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Bulletin Issue14 October–December 2004


Terrorist Plan to assassinate opponents of the current administration discovered

Congressmen Alexander L�pez held an emergency press conference on 28th August in the national Capitol building in Bogot�. Five days previously he had received a tip-off that a hit squad had been contracted and was already in motion to kill him.

<strong>Terrorist Plan to assassinate opponents of the current administration discovered</strong><br /> <br /> Congressmen Alexander L�pez held an emergency press conference on 28th August in the national Capitol building in Bogot�. Five days previously he had received a tip-off that a hit squad had been contracted and was already in motion to kill him.

Terrorist Plan to assassinate opponents of the current administration discovered

Congressmen Alexander L�pez held an emergency press conference on 28th August in the national Capitol building in Bogot�. Five days previously he had received a tip-off that a hit squad had been contracted and was already in motion to kill him.


L�pez, the former president of SINTRAEMACLI trade union who has survived at least three assassination attempts, knew he had to move fast. He contacted the Fiscalia, Colombia�s Attorney General office, whose Technical Research Unit carried out two raids on 25th August in Medell�n and Cali of addresses cited in the tip-off. These raids uncovered a wealth of documents, communications equipment and a vital witness, one Luietenant Colonel Julian Villate that revealed the existence of �Operation Dragon�.

SINTRAEMCALI is the trade union of the workers at EMCALI, Cali Municipal Corporation, a public sector provider of water, electricity and telecommunications to the people of Cali in south west Colombia. The union�s fight to block privatisation of these services has wide local support and has become an international cause celebre for trade unions and the anti-globalisation movement. Over the last two years SINTRAEMCALI�s current president Luis Hernandez has been involved in a series of public confrontations with President Alvaro Uribe Velez concerning the corporation�s future.

The evidence discovered by the Fiscalia reveals an intelligence gathering operation in which the Colombian army interchanged information with CIL, Consultoria Integral Latinoamericana, an international consultancy corporation expert in security investigations. The connection was made through Villate, a serving officer also working as a private investigator for CIL. The purpose, L�pez revealed, was �to obtain precise details on the political positions, habits, activities and above all the vulnerability in the daily movements of opposition leaders�. The network involves the Third Brigade, the Superintendent of Public Services, the management of EMCALI and the Intelligence Service of the National Police, SIPOL amongst other state bodies. The National Electrical Finance body, FEN had paid for the contract with CIL.

What the raids revealed

Amongst the materials is a black leather notebook with 38 pages recording the names, telephone numbers and addresses of individuals. The list of targets includes prominent left-wing politicians such as Lucho Garz�n the mayor of Bogot� and Angeleino Garz�n, governor of Valle de Cauca department. Another document details the layout and furniture of Alexander L�pez�s Cali office.

Three of the documents have been published on the web at

One is a statement signed by Villate recording marterials found in the Cali raid. The second document is a report written by the Military Intelligence unit of the army�s Third Brigade. �EMCALI Evaluation� ref No CIME-RIME3- INT4-252 is dated 24 May 2003 and addressed to the Director General of Intelligence. It draws attention to the work that SINTRAEMCALI is doing in the poor neighbourhoods of Cali "to generate support for the workers in the eventual conflicts" and names leaders of the CUT Regional committee, SINTRAEMCALI�s President Luis Hernandez, and several members of the union�s executive for carrying out militant activities. There is special mention for Berenice Celeyta head of SINTRAEMCALI�s human rights department who is in charge of denouncing the attacks on the workers, and Alexander L�pez. The report names public figures who have shown sympathy to SINTRAEMCALI�s efforts to save EMCALI and, without evidence, asserts:

"The participation of these personalities in the EMCALI problem gives a glimpse of what groups have been doing �they have been carrying out a certain political work and management of the masses in the orbit of popular workers, in fulfillment of the objectives outlined by the FARC with the Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia�. as has become public knowledge the CUT Valle [regional trade union committee] and its affiliates, as well as other social movements and non-governmental organisations over whom the subversion exerts complete dominance have been an active part of the struggle for what has been called a "humanitarian agreement" for the kidnap victims, against the Referendum and for the concession of a new zone for talks with the FARC, these motives making more intense these sectors of the left against the role of the national government".

With these words the military report brands SINTRAEMCALI and the many who are against privatisation and the government�s neo-liberal policies as by definition carrying out the work of the FARC, which is not true at all. Such linking brands the subjects as legitimate counter-insurgency targets, which in the context of Colombia means assassination targets.

