Friday, November 16, 2012

Colombia Mercenary Scandal Draws in Ex-president Alvaro Uribe

Israeli mercenary Yair Klein has implicated former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in the training of paramilitary death squads.

In the late 80s, Klein was paid tens of thousands of dollars to go to Colombia and train paramilitaries who would go on to form the backbone of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia - the AUC.

Giving testimony via video link in the trial of former paramilitary chief “Ramon Isaza,” Klein had sparked a wave of speculation  on Tuesday by stating a landowner who went on to be president had funded the trainings but “I’m not saying the name because you know perfectly well who it is.” However, the next day when pressed on the issue he testified that he “was told” that Uribe had contributed to the training, although he never met him or received money from him personally.

According to Klein, Uribe was one of a group of landowners and cattle ranchers who had paid for the trainings along with Victor Carranza - the “Emerald Tzar” - who has long been linked to the paramilitary movement and organized crime and infamous drug trafficker and ally of Pablo Escobar Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha - “the Mexican.”

Klein also said the Colombian army was aware of and approved of the trainings and even provided arms and lent one of its bases for use in the sessions. The mercenary added that Colombia’s now defunct security agency the DAS (Department of Administrative Security) also approved the trainings, a claim supported by the testimony of ex-paramilitary Alonso de Jesus Baquero, alias ‘Vladimir,’ who claimed 5 men from the DAS were among the first to receive training.

Uribe has fiercely denied the claims, taking to Twitter to denounce Klein as “bandit” and a “coward.” Over the years, the former president has had to defend himself against a series of allegations of paramilitary connections and numerous scandals have taken down some of his closest allies and family members.

Klein was tried in absentia in the Colombian city of Manizales in 2001 for training the paramilitaries and received a sentence of 10 years, 8 months in prison. The Colombian  authorities subsequently made several failed attempts to have Klein extradited to Colombia. However, he is now free to enter the country again after the penalty officially expired earlier this year.

News Briefs
  • The Cuban government has submitted a “draft agenda” for negotiations to improve relations with the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. While the document is mostly a reiteration of previous positions taken by Cuba, with such points as lifting all U.S. sanctions and removing Cuba from the U.S. list of countries with links to international terrorism, the agenda also hinted at a possible swap of five Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S. for Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for  illegally setting up Internet networks in Cuba.
  • InSight Crime analyzses the plans of Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to reorganize the country’s security agencies. The proposed reforms would eliminate the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and place the functions of internal security -- including crime prevention, the penitentiary system, and the Federal Police -- under the control of the Interior Ministry - a move back to the system in place under the last PRI government, which ended in 2000. While some have speculated the reforms represent a change in direction from current President Felipe Calderon, InSight argues “it is too early to tell to what degree Peña Nieto will break with his predecessor's policies.”
  • Colombian police have arrested three men in connection with last week’s massacre of 10 farmers in Santa Rosa de Osos, Colombia Reports reports. One of the suspects is alleged to have been actively involved in the murder, while the other two are accused of indirect involvement. Yesterday, the authorities accused a former commander of the Rastrojos known as “Jorge 18” - whose real name was not given - as having ordered the assault. Jorge 18 was arrested several weeks ago and allegedly heads a breakaway group of former Rastrojos known as the Renacentistas.
  • The AP reports on Jamaica’s plans to abolish colonial era statutes on flogging. Dating from British rule, when most of the population were slaves, the law currently allows punishment whippings with a tamarind-tree switch or a cat o'nine tails, although the last person to receive such a punishment was in 1997.
  • Proposals to legalize cannabis in Uruguay have taken a step closer to becoming reality after a bill detailing how legalization would work was submitted to the Uruguayan Congress, the New York Times reports. If passed, the bill would allow citizens to grow up to six marijuana plants and to buy 1.4 ounces of marijuana every month. It would also allow for the licensing of marijuana clubs with up to 15 members, 90 plants and an annual production limit of nearly 16 pounds. Advertising and exports would be banned, and a regulatory institute would be created to control the drug’s production and distribution. The AP compares the legislation with new laws approved by voters earlier this week legalizing cannabis in Colorado and Washington state. 
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has a report examining the latest developments in the case of the 1989 massacre of  of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her teenage daughter at the Central American University (UCA) in El Salvador.  With it looking increasingly likely that a high ranking army officer will be charged for the killing, the report argues “ it could begin to balance the dialectic between impunity and accountability to the side of accountability.”
  • The Guardian features an article and short video looking at the Brazilian government’s efforts to stop deforestation caused by the rapid expansion of soy farming through the deployment of 1,400 “high-tech environmental cops.” Any progress, the article it notes, is likely to be hampered by proposed new legislation loosening Amazon protection measures. 
  • Also from Brazil, The Inter Press Service has the latest on theGuarani–Kaiowá indigenous people and their land rights struggle against soy and sugar cane farmers. A statement from a Guarani-Kaiowa community occupying ancestral lands that are being used for agribusiness said that removing them would result in a “collective death.” This was widely reported as the threat of a mass suicide, the article reports, prompting the government to revoke an eviction notice. 
  • Amnesty International reports on the efforts of a Guatemalan forensic anthropologist, who conducts genetic studies aimed at identifying the remains of the victims of the disappearances and massacres that took place during the armed conflict that rocked the Central American country from 1960 to 1996. 
  • Venezuela Analysis reports on a series of labor disputes that have hit Venezuela over the last week. The protests have targeted food processing giant Polar, a Pepsi affiliate and several companies in the  central state of Carabobo. In some cases, workers have accused the local government of siding with the companies.

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