  UN peacekeeping troops in the country. BBC reports that the protest was broken up with tear gas and police in riot gear. While the protest was relatively small, it was the latest sign of tensions between Haitians and UN forces in the country. On top of general anger over a cholera outbreak likely introduced by Nepalese forces, in July a video emerged online allegedly showing the sexual assault of an 18-year-old Haitian man by U.N. peacekeepers from Uruguay.
  • Although recent news reports in U.S. media have framed the victory of General Otto Perez Molina as a popular endorsement of his proposed “mano dura” strategy for lowering crime, an op-ed in La Prensa Libre by Samuel Perez Attias suggests otherwise. Perez Attias points out that polls reveal as much as 70 percent of Guatemalans have little interest in politics and only 8 percent have ever participated in protests, indicating that very little in the way of democratic space exists in Guatemalan society.
  • The Economist profiles the first few months of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s term, emphasizing how Humala has deflected criticism from opponents by demonstrating willingness to dialogue and implementing his agenda gradually. Meanwhile, AP reports on the work of former musician Susana Baca, who Humala appointed as the country’s first black Cabinet minister.
  • With Venezuelan elections set for Octobet 7, 2012, Reuters reports that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has already begun to campaign, and is optimistic about his victory. The changed deadline has been the subject of much criticism, but the wire agency points out that it could potentially be an advantage for the opposition given its lesser resources.

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