The final page portrays the SINTRAEMCALI leadership group in an organisation chart, with Alexander L�pez at its head and fifteen named individuals. The chart is headed "GRUPO INDUMILES". INDUMIL is the acronym for Industria Militar, supplier of firearms and other armaments to the state forces. This group is also referred to as "The Rambos", "The Men of Steel" and the "The Untouchables". It is a clear targeting of these trade unionists, implying they operate as an organised criminal gang that needs to be �touched�.

A third document entitled simply �SINTRAEMCALI� states the strategic general objective �to impede and neutralise the irregular actions of SINTRAEMCALI and obtain support for its vision and mission of EMCALI�. The general lines are: �to change the leadership of SINTRAEMCALI to one more favourable; neutralise the so-called �co-government or co-administration� ; ensure control of key installations; establish an internal information network; establish an information system; formulate a crisis contingency plan.� There then follows a detailed action plan that highlights tasks for EMCALI�s own �Security Office� to gain control over the workings of the corporation, and systematically cleanse the workforce of opposition, ending up with regime of militarisation and total surveillance inside the corporation.

This report, in contrast to the wild accusations of �EMCALI Evaluation�, clearly states that �Direct relation with subversive groups or a combined strategy is not evidenced; nor is there evidence of support from subversive groups�. And yet the authors clearly regard SINTRAEMCALI�s activities as �illegitimate� and requiring a systematic plan to eliminate them. Once again the report ends with a focus on the responsibility of individuals comprising the central leadership group, which it identifies as Berenice Celeita, Alexander L�pez, Luis Hernandez, Robinson Masso and Oscar Figueroa.

Threats and Assassinations

The publication of this material was a first line of defence, but in Colombia public knowledge is not yet enough to safeguard the lives of those under threat. The usual pattern is for the form of repression to alter, with other actors being brought in to carry out the actual assassinations, thus providing deniability to the intelligence gathering side of the operation and to the state authorities who resource them.

And so, despite the publicity, Operation Dragon has bared its deadly claws. The dark forces struck on 14th September. Octavio Rend�n, Angelino Garz�n� chauffer and trusted bodyguard, was shot by two sicario hit-men near his home in the Las Granjas district of Cali.

The next day, SINTRAEMCALI activist Carlos Ocampo was informed by his class mates at the Santiago University in Cali, where he is studying, that a man wearing a bullet proof jacket was insistently asking for him between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. the time he normally arrives for his classes.

Then, on 16th September SINTRAEMCALI leaders began receiving death threat phone calls. Union Vice-President Luis Imbachi was with trade unionists from Public Services International, including delegates from Britain�s UNISON, on a demonstration in Bogot� when at 4.31pm he received a call on his mobile phone demanding that he report to the Calima Block of the paramilitaries within four days. Another SINTRAEMCALI executive member, Carlos Marmolejo, received a similar chilling call that he was to report on the orders of the comandante of the paramilitaries.

On 27th September another of Angelino Garz�n�s bodyguards was assassinated. Patrolman Rolando G�mez, 27 years old, was shot dead outside his home in the Nueva Base district of Cali.

The fear and tension grew even worse for the SINTRAEMCALI trade unionists and other named targets.

Unresolved Questions

There are two unresolved questions. The first concerns the depth of the operation. Where does responsibility for Operation Dragon really lie? The evidence is clear that heads of several state security organs and other public sector bodies are involved, which points to coordination at a higher level. Minister of Interior and Justice Sabas Pretelt has denied knowledge of the operation, but then there is some person or persons in the executive who must be doing the co-ordinating and making decisions about whether or not to proceed with the operation.

In this context international pressure on the Colombian government is essential, and of practical assistance in saving our comrades� lives.

The second question is how wide does the surveillance targeting and assassination targeting spread? SINTRAEMCALI�s has received much support from campaigns, unions and movements around the world. While domestic politicians are on the list of assassination targets, there is at least the likelihood that SINTRAEMCALI�s international supporters have been marked out for surveillance, and perhaps harassment or dirty tricks operations.

It could even be that the Labour government, which through Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell insists on continuing with military and police aid to Uribe, is contributing to a regime not only deeply implicated in the assassination of its own opposition, but in the targeting of British citizens and organisations linked with SINTRAEMCALI.

As solidarity activists we call on the broader movement to respond immediately and fully to SINTRAEMCALI�s call for urgent and practical support.

Andy Higginbottom

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