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The Rector of the Industrial University of Santander and a member of the paramilitary talk about assassinating students
On July 4, 2007, the Rector of the Industrial University of Santander (Universidad Industrial de Santander, UIS), Jaime Alberto Camacho Pico, had a talk with a paramilitary leader known by the alias of "Félix," during which they reached agreements on the way to eliminate those who, inside the University, follow and promote what the paramilitary generically refer to as "the leftist path." According to a recording of the conversation, the Rector committed himself to the paramilitary boss to provide him with a list of leaders of the student movement who promote leftist ideas. In turn, the paramilitary committed himself to "cleaning up" the university by carrying out a "plan pistol," that is, by assassinating the persons on the list - who, furthermore, are persons who have led protests against the reforms carried out by Jaime Alberto Camacho Pico as Rector of the UIS. According to the paramilitary known as alias "Félix," those reforms are appropriate because they go against leftist groups such as the FARC.
From the conversation itself it can be deduced that it is not the first to have taken place between Rector Camacho and alias "Félix." In fact, when that paramilitary makes contact with the Rector, he apologizes to him for the delay in getting back in touch and informs him that the paramilitary group "is coding positive," meaning that the Rector requested the intervention of the paramilitary group at the UIS and that the paramilitary group decided to comply with that request. At that point, the paramilitary informs the Rector that the next step is to carry out the so-called "plan pistol."
As a result of the publication of this conversation, on May 4, 2009, in the electronic edition of the daily Vanguardia Liberal, |1| the UIS Rector stated publicly that he himself had recorded the conversation at the suggestion of an "authority" and with the help of University personnel. In fact, a good part of the recording is that of a later conversation between the Rector and his secretary, in which the Rector tells the secretary that he does not dare tamper with the recorder for fear of erasing the conversation, and that it is better left to the technician who set up the equipment to make the recording.
Were other authorities involved?
It is evident that the recording was indeed made by the Rector. However, the purpose for making it remains unknown. In an interview with the radio talk show La W on May 5, 2009, the Rector was incapable of answering several of the questions that were asked of him by the journalists. He could not explain why, if he had access to the recording since July 2007, he made a formal denunciation to the Prosecutor General's Office only after the recording was first made public. Also, he refused to reveal what authority suggested to him making the recording, arguing that this information is secret for legal reasons and saying only that "high authorities," both national and local, were aware of the situation a few days after the call was made.
Probably one of the "high authorities" at the local level with whom Rector Camacho Pico made contact was the then-governor of Santander, retired Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Heliodoro Aguilar. It would have seemed natural for Rector Camacho Pico to inform Aguilar of the situation since, besides holding the highest public office in the department, as governor Aguilar was also part of the High University Council, the UIS's highest decision-making organ, responsible among other decisions for electing the rector.
At first glance, the fact that the Rector admitted having made the recording, rather than being a good argument to demonstrate his innocence in this presumed alliance between the UIS Rector and a paramilitary group, what it does actually is to incriminate him. On the one hand, because, according to the recording, the Rector makes a commitment to provide information to be used to assassinate people. On the other, because on the recording the paramilitary asks the Rector to maintain these conversations confidential and the Rector obediently complies and abstains from reporting this situation to the competent authority, which is the General Prosecutor's Office, and he did so only when the conversation became known publicly. The Rector has said that the recording was made at the suggestion of "high national and local authorities." That this might have been so is irrelevant: they too will have to answer judicially for not having taken action based on the information provided by the Rector.
Facts that cloud even more the atmosphere
In a criminal investigation that began in November 2008, the then-governor, Hugo Aguilar, has been formally accused of having links with paramilitary groups. The extent of those links between the former governor Aguilar and paramilitary groups has been exposed through declarations by the paramilitaries Heidelberg Cristian Mendoza Angarita, alias "Sargento", and Alexánder Gutiérrez, alias "Picúa", two "demobilized" combatants from the "Isidro Carreño" front of the paramilitary Bloque Central Bolívar, who, during the weeks of June 16 to 19 and 24 to 26, 2009, respectively, declared that they supported the election of then-governor Hugo Aguilar. According to alias "Sargento," "Hugo Aguilar came to the governorship of Santander thanks to paramilitary support in several regions of the department." The paramilitary known as "Sargento" confirmed that Ciro Antonio Díaz Amado, alias "Nicolás," commander of the "Isidro Carreño" front, to which he belonged, ordered him to provide security to the then-candidate for governor to enable him to carry out his political campaign in the area under the influence of that paramilitary group.
But paramilitary support to his campaign went even further. The paramilitary added that on one occasion during his campaign, the then-candidate Aguilar was accompanied by the "Isidro Carreño" paramilitary front. Then, while arriving at the municipality of La Paz (Santander) he met up with the "Lanceros de Vélez" paramilitary front; Hugo Eliodoro Aguilar then went on with that other group and continued his campaign in its area of influence.
