US-based NGO Human Rights Watch has just produced a devastating report on military – paramilitary links in Colombia. It is a must-read, and can be accessed at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001.
The Colombian army has five divisons. The report’s title “Sixth Division” makes it clear that the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries are an extension of the armed forces. HRW’s investigations in January 2001 focused on three areas. Putumayo to the south has been the prime target of Plan Colombia’s fumigations. Since 1999 it has suffered an explosion of para massacres. HRW cites testimony from a former local government legal officer, the paras’ former bookeeper and anonymous national state investigators to reveal how the paras work with army officers in the 24th Brigade.
The report is especially damning of the 3rd Brigade, based in Cali, whose units set up the paras notorious Calima Front to attack targets in the towns in the middle of the Cauca Valley. These paras have since spread to Buenaventura to the west and Popayán to the south. And the report shows that the AUC only managed to takeover the city of Barrancabermeja in the first weeks of 2001 because of the complicity of the Fifth Brigade.
HRW is weak in its recommendations on US policy. The report discusses in detail implement- ation of the Leahy Amendment, in itself a progressive safeguard that was overriden by ex- president Clinton, and designed to stop any anti-narcotics US aid going to personnel involved in human rights abuses. But the truth is that this clause should cover every unit in the Colombian army. The Leahy Amendment is insufficient to the task of curbing state terrorism Rather there should be a full campaign to stop all US military aid to Colombia forthwith. Neither does HRW’s latest report acknowledge the depth of US culpability in setting up the paramilitaries. For this perspective readers need to refer to HRW’s own earlier study Colombia’s Killer Networks: The Military-Paramilitary Partnership and the United States published as a book back in 1996.
The following summary is from http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/colombia/action/factsheet.htm
"Sixth Division" Fast Facts
On political violence
According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, paramilitaries acting with the tolerance or support of the security forces were responsible for 79 per cent of the political killings and forced disappearances registered in Colombia between April and September 2000…
Political violence is worsening. At the end of April 2001, Colombia’s social service agency announced that killings that were the result of political violence continued to run at roughly double the number registered the previous year. In only the first eighteen days of January, authorities recorded 26 massacres and a death toll of 170 Colombians.
In 2000, an estimated 319,000 people were forcibly displaced from their homes by political violence, the highest number of displaced persons recorded in a single year in the last five years.
Barrancabermeja, a city of 250,000 residents and home to Colombia’s largest oil refinery, had a homicide rate of 227 per 100,000 in 2000. That translates as 567 murders for the year, exceeding by twelve the total number of homicides registered in Los Angeles, a city of 10 million.
On paramilitaries and the military
The AUC paramilitary organization has grown by 560 percent over the past four years according to its former leader, Carlos Castaño, who now claims to lead a force of over 11,200 fighters.
Of the three hundred arrest warrants pending in Colombia’s attorney general’s office in 2000, only 65 were carried out, a drop of almost 50 percent since 1998. In one of the most egregious cases, twenty-two arrest warrants for Carlos Castaño, former leader of the AUC, have been issued, but Castaño has not been arrested.
In the state of Putumayo, the AUC paid monthly salaries to local army and police officials based on rank. Captains received between U.S. $2000 and $3000. Majors received $ 2500 and lieutenants $ 1500. In the state of Cauca, soldiers moonlighting as paramilitaries can earn $ 500 per month. These salaries far exceed the average Colombian’s monthly income.
Members of paramilitary groups accused of gross human rights violations and arrested often walk to freedom or continue their activities from jail cells. Since 1998, at least fifteen alleged paramilitary leaders who have been arrested have later walked past prison guards, soldiers, and police to freedom. Military officers accused of murder and of supporting paramilitaries also easily elude detention. Since 1996, forty four soldiers left military installations where they were reported to be held.
On attacks on judicial officials
In 2001, paramilitaries said they would "intensify the campaign" to murder prosecutors and investigators who were working on cases that implicated paramilitary leaders. [Details of 9 assassinations of state investigators, prosecutors, a town councillor and a potential witness against the paramilitaries between February and September 2001].
The office in Colombia of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called these killings "a systematic campaign of retaliation and intimidation" by those seeking "total impunity for the most serious crimes committed in the country."
On the Pastrana Administration
The Pastrana Administration has cut, not raised funds for human rights protections in Colombia … investigators in the Attorney General’s Human Rights Unit have trouble finding cars and even money for gas to conduct investigations…
The Colombian government argues that it has been tough on the military supporters of paramilitaries. On October 16, 2000, it announced that 388 members of the armed forces had been discharged. The government did not release information on the reasons for the discharges… none of the 388 faced any prosecution as a result…
On U.S. Security Assistance
In 2000 and the first three months of 2001 — the Attorney General’s Human Rights Unit and advisers from the Internal Affairs agency received a measly U.S. $65,763 from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), half spent on flying prosecutors to the United States to learn about the American judicial system, a dubious pursuit given the unit’s desperate need for vehicles, travel funds, and resources to protect threatened witnesses. That works out to less than the amount of U.S. military assistance spent in Colombia in only two hours of a single day.
Intelligence-sharing is not covered by the Leahy Provision, even though its consequences for human rights are real. During the hunt for drug trafficker Pablo Escobar in 1992 and 1993, U.S. intelligence on the fugitive was shared with the Colombian security forces, which in turn coordinated its efforts with rival traffickers belonging to the Cali Cartel. In return, traffickers also provided intelligence on Escobar’s whereabouts and habits to Colombian authorities. Government investigators told Human Rights Watch that several of the traffickers who took part in this exchange – members of the group calling itself People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar (Personas Perseguidas por Pablo Escobar, PEPEs) — now lead and fund the AUC.
There is little indication that the strategy established by the Clinton Administration will fundamentally change under President George W. Bush. Expressing his support for the Clinton Administration plan, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced to the U.S. Congress that he would seek another $400 million for Colombia for FY 2002, roughly equivalent to the amount Colombia received in 2000 and in 2001. Combat Air Command No. 1, part of the Colombian Air Force, continues to receive U.S. aid and training despite its link to the December 1998 rocket attack against the village of Santo Domingo, Arauca, in which seven children and eleven adults were killed. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that all seven aircraft used … in the operation were obtained from the U.S. The F.B.I.confirmed that the remains of a U.S.-made AN-M47 fragment-ation bomb and fuses were found in evidence.