New revelations in Colombia's political scandals

U.S. aid has been implicated in egregious abuses of power and illegal actions by the Colombian government under the guise of fighting terrorism and drug smuggling.

1989: Reformist politician gets assassinated

On Aug. 18, Luis Carlos Galan, a reformist politician and front-runner for president, is slain outside Bogota during a campaign event. Authorities blame Pablo Escobar, a notorious drug trafficker at war with the state. Years later, in November 2010, Miguel Maza is arrested after being accused of having been involved in a conspiracy that ended Galan’s life.

1997: Working with "a sinister group"

Myles Frechette, the American ambassador to Colombia, recalls how the Department of Administrative Security, Colombia's intelligence service, had for a long time been riddled with corrupt agents. But his embassy had to develop intelligence, and the DAS needed help, so American officials tried to identify honest agents. “The DAS is a sinister group,” said Frechette. “You have to be very careful.”

2000: U.S. gives military aid

In July, President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia, which provided the government of President Andres Pastrana in Bogota with $1.3 billion in mostly military and anti-narcotics aid. The brunt of the funding went toward an aerial fumigation program designed to spray herbicides on coca, the leaves of which are the main ingredient of cocaine. Millions in aid also went toward improving Colombia’s intelligence operations in the armed forces, the police and the DAS.

2002: Alvaro Uribe rise's to power

On May 26, with Colombian rebels controlling vast swaths of territory, voters elect a hard-line politician and cattle rancher, Alvaro Uribe, to the presidency Uribe won in a landslide, promising a “hard hand” in combating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a rebel group at war with the state since 1964. He delivers – strengthening the army, which over the next eight years rolls back rebel gains. A key element in the military’s arsenal is improved intelligence-gathering.

2003: American plane crashes in FARC territory

Intelligence mission and flown by American Defense Department contractors crashes in sparsely populated southern Colombia in territory controlled by the FARC. The Americans are taken hostage in an incident that generates a broad response from the Bush administration, which begins a secret program to win the release of the contractors.

2005: Head of Colombia's intelligence service resigns

On Oct. 25, Jorge Noguera, President Alvaro Uribe’s first director to head the DAS, leaves as an investigation of wrongdoing by the agency begins. Noguera had initially been viewed positively by the U.S. Embassy, which considered him “pro-U.S. and an honest technocrat” and recommended he be a member of Interpol for Latin America, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. But he is now on trial for having helped paramilitary gunmen kill union activists.

March 2008: Top FARC commander killed

On March 1, in the biggest blow landed against the FARC, Colombian aircraft bomb a guerrilla base just inside Ecuador and kill a top commander, Raul Reyes. Colombian officials say improved intelligence-gathering helped them plan the strike, the first against a top member of the FARC’s seven-member directorate.

July 2008: Colombian Army rescues hostages

On July 2, Colombia’s army rescues 15 hostages held by the FARC, including the three Defense Department contractors, in a clever ruse that garners worldwide attention. Military officials say the intelligence they had gathered was vital in planning the operation.

October 2008: Director of Colombia's intelligence service resigns

On Oct. 23, the DAS director, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, resigns after a congressman, Gustavo Petro, reveals official orders from a DAS intelligence-gathering unit directing spying operations on him and other members of Colombia’s main leftist party, the Polo Democratico.

2009: Magazine publishes and expose on DAS wiretapping

On Feb. 22, Semana magazine reveals how the DAS had been wiretapping and following opposition politicians, journalists, Supreme Court judges and the members of human rights groups. The government denies involvement.

April 2010: Charges filed against high-ranking officers

On April 11, a prosecutor files charges against five former high-ranking officers of the DAS. The leveling of charges comes after months of investigating in which the attorney general’s office had taken the testimony of more than 150 victims of illegal spying and several former DAS agents who participated in the operations. The attorney general’s office argues, in filing charges against former DAS officials, that “the illegal surveillance against the magistrates [of the Supreme Court] were directed from the Casa de Nariño,” the presidential palace.

April 13 2010: U.S. suspends aids because of spying scandal

On April 13, the American ambassador in Bogota, William Brownfield, publicly announces the suspension of U.S. aid to the DAS because of the spying scandal. Brownfield tells Colombian reporters that officials are checking to ensure that “none of its collaboration [to DAS] has been used in illicit activities." The Colombian government quickly issued a press release, saying that it "has never ordered shady or illegal practices and those who engage in such practices should be tried and sent to prison."

April 19, 2010: DAS official confesses to illegal spying

On April 19, the former director of a DAS unit known as the GONI, which received American assistance, becomes the first DAS official to enter into an agreement with the attorney general’s office, offering beneficial treatment in return for cooperation. He confesses to illegal surveillance operations against Supreme Court judges and congressmen and tells prosecutors that former DAS directors and Bernardo Moreno, the former chief of staff to President Alvaro Uribe, were involved.

July 2011: Judge orders arrest of Bernardo Moreno

On July 30, a judge orders the arrest of Bernardo Moreno, former chief of staff to President Alvaro Uribe, in connection with the illegal spying operation against the Supreme Court.

[Source: By Anup Kaphle, Juan Forero & Claudia J. Duque, The Washington Post, Published August 21, 2011]

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