If what Mendoza Angarita recounted is true, then it would also be true that the interests of the paramilitaries are represented in the Governorship of Santander and, through it, in the Industrial University of Santander. If former Governor Aguilar is already being investigated for having links with paramilitary groups, then perhaps the prosecutor's office should investigate the consequences that such links have had on the case of threats at the UIS. Perhaps this is the key to discovering why the conversation between the Rector of that important educational institution with the paramilitary alias "Félix" only became public when it was leaked to the media, and why only then was this situation formally reported to the competent authorities.
Easier said than done
In any case, many doubts remain with regard to the declarations given by the Rector to the media on the purpose of the recording. What seems to be an agreement between Rector Jaime Alberto Camacho Pico and the paramilitary alias "Félix" laid the ground for threats by the paramilitaries and harassment by university authorities against the students. For example, on August 6, 2007, the Union of University Workers of Colombia, Sintraunicol- Santander, reported that seven students, one professor, and one worker of the Industrial University of Santander (UIS) |2| received death threats by e-mail from the Águilas Negras ("Black Eagles") paramilitary group.
On February 14, 2004, the university professor and director of a UIS research center, Elena E. Stashenko, as well as 43 other people, were threatened by a paramilitary group. Two months after receiving the threat, a caliber-38 bullet was left in the classroom where the researcher usually teaches her class. |3|
In May 2009, as a result of the publication of the conversation between the UIS Rector and alias "Félix," it became known that from the second semester of 2007 and until January 2009, the journalists who worked in the communications and television areas of the UIS received orders from a group of university directors to tape secretly students and workers during disturbances and at students' and unionists' meetings in order to bring them to justice. In a letter, Mario Mantilla, former director of Televisión UIS, reported that he was subjected to intimidation by UIS directors for refusing to carry out the espionage activities that he had been assigned. |4|
Past and present coincidences
This worrisome situation is not new and it is not exclusive of the UIS. In July 2001, the Regional Public Defender's Office of the Atlantic Region emitted Resolution No. 001 of 2001, in which it reported the grave risk that the student movement was under, due to the threat of restrictions of the right to free expression and freedom of thought by the authorities of the University of Atlántico, which was accompanied by violations committed by paramilitary groups.
According to that Resolution:
"The human rights situation inside de the university has become more and more critical due to the climate of distrust generated by the fear of the members of the university community of expressing themselves freely or debating their positions with regard to the problems affecting the university in particular, and the country in general.
According to the material gathered by the Public Defender's Office, members of the university community who have dared speak up or report presumed administrative irregularities are seriously threatened, others have had to leave the city in order to protect their rights, and some have faced death. According to the different reports received, freedom of expression is restricted - if not institutionally, certainly by dark, intolerant forces."
Also the extradited paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso Gómez acknowledged having made attempts against the integrity of members of the University of Córdoba. According to that paramilitary's "free version" declaration begun on January 15, 2007, he ordered the disappearance of at least three members of the University of Córdoba, ordered the assassination of the candidate to the office of Rector of the University, Hugo Iguarán, and ordered that Victor Hugo Hernández be named Rector; Hernández had committed himself before the paramilitary group to carry out reforms in the institution in order to"clean up the university." He acknowledged also having had direct influence on the election of Claudio Sánchez, who was Rector of the University of Córdoba until December 2008, when he stepped down after being detained for presumed links with paramilitary groups and later set free.
More recently, the threats have reached the Bogotá headquarters of the National University of Colombia. In that institution, throughout 2008 several student groups were threatened, especially the Federation of University Students (Federación de Estudiantes Universitarios, FEU). On September 16, 2008, this student organization was also singled out by the director of the State security body (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad - DAS), María del Pilar Hurtado, who stated that FEU was a group created by the FARC guerrilla. The highest official of the security body attached to the Presidency of the Republic declared that the FEU is "part of the political strategy of the guerrilla." At present, twenty members of the Federation of University Students are forcibly displaced for security reasons, and more than thirteen student leaders are under threat.
One factor that is shared by all these violations against the members of the communities of the country's public universities is that they generally occur or increase when the persons who endure them are demanding respect for their rights. It is worth noting that the list that the paramilitary requested from the UIS Rector in the above-mentioned recording includes people who do not agree with the reforms being carried out at the UIS and are "leftist" persons. Specifically, the paramilitary asks the Rector for the names of leaders and in turn offers to give him the names of persons who have intervened as negotiators in the framework of the reforms at the UIS.
