Monday, September 19, 2011

Worse than WikiLeaks? Secret Database of Colombia Intelligence Agency Made Public

Colombian newsweekly Semana has reviewed the partial contents of the database maintained by troubled intelligence agency the DAS, and published an overview of thousands of top-secret intelligence reports. Colombia Reports has a good summary of Semana's findings in English, which do not appear to say much of interest in relation to U.S. policy. It does say a great deal about how dysfunctional the controversial intelligence agency has become. Since former President Alvaro Uribe announced the DAS's impending dissolution in 2009, many officials began selling intelligence to the highest bidders. According to Semana, this includes Colombia's most-wanted drug lord, Daniel Barrera, alias "El Loco," and a "government which in recent years has maintained a tense relationship with Colombia," apparently a veiled reference to either Ecuador or Venezuela. According to the intelligence documents, two of Barrera' partners bribed the DAS in exchange for wiping their criminal record clean, for about one million pesos (about $500) each.

This latest account of DAS misdeeds is only one more reason to speed up the organization's dissolution. President Juan Manuel Santos has said he wants the DAS fully dismantled by November, which, according to Semana, may have given rogue agents more motivation to sell their intelligence to figures in Colombia's underworld. The DAS is best known for its role played in a wiretapping scandal, in which dozens of Uribe's political opponents (including journalists, human rights activists and Supreme Court judges) were spied on. Last week, former DAS head Jorge Noguera was sentenced to 25 years in prison for paramilitary links.

In other news:

  • Saturday, Mexican officials found slain congressman Moises Villanueva in the southern state of Guerrero, after he was reported missing on September 4. The body of his driver was also found at the scene. It was almost certainly an execution-style killing, not a botched kidnapping. The two men were still wearing the clothes they had on when they disappeared, and died after being shot in the head. The AFP reports that Villanueva is the first Mexican congressman who was murdered in more than two years.
  • The Economist examines Colombia's desperate need to improve its infrastructure. Travel between the major cities - Bogota to Medellin, Medellin to Cali - are drives that can take between eight hours (on a good day) to fourteen (during the rainy season), making it prohibitively expensive to move basic goods. President Juan Manuel Santos' government has allocated $2.2 billion for infrastructure during his term, for the construction of dozens of new and improved roads, bridges and tunnels.
  • The LA Times has a general overview of killings in Colombia by groups the government has dubbed "bandas criminales," or BACRIMS, the criminal successors to right-wing paramilitary organization the AUC. The article highlights political killings by the group: the murders of land activists, trade unionists, and small-town political candidates. Partly by dubbing the groups "BACRIMS," the government has tried to separate the current generation of criminal gangs from the paramilitaries, arguing that the only interest of the BACRIMS is the business of drug trafficking. But these political killings place the BACRIMS more firmly in the AUC's tradition. The October municipal elections will be key to judging the true influence of Colombia's BACRIMS: will they be capable of flooding municipal councils, mayor and governor offices across the country with hand-picked candidates, as the AUC was able to do?
  • In Brazil, police say they have arrested two suspects accused of killing two land activists in the Amazon earlier this year. The May 24 murder of married couple Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria Do Espirito Santo Da Silva, is among at least six killings involving land activists in the region so far this year. Most of the murders have been concentrated in the Brazilian state of Para, which registered 18 killings last year involving community organizers.
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled Friday that Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez may run for Congress, prompting criticism from President Hugo Chavez the following day. Lopez, a former district mayor of Caracas, was barred from holding political office in 2005 due to alleged corruption charges. Lopez, who has not been formally charged with any crime, has long argued for his innocence. The Inter-American Court's ruling brings him one step closer to officially declaring his candidacy for president in Venezuela. The question now is whether Venezuela's electoral board will accept the ruling and allow Lopez to run. The decision may also have implications for Venezuela's other politicians currently blacklisted from holding office, who may choose to follow suit. With Chavez heading back to Cuba for a fourth round of chemotherapy, the current opposition front-runner is Henrique Capriles, who may face a tough competitor in the still-popular Lopez if he is allowed to register in the primaries.
  • The Miami Herald has a profile of Colombia's ex-head-of-state, Alvaro Uribe, who was quite possibly one of the country's most effective presidents ever, in terms of improving security, and also one of the most polarizing. Since leaving office in 2010, Uribe has remained outspoken, especially when it comes to defending the legacy of his "Democratic Security Policy," even as some of his closest associates have gone to jail. Uribe's unwillingness to bite his tongue has led to a few public spats with current president Juan Manuel Santos, who has broken away from some of Uribe's more far-right policies, most notably when it came to repairing relations with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
  • Reporters Without Borders has a note on the September 14 murder of Peruvian radio journalist Jose Oquendo Reyes, the third journalist murdered in Peru so far this year and the second killed in a week. Reyes was reportedly investigating corruption scandals in his home state, the southern region of Ica.
  • Charter flights have resumed between Havana, Cuba, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, under the new liberalized Cuba travel police approved by the Obama administration. Another moment of optimism for Cuba-U.S. relations, which went back to their usual hostile tone last week after the failed (or rather, total lack of) negotiations for the release of an imprisoned U.S. contractor.
  • The Brookings Insistute has some valuable thoughts on the results of Guatemala's September 11 elections. "That someone like Perez-Molina has come to be seen as the most sensible and predictable, even responsible, political option in Guatemala is disturbing," the think-tank says, adding that it is unlikely that any administration will be capable of fixing the country's deep-rooted institutional problems. In a nutshell, the results of the second presidential run-off will be "mostly irrelevant:" things are unlikely to improve in Guatemala, so the only hope is that Perez-Molina doesn't make things worse, the analysis concludes.