Colombian intelligence honchos, once all the rage for supposedly saving their country from Left-wing guerrillas, are gasping for breath in the harsh glare of the media expose of their vast wiretapping operations against judges, politicians, journalists and human rights activists, anyone deemed a threat to President Alvaro Uribe. In
The dreaded Colombian security apparatus, DAS in its Spanish acronym, then passed on the information to sundry criminals, paramilitary bosses and even guerrillas for good money. A similar abuse came to light some time ago in
Evidence points to the contrary. The Colombian spooks were not out of control; they were operating in a febrile atmosphere where the President kept saying that the judges were fabricating evidence against him, that human rights groups were guerrillas disguised as civilians and Opposition politicians were in the payroll of the insurgents. “How can we not control (Senator Gustavo) Petro, who is a former guerrilla and a member of the opposition? Or Piedad Córdoba (Liberal Party Senator), because of her links to Chávez and the guerrilla?” a DAS functionary told a Colombian newspaper.
A Supreme Court judge, Iván Velásquez, investigating links between politicians and paramilitary bosses, had more than 1,900 of his phone calls intercepted. Tabs were kept on journalists to “inform the government of what is being done in the media, in order to give the government some time to react when critical situations arise”.
The Colombian journalist, Claudia López, argues that DAS passed into paramilitary hands when Uribe appointed Jorge Noguera as the intelligence chief (the latter is now in prison). The agency was primarily staffed with men loyal to paramilitary sectors who supported Uribe in his 2002 elections, that of ‘Jorge 40’ and other mafia groups along the Atlantic coast. At a level below were those linked to the paramilitary bosses, the Castaño brothers and Salvatore Mancuso.
Illegal operations are a regular DAS practice. Another of its director, María del Pilar Hurtado, had to resign last year when Senator Petro accused the agency of trailing him. In 2005, a DAS official, Rafael García, admitted to working for the AUC paramilitary group and snitched on Noguera, the then director. Throughout, Uribe maintained he was unaware of the goings-on. This time, he says he could not have ordered the wire taps, as he is a “loyal man who is fair with his opponents and does not cheat on them”. In 2000, during the presidency of Andrés Pastrana, top intelligence officials had to resign on similar charges. Though the Supreme Court is furious, successful prosecution will be difficult as the Colombian media are reporting that much of the evidence was destroyed between January 16 and 19 at the DAS head office.
Colombians are drawing parallels with the now imprisoned Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos Torres (his parents were ardent Communists) during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori who, like Uribe, accumulated vast powers after a dirty war against Leftist rebels and left his crony to do the dirty work. Montesinos had contributed to Fujimori’s election victory, kept the President’s enemies at bay using the secret service and bought off the media. The USA was aware that Montesinos was not squeaky clean just as one of it’s former ambassador recently said he was not satisfied with Uribe’s evasive answers when he confronted him about the latter’s part in the drug trade. A former Colombian President, César Gaviria, who says he knows first hand what happens when the intelligence service falls into the hands of criminals and becomes a political police, has been asking who is Uribe’s Montesinos.
An interesting sub-text to the crisis is the role of Uribe’s Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who has never made secret of his presidential ambitions. The scandal emerged in the newspapers in which the
This is more than a tussle between two ambitious Colombian politicians: the unity of the Colombian elite is disintegrating along with the President’s stature and the criminal penetration of the national institution is becoming impossible to hide, even by the “patriotic Press”. Events could take unexpected turns if bitter ex-spies begin to speak out unless, of course, bodies begin to turn up before that.