What makes the UIS case different from those of the other universities is that in the other cases there is no proof as irrefutable as the recordings of the conversations between Rector Camacho and the paramilitary "Félix," which show the seriousness of the threats that the members of the university communities are subjected to when they are against the restructuring that the public universities are undergoing, and the real risk of being a student leader or activist. Who knows whether such proof will turn up during the investigation initiated by the Prosecutor's Office against high DAS officials, including its former director, María del Pilar Hurtado, for illegally spying on human rights organizations, magistrates of the high courts, and persons considered opponents of the government. |5|
The evident persistence of paramilitarism
Likewise, the threats, homicides, and disappearances - among other violations that the public universities have been subjected to in the past, such as the universities of Córdoba and Atlántico, mentioned above - were committed by paramilitary groups that, according to the Government, no longer exist today. And the threats and violations committed after their fictitious demobilization follow the same logic - that is, the persecution of those who think differently or who fight to defend their rights. It was, and continues to be, a strategy of the paramilitary groups and of those sectors of society that benefit from them to assassinate and intimidate student leaders, teachers, and workers who criticize the reforms of higher education, as well as to infiltrate the universities and to put them at the service of the paramilitaries and of their promoters and beneficiaries. Salvatore Mancuso acknowledged as much in the case of the University of Córdoba, and alias "Félix" confirms this in the taped conversation. If an armed group thinks according to the logic of the paramilitary and acts as a paramilitary group, there can be no doubt that it is a paramilitary group. It is precisely the paramilitary groups that are behind the threats to public universities, even if the Government insists on calling them euphemistically "criminal gangs."
This demonstrates that paramilitarism is far from having been overcome and it is not good for society to have the government deny this fact. As long as paramilitary groups continue to exist, operating under the government's protection, including this new modality of not recognizing their crimes as such, it will be impossible to make peace a reality. In the meantime their victims - all of them, without exception - will continue to be subjected to them, or to the conditions of defenselessness they are subjected to, struggling between government promises of truth, justice, and reparation and the reality that indicates that the satisfaction of their rights is becoming more and more elusive.
All these facts must be investigated rapidly and seriously by the Prosecutor's Office; they require a commitment from the entire State in order to guarantee that public universities can fulfill their mission of educating free, independent, and critical citizens. Likewise, the Procurator's Office must carry out a disciplinary investigation of the UIS Rector and of the national and local "authorities" or "higher instances" involved in these acts.
The gravity of what happened had as result that, when the situation became known, an important number of students and their families, workers, and professors, demanded the resignation of Rector Camacho Pico. However, he remains in office, ratified by the Higher University Council (CSU) and backed by the Minister of Education, Cecilia Vélez White, and her Vice-Minister of education, who is the government's delegate before the UIS's CSU and who declared, without any proof, that "the situation of the Rector is a set-up." |6| Besides this, he aspired to be reelected as UIS Rector for the period 2009-2012, as in fact happened on June 19, 2009, when he took office once again.
To this day, the episode of his conversation with the paramilitary alias "Felix" remains unexplained. In the meantime, the UIS is in the midst of a governability crisis that the university authorities were able to solve only by cancelling the first academic semester of 2009. This decision by the CSU, as well as that of reelecting Jaime Alberto Camacho Pico as Rector of the UIS, have been severely criticized by the department assembly of Santander and by the governor of the same department, |7| who have requested that the agreement be revoked by which the first semester of 2009 was cancelled, and that the process of election of the newly elected Rector be reviewed "in terms of its legitimacy, public ethics, [and] institutional advisability." |8|
Bogotá, June 30, 2009
Comisión colombiana de juristas
Bulletin No 36: Series on the rights of the victims and the application of Law 975 |*|
*. The present publication has been prepared with the support of the European Union and its content is the sole responsibility of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. In no way should it be thought to reflect the point of view of the European Union. [Back]
1. "Ampliación: Rector de la UIS implicado en polémica por supuesto plan pistola" (Further information: Rector of the UIS involved in polemic over a supposed plan pistol), www.vanguardia.com, May 4, 2009. [Back]
2. "Águilas negras amenazan en UIS" (Black Eagles threaten at UIS), www.elcolombiano.com, August 6, 2007. [Back]
3. "Amenazada la investigadora Stashenko de la UIS" (UIS researcher Stashenko threatened), www.vanguardia.com, May 4, 2009. [Back]
4. "Caso UIS: el equipo de prensa recibió órdenes de espiar" (Case UIS: the press team received orders to spy), www.vanguardia.com, May 4, 2009. [Back]
5. In this regard, see "Confesiones de Arzayús", in El Espectador, June 21, 2009, p. 8. [Back]
6. "Situación del Rector de la UIS es un montaje: viceministro de educación" (Situation of UIS Rector is a set-up: Vice-minister of education), www.vanguardia.com, June 18, 2009 [Back]
7. "Gobernador de Santander se pronuncia ante cancelación de semestre en la UIS" (Governor of Santander speaks out on the cancellation of the semester at the UIS), www.vanguardia.com, June 12, 2009. [Back]
8. "Asamblea departamental se pronuncia luego del debate sobre el tema UIS" (Department assembly makes pronouncement after debate on the topic of the UIS), www.vanguardia.com, June 17, 2009. [Back]
DDHH en Colombia
|This document has been published on 05Apr13 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|