A compromised secret police
The timing of the revelations—just weeks ahead of a presidential election on May 28th in which álvaro Uribe is seeking a second term—was surely not coincidental. But that did not diminish their explosive nature. Earlier this month, several Colombian publications reported claims that the former head of the Administrative Security Department (DAS)—the secret police—had worked hand in glove with leaders of Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries to murder trade-union leaders and thwart operations against drug-traffickers.
The allegations came in interviews with Rafael García, a former DAS official. He was arrested last year on charges that he doctored files on paramilitary chiefs and drug-traffickers wanted for extradition to the United States. He wants a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against the former head of the DAS, Jorge Noguera, whom he accuses of close links with paramilitary bosses on Colombia's Caribbean coast. The DAS had given the paramilitaries a list of labour leaders in that area to be targeted for murder, several of whom were later killed, he said.
Most of these claims are not new. They seem unlikely to hurt Mr Uribe electorally. Polls suggest he will win over 50% of the vote. Most Colombians support the president's tough-minded security policy, which has seen violence fall steadily. In a controversial peace agreement, he has secured the demobilisation of the 30,000-strong paramilitaries, the last of whom handed in their arms this month.
But the saga of the DAS revealed two of the president's flaws. The first is his thin skin. His response was to rail against the media for reporting the scandal. The second is that he has not always shown good judgment in his appointments, such as that of Mr Noguera. To compound matters, when the allegations against Mr Noguera first surfaced, Mr Uribe sent him to Milan as consul. (Mr Noguera denies the claims. He has returned to Colombia to answer prosecutors' questions, and threatened to sue the media for defamation.)
There is much evidence that the paramilitaries and drug-traffickers—often the same people—have infiltrated not just the DAS but many other institutions in Colombia. These include the public prosecutor's office, which has named a team of investigators to look into Mr García's claims. This problem predates Mr Uribe. The presence of infiltrators does not mean that Colombia is a “paramilitarised state”, says Alfredo Rangel, a security analyst.
In October, Mr Uribe named Andrés Peñate, his capable former deputy defence minister, to head the DAS with a brief to clean it up. Mr Peñate set up an outside advisory commission, which called for the DAS to refocus on “strategic intelligence”.
But what the agency needs is root-and-branch reform or closure, argues Sergio Jaramillo, a former defence official now at Ideas for Peace, a think-tank. Its original purpose was to exercise political control. Its bosses are political appointees, and it lacks not just a clear role but a career structure and esprit de corps. While Colombia's police and army have modernised, the DAS has not, he says.
Mr Uribe is “not sensitive to the international perception” that criminal influence over the state is on the rise, according to Myles Frechette, a former American ambassador to Bogotá. Tackling this is a task for his second term—assuming the scandal does not impede his re-election.
[Source: The Economist, London, 20apr06]
DDHH en Colombia
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