Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Semana: Colombia Intelligence Agents Trained Paramilitaries to Make Bombs

Not only did Colombian intelligence agency the DAS illegally wiretap dozens of President Alvaro Uribe’s political opponents and sell intelligence to drug traffickers, but rogue agents may have also trained paramilitaries in explosives and helped orchestrate a car bomb targeting a prominent politician.

The weekend edition of Colombian newsweekly Semana, which recently gained access to thousands of the DAS’s top secret intelligence documents, examines another series of damning revelations from the database. Primarily relying on records of polygraph tests ministered by DAS agents, as well as other intelligence memos, Semana traces the DAS’s involvement in three cases involving criminal abuse of power.

The first involves at least one DAS anti-explosives expert training dozens of paramilitaries in using and making bombs, while the government carried out peace negotiations with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The second case suggests a DAS agent may have supplied the explosives used in a car bomb deployed against current Minister of the Interior, German Vargas Lleras. And in the third case of misconduct, at least five DAS agents participated in an assassination attempt targeting alleged paramilitary warlord and “Emeralds Tsar” Victor Carranza in March 2010.

Many of these allegations have been public knowledge for some time. The DAS’s history of collaboration with the AUC -- which includes helping the paramilitary group traffic drugs and launder the proceeds, as well as sharing intelligence -- led to the agency being nicknamed the “three letter letter cartel” by AUC commanders, according to the organization’s former head of intelligence. The DAS is set to be officially dissolved on October 31 and replaced with a new intelligence agency, although it’s likely that many current employees -- if not the DAS's stained reputation -- will transfer over.

News Briefs

  • Chile reinstated the national military draft, citing a shortage in the armed forces as a result of the mass student protests calling for education reform. Over 14,000 volunteers have apparently signed up so far this year, but the military said more than 11,000 more candidates are needed, because many do not actually end up serving in the military. Chile also faced a shortage in its military last year and instituted a draft, but given today’s tense political climate (and the fact that university students may be drafted), the move could fuel more discontent among protesters.
  • Global Voices reports on another controversy in the making for President Piñera’s administration: Congress is attempting to pass a law criminalizing the occupation of public and privately owned buildings. Much like the government’s move to install a harsher penal code, which would subject demonstrators to more severe punishments under law, the proposed legislation will likely draw criticism that is intended primarily to deter the education reform movement.
  • Venezuelan opposition candidate and former Caracas mayor Leopoldo Lopez might not legally be able to accept the office of president if he wins the election, thanks a ruling by the Supreme Court, reports the Associated Press. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled recently that Lopez could run for office, negating several measures by Venezuela’s top anti-corruption official which barred him from holding public office. Venezuela’s Supreme Court upheld the ruling, but the Court’s president hinted that Lopez may face more legal trouble ahead if he indeed runs for and wins the presidency.
  • Mexican authorities, including President Felipe Calderon, said yesterday that the 61 people reportedly kidnapped by criminal gang the Zetas were migrants. This weekend the army rescued the hostages -- 60 Mexicans and one Honduran -- from a safe house in border city Piedras Negras. Authorities arrested three men whom the Mexican Attorney General’s Office say they will charge with kidnapping. The men reportedly approached the migrants at a bus station and said they would help them cross the border, for fees ranging between $600 to $3,000, then forced the hostages to work for the Zetas. The army has rescued 523 people so far this year kidnapped by criminal gangs, then forced to work for them. This appears to suggest groups like the Zetas could be facing a shortage of willing recruits in states like Coahuila, more of a stronghold for their rivals the Gulf Cartel. In the past the Zetas have targeted migrants after human smugglers failed to pay the “piso,” or tax, in exchange for moving people through the gang’s territory.
  • Iran said authorities would investigate U.S. charges that the Quds Force plotted to kill a D.C. ambassador, in collaboration with a liaison thought to represent Mexican gang the Zetas, but who was in fact a U.S. informant. Time magazine has some more analysis on the affair, noting that one of the strangest aspects of the case is that the DEA readily ceded the case to the FBI, unusual for an agency usually so protective of its informants.
  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog summarizes the effects of the record rainy season felt this year in the Central American nation, and the government’s struggle to respond. The Latin American Herald Tribune reports on the effects of floods and mudslides across the region, which has left at least 84 people dead and could yet leave hundreds more homeless. From South America, Semana examines the price of another heavy rainy season in Colombia.
  • BBC reports on a corruption scandal developing in Brazil, first broken by national magazine Veja. The magazine tracks the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars Sports Minister Orlando Silva, the latest cabinet official to face allegations of misconduct. Four have resigned or were fired from their posts since June.
  • Puerto Rico may be on track to register over 1,000 homicides this year, following 2010, the island’s second most violent year on record since 1994. Violent crime has risen in Puerto Rico, believed to be a product of local involvement in the drug trade and police incompetence.
  • Finally, the Washington Post highlights the arrival of Google Maps to an Amazonian village in Brazil.