Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Colombian Ex-Paramilitary Boss Spills Details of Govt Plot

A Colombian former paramilitary chief has testified that his organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), worked with the government and the country’s intelligence agency, the DAS, to carry out a plot to spy on and discredit the Supreme Court during the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe. He also said that the AUC helped spy on journalists and opposition figures.

Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” gave his statements to Colombian courts via videolink from the US prison where he is serving a sentence for drug trafficking. This is the first testimony he has given since suspending his cooperation with Colombian justice in 2010.

Key members of the Uribe administration have already been jailed as they await trial for colluding with the DAS to carry out illegal wiretapping of perceived opponents, though no mud has so far been made to legally stick to the former president himself. The victims included members of the Supreme Court, as well as journalists and opposition groups. But Don Berna’s testimony breaks new ground in providing testimony of the AUC’s involvement. As La Silla Vacia puts it;
Don Berna is the first of the heads of the paramilitaries to admit in court that there was a “partnership” between the paras and the government of Alvaro Uribe, in this case to discredit the Supreme Court.
The plot against the court was pushed forward, according to the ex-commander, with a meeting between Don Berna’s representatives and close presidential aides at the presidential palace in Bogota in 2008 to hand over information on the court to the government. As Colombia Reports explains, the court was at the time investigating the ties between the paramilitaries and allies of Uribe, in what was known as the “parapolitics” scandal. Don Berna said that "The idea was to find a way to discredit the court so that it would lose credibility in its investigations." He claims that he was transferred to La Picota prison in Bogota in the late 2000s not as a punishment, as the government claimed at the time, but to make it easier to work with the government in their plot against the Supreme Court.

Journalist Daniel Coronell, himself a victim of wiretapping, reported on the accusations, saying that, if Don Berna’s testimony is corroborated, "it becomes clear that the so-called meeting of the 'Casa de Nari' [presidential palace] (April 2008) was another link in a criminal operation that included wiretapping, surveillance and financial tracking against judges and journalists."

Don Berna said that the AUC had been closely allied with the DAS, which had offered logistical support and protection to his men;
When [now jailed ex-DAS director] Jorge Noguera was appointed, [AUC] commander "Jorge 40" told the majority of commanders that someone who had his full confidence had reached the top and that we could count on him for whatever we needed.
The ex-commander said that the DAS had given him equipment to carry out secret recordings of opposition figures, which were then handed over to the government. Former president of the court, Jaime Arrubla, said that Don Berna’s testimony proved what he and his magistrates had been claiming for years, and that people had called them paranoid.

The DAS’s dissolution has been on the table since the wiretapping scandal broke in February 2009, and is now being carried out.

Don Berna’s testimony implicates the Uribe administration still more closely in murky dealings with the AUC, and could be a precursor to Uribe himself facing legal consequences. As Colombia Reports puts it, “The former president has always defended his subordinates and has accused Colombia's Prosecutor General's Office and Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras of politically persecuting members of his administration.” The united front of his inner circle could, however, be starting to crack.

News Briefs

  • Mexico’s ambassador to Venezuela was kidnapped along with his wife in Caracas, and held for some four hours before being released in a slum area of the city, reports the Wall Street Journal. They were abducted while leaving a party around midnight on Sunday, in what is known as an “express kidnapping,” where the victims are only held for a brief period while their personal effects are stolen, and sometimes a small ransom negotiated. El Universal reports that government sources say the couple were released after negotiations involving the Mexican authorities, and the payment of a ransom. The incident follows the kidnappings of a Chilean diplomat and a US baseball player in November last year.
  • A new report by Global Financial Integrity calculates that Mexico’s economy lost some $872 billion between 1970 and 2010 to illicit financial outflows, including money laundering and tax evasion. This is worth more than 5 percent of the country’s GDP, and the group’s head called it an “enormously damaging drainage of resources.” Shannon K. O’Neil at CFR says that “The report’s most interesting finding is that this illicit capital is not necessarily or mostly drug money. Instead it comes from Mexico’s large underground economy. In these markets the goods being traded are not necessarily in and of themselves illegal. What’s illegal is the under-the-table way that they are bought or sold.”
  • Mexico is facing the most severe drought it has ever suffered, reports the New York Times, leaving some 2 million people without access to water. The Tarahumara indigenous people are among the worst affected, and are undergoing a serious food crisis. The Mexican Army said that the drought has also affected marijuana and opium poppy growers, with experts noting that traffickers are increasingly turning to synthetic drugs, like methamphetamine, which are more reliable.
  • Former Haitian dictator dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka “Baby Doc,” should not stand trial for human rights abuses including torture and murder, but only on corruption charges, according to a ruling by a judge in that country. The WSJ hints at political reasons behind the ruling, pointing out that current Haitian President Michael Martelly is widely considered to be sympathetic to the ex-leader, and has argued that a trial could cause further divisions in the country. Human Rights Watch criticized the decision, which will be reviewed by the attorney general, saying that it would “entrench Haiti's culture of impunity by denying justice for Duvalier's thousands of victims.”
  • Bloggings by Boz and the Mex Files look at the chances of Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, noting that his chances could be seriously improved by various errors on the part of rival Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, who has admitted to the existence of various children conceived with other women during his marriage to his now-dead wife.
  • IPS reports that support for Honduran leader Porfirio Lobo has dropped to its lowest points in his two years in power, averaging some 4.6 points out of 10 in a recent poll, with rising violence and insecurity at the heart of the discontent.
  • Upside Down World looks at a hydroelectric dam project in Santander, east Colombia, which, three years into its construction, “has already decimated the traditional local economy, wrecked the eco-system and disrupted the social and cultural life of the community.” Residents claim they were not properly consulted over the project, which is set to provide some 10 percent of the country’s electricity.
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ argues that promises of reform by Cuba’s regime get more coverage than the death of a dissident on hunger strike; “while Raul Castro's announcements about 'reform' have made headlines and topped television news around the globe, we had hardly heard of Villar Mendoza or the resistance movement he belonged to.”

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