Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Former Colombian Security Chief Pleads Guilty to Paramilitary Ties

A retired Colombian police general who served as the security chief in the Uribe administration has pleaded guilty to allegations that he had ties with right-wing paramilitaries while in office. General Mauricio Santoyo turned himself in to United States authorities last month after the Virginia’s Eastern District Court charged him with collaborating with drug traffickers and paramilitary groups.

In court yesterday, General Santoyo denied the drug charges but pleaded guilty to taking bribes from United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries in exchange for helping them evade law enforcement. He admitted that this relationship lasted from 2001 to 2008, overlapping with his 2002-2005 tenure as the security chief of then-president Alvaro Uribe. The former police general will be sentenced on November 30, and is slated to receive a prison term of no less than 10 years.

Santoyo is just the latest in a string of officials in the Uribe administration to be found guilty of criminal activity. Other politicians close to him, like intelligence chief Jorge Noguera and Congressman Mario Uribe (a cousin of the ex-president), have been arrested for conspiring with the AUC.

Despite these arrests, Uribe has maintained that he has never had any knowledge of their paramilitary ties, claiming that such allegations are part of a smear campaign by his political rivals. In the case of Santoyo, Uribe told local press yesterday that if he had had any “bad information” about the police official, he would never have promoted him. Colombian politics blog La Silla Vacia questions this claim, arguing that public prosecutors had raised several concerns about Santoyo in the early 2000s.

The allegations against Uribe are becoming harder and harder to deny, as several imprisoned AUC heads themselves have recently claimed to have ties to him. In January alias “Don Berna” told investigators that he met directly with Uribe aides, who asked him to secretly monitor members of the Colombian Supreme Court. In May another jailed AUC commander, Salvatore Mancuso, claimed to have had a hand in Uribe’s 2006 reelection, providing logistical and financial support to his campaign. He also said that he had met with Uribe in person, although he did not provide details of the meeting.


News Briefs
  • The Carter Center released a statement on Monday announcing that it had declined an invitation from the Venezuelan National Electoral Council to accompany the upcoming October 7th elections. Venezuelan electoral officials have stopped hosting full international observer missions (which have greater access to monitoring the electoral process) and now only invite foreign groups to participate in smaller, largely ceremonial "accompaniment" visits. Carter Center representatives were reportedly offered an “intermediate option,” but received the invitation too late. As Jennifer McCoy of the Center’s Americas program told the AP, “My understanding is that the (electoral council) has come to the conclusion that they no longer need international observation to give confidence to the process.” She also stressed that the move is not unusual in the region, as neither Brazil or Argentina invite foreign observers to their elections.
  • One week before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the L.A. Times has obtained a copy of the party’s updated platform on Cuba. While it calls for the continuation of restricted trade with the island, it does not contain language calling for the reversal of President Obama’s easing of travel restrictions and remissions.
  • The defense lawyer for one of the “Cuban Five,” convicted of passing on sensitive information to the Cuban government in 2001, filed an affidavit on Monday claiming that the U.S.-sponsored Radio/TV Marti “secretly paid millions of dollars to journalists” to bias the jury against his client, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Reuters takes a look at Julian Assange’s “cramped but connected” life in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. The WikiLeaks founder is staying in a small office converted into a bedroom, which he has filled with bookcases, a treadmill, a bed, and (of course) a computer. In order to make up for the lack of sunlight he receives, the wire agency reports that Assange has installed a vitamin D lamp.
  • While Ecuador has gained praise for its decision to grant Assange political asylum, the AP points out that a Belarusian citizen held in Ecuador who may be in danger of losing his asylum and being extradited back to his native country. Although he is wanted in Belarus on charges of fraud and extortion, Aliaksandr Barankov has been hailed by some as a financial crimes whistleblower, having exposed a fuel-smuggling ring with ties to the government of President Alexander Lukashenko. Barankov was granted refugee status by Ecuador in 2010, but improved ties between the country and Belarus have increased pressure on the Ecuadorean government to extradite Barankov.
  • A Honduran law passed in May 2012 designed to help clean up the country’s notoriously corrupt police force has been challenged as unconstitutional by the Honduran Public Prosecutor (Fiscalia de Defensa de la Constitucion). Honduras Culture and Politics has more on what this means for the slow pace of police reform in the country.
  • Mexico analyst Patrick Corcoran finds a flaw in a recent inflammatory article in El Proceso claiming that U.S. officials are training a Navy SEAL team to assassinate drug lord “Chapo” Guzman. As Corcoran notes, the article only quotes one anonymous source, which is a definite “red flag.”
  • The L.A. Times profiles blind CD vendors on Mexico City’s rail system; the vendors are part of the country’s informal economy, which accounts for some 30 percent of total employment.
  • With the Panama Canal undergoing an expansion, The New York Times reports that major U.S. port cities on the East Coast are struggling to accommodate an expected increase in shipping, although some ports have decided that the jump in traffic is not worth costly upgrades.
  • Finally, the Wall Street Journal with a look at Puerto Rico’s “iguana problem.” The territory is combating a wave of iguanas (a non-native species) by providing economic incentives to businesses and individuals which hunt them for their meat. While there is no market for iguana meat on the island, the government hopes to export it to other Latin American and Asian nations, creating jobs in the process.