By David Alejandro López Bermúdez, EL TIEMPO, October 10, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The documents were revealed in a lawsuit against the former paramilitary chieftain “Macaco”.
During the trial last September 27, 2021 of former paramilitary chieftain Carlos Mario Jiménez, alias “Macaco”, in a Florida (United States) court, declassified CIA and State Department documents came to light that detailed the relationship between Colombia’s Armed Forces and the paramilitaries.
Federal judge Edwin Torres, in his decision, made clear that the actors of the Colombian government supported the operations of the Bolívar Central Bloc (BCB)—led by “Macaco”—“through interchange of intelligence, weapons, and military uniforms.” This was reported in the newspaper EL PAIS in an issue this week.
The United States court found that “Macaco” was responsible for the murder of the journalist and social leader Eduardo Estrada in 2001 and the torture that his wife was subjected to. He will have to pay USD $12,000,000 to the victims’ families. The judge based his decision on United States declassified reports that were maintained and published by the U.S. National Security Archive.
Those documents, which were made available to EL TIEMPO, point to a “symbiotic relationship between those acting for the Colombian government and the paramilitary groups in the Magdalena Medio region.
They let them walk free and carrying their weapons.
The declassified CIA report dated March of 2001 describes that weeks before the murder of Estrada, the Bolívar Central Bloc and another bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) “were forced to relocate temporarily between Cesar Province and Norte de Santander” by the Colombian Army after an operation in which at least 70 of them had been detained.
Nevertheless, the document also points out that “the Army units treated the paramilitaries ‘well’ and ‘let them walk free and carry their weapons away’.”
An order to cooperate
Another of the documents that were revealed talks about retired General Rito Alejo del Río, a former Army Commander who was convicted of the murder of social leader Marino López Mena, and who at present is appearing before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).
A U.S. Embassy cable dated March 4, 1998, notes that an Army officer told them that “he was concerned” about what was going on, and that del Río was “one of the two most corrupt officials in the country.”
Among other things, the source related that at that time del Río had ordered his subordinates to “cooperate with the paramilitaries when he wasn’t present in the area”, and that he “had diverted a planeload of weapons and munitions to paramilitaries in the Magdalena Medio region in 1985.”
In spite of that, the retired General has denied his connections in his most recent appearances before the JEP.
Actions by the Colombian Army
The National Security Archive (NSA) also revealed an analysis by the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, dated February 23, 1999. It affirms that the Colombian Armed Forces “have not pursued the members of the paramilitary groups in any active way, because they see them as allies in the fight against the guerrillas, their common enemy.”
Regarding the paramilitaries, it points out that “they are concentrated in the southern part of Bolívar Province”, the region “where the guerrillas went after they left Barrancabermeja”. It also says that “members of the paramilitary group indicated that one of their leaders, ‘Rafael’, was behind the massacre that took place in Barrancabermeja on May 16, 1998.”
With regard to the actions by the Army, another declassified cable, dated January 25, 1999, indicates that “the paramilitaries have continued to thrive during the Pastrana administration, and the government hasn’t done much to confront them ( . . . ) the security forces didn’t intervene during 19 separate attacks in which 143 people were murdered during four days in January.”
It also reports that retired Army General “Jaime Humberto Uscátegui is being investigated for his complicity in the paramilitary massacre at Mapiripán in 1997.”
In the same way, it wondered about “the appointment to key posts of several generals that have relationships with the paramilitaries, like Fernando Millán Pérez, Rito Alejo del Río, and Rafael Hernández López.”
In fact, another cable on January 15, 1999, recounts that during a meeting that took place two days before the report was sent, “The Commander of the Army (General Nestor) Ramírez rejected the notion that the military justice system needs to be reformed to overcome the continuing impunity of officials accused of human rights abuses. The Generals told hearers that they couldn’t support the creation of an independent military jurisdiction as proposed last December 10 by the Vice President (Gustavo) Bell.”
It added, “Ramírez also emphasized that the Army has no responsibility to arrest or combat the paramilitaries.” In another part it also reads, “Major General Ramírez told the assembled listeners that the Army has no business pursuing paramilitaries, as they were apolitical criminals, and for that reason ‘they don’t threaten the constitutional order through subversive activities’, in the way that the guerrillas are politically motivated.”
“Don’t attack the government forces”
On December 4, 2001 there was another cable that was declassified and revealed in the lawsuit against “Macaco”. It talks about how the paramilitaries took over the Barrancabermeja region.
“The local NGO’s continue to suspect the relationship between the security forces and the paramilitaries,” reads the report. “Military and Police officials reported that Barrancabermeja is better than it was a year ago, when it was still dominated by the guerrillas ( . . . ) the greater presence of the paramilitaries has reduced the chaos and the violence, but their success is owed, in contrast to the ELN and the FARC, to the fact that the paramilitaries don’t attack the security forces of the Colombian government that are patrolling the city.”
Another document, cited in the legal records, refers to how “Macaco” continued to administer his paramilitary organization from prison in 2007. The cable, dated March 23 of that year, talks about the size and reach of “22 criminal groups including some 3,000 people,” in Colombia.
“The paramilitary leader, Vicente Castaño, is looking for an alliance with “Macaco” and “Don Berna” in order to join the separate criminal groups into a national network along the lines of the former AUC,” states the report.
Besides that, it points out, “The chief of intelligence for the National Police, General Óscar Naranjo, told us that Castaño enjoys a ‘significant collaboration’ with elements of the Police and the Army.”
“Macaco” had been extradited in 2008, only for drug trafficking charges, for which he served 11 years in prison. In 2019, he was deported to Colombia and remained in the custody of the judicial police, for charges of aggravated homicide, criminal conspiracy, and homicide of a protected person.
There are 250 murders documented against the Bolívar Central Bloc, 213 cases of displacement, and 324 disappeared persons.