CAMBIO, By Colprensa, February 11, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
In a conference with his subordinates, General Jorge HernandoHerreraDíazwastalkingabouthisconversations and agreements with the “Los Pocillos” gang in order to combat the Gentil Duarte FARC dissidents in Cauca. “Cambio” and “Noticias Uno” have the audio tapes that prove it.
In a Command Staff meeting at the Colombian Army’s 29th Brigade, General Jorge Hernando Herrera Díaz admitted his relationship with the “Los Pocillos” gang that administers a corridor through which 150 tons of cocaine flow every year, 15% of consumption in the whole world.
The investigative alliance Cambio-Noticias Uno obtained audio tapes of the meeting. In the meeting, the General explains how the “Los Pocillos” criminal organization is functioning in the Pacific area, admits his meetings with them, and justifies them as a strategy against the Gentil Duarte dissidents, who are still trying to take control of the Micay River corridor. “This is a bitch of a war,” concludes the General, referring to his relationship with the drug trafficking group.
That conversation took place in July 2019. In the Command Staff conference room at the Brigade, in Popayán, General Herrera Díaz told his junior officers that he met with the drug trafficking bosses in the area.
“Caliche was the weapons part of the Pocillos, also the financial. This guy (Grillo) is no longer there. These two guys (Pocillo and Caliche) are there, also Ramiro or Ramirito, who’s from the 29th Front, get it? The ELN are there. Those guys, when I . . . listen brother, those guys are still running the drug traffic, they’re keeping on with their crimes. I met with them, they come here, they talk to me.”
Three months before that Command Staff meeting at the 29th Brigade, General Herrera had personally informed the media about the death of Alias Jayson, one of the leaders of the Gentil Duarte Dissidents.
The newspaper El Pais in Cali reproduced his declaration in these terms: “We neutralized Alias Jayson and captured two other Dissidents, and besides, we seized two rifles, a machine gun, an m-79 grenade launcher, some uniforms and terrorist propaganda. The combat lasted nearly two hours in the northern part of Argelia and south of El Tombo.”
However, in the meeting with his junior officers, the General made it clear that he would have preferred to see the enemies dead rather than captured: “And you have to neutralize that organization, but neutralizing them means killing them.”
In Cauca there were rumors that the Army was supporting some of the criminal gangs in the area in order to pursue others. The Gentil Duarte Dissidents themselves had said that in what they call “war bulletins”. In November of 2019 there were protests by campesinos to complain about that, and to ask that the troops get out of the municipalities of Argelia and El Tambo.
Alias Jhonier, the leader of what Gentil Duarte called the Western Joint Command, (CCO in Spanish) was killed some three weeks ago. Jhonier, in an interview with the researcher Ariel Ávila of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, Pares, had said that his men had fought with the ELN guerrillas mixed right in with Army soldiers in northern Cauca. And he found out that in the area, Iván Márquez Dissidents had been another force. “We have found where five or six individuals appear with Segunda Marquetalia bracelets. We sent our people to verify that and we ended up fighting with the Army, which has a relationship with an armed group there that they call “Los Pocillos”, where the Commander is one that they call Pocillo, and there is another one that they call Caliche.”
What that means is, they’re the same men that met with General Herrera, according to what he told his officers.
“Aren’t we the suckers”
The rumors about joint operations with the Army and ELN guerrillas and the “Los Pocillos” gang reached the Command Staff meeting. General Herrera Díaz attempted a strategic explanation. He said that “Los Pocillos” were the heads of an organization that was administering the whole drug trafficking corridor, where there were organizations of former guerrillas and of civilians. He specifically mentioned the Argelia Association of Campesino Laborers, Ascamta.
In Argelia there are 11,400 coca-growing families with their parcels inscribed in the voluntary substitution programs, which as yet have not been implemented.
The General began to describe the Association of Campesinos (Ascamta) as the principal beneficiaries of the drug traffic: “Well, who is running that? They aren’t running it. The Presidents of the Community Action Boards of all of the towns (veredas) of Ascamta. And why does Ascamta get to do that? Because they are the ones that are charging the drug traffickers. From where? From Norte del Valle, the people from Cali, or those that are wanting to get in there.”
Later on, mixed with the intermittent sounds of a marker hitting the whiteboard, you could hear in the audio tape an academic explanation of the relationship between “Los Pocillos” and the civil society organizations of Argelia, criminal gangs, and the drug trafficking cartels. According to General Herrera’s explanation, this is going to be a prolonged popular war, where there would be no reason for him to be reproached for his role in it:
“This is a bitch of a war. So what kind of suckers are we, knowing that this is going on and we don’t want to win it. So that’s why General Herrera is talking with those sonsabitches. . .”
The tiger and his skin
Some months earlier, in April, Navides Chilhueso Noscué, Alias Tigre Indio, the historic leader of the ELN and the peace negotiator in Quito, was reported killed. At the beginning of the century, he and his José María Becerro Front, beaten by the paramilitaries’ mining bloc in Magdalena Medio, were admitted by the Jaime Pardo Leal Front of the FARC, in “guerrilla solidarity” so that they could get a new start in the north of Cauca, as a new “Southwest War Front” of the ELN.
In spite of the death of their leader, the rest of the Front, as it was explained by General Herrera, kept on taking part in the alliance with “Los Pocillos” and the Army.
Because of that, it was really strange that Tigre Indio was killed by the military. Well, they were military, but they were not the units commanded by General Herrera Díaz.
The Special Anti-Narcotics Brigade, Bracna, attached to the General Command of the Armed Forces, had carried out the operation. The only thing that was up to the 29th Brigade was solving a “logistical problem” as its Commander explained at that same meeting:
“The guys there have a video there that they’re going to get rid of, and they are getting rid of it. . .they’ve been making a big fuss because he wasn’t killed in any combat. Tigre didn’t have any weapon on him . . . they killed hi even though he was unarmed . . . or I should say, nothing’s going to happen, but the guys want us to make a big ruckus over there.”
According to the military report on the operation, cited in the El Colombiano newspaper, “in addition, they were able to seize a 7.65 caliber pistol and three fragmentation grenades.” If the report talks about weapons, but the General says that the guerrilla was unarmed, there are good reasons to think that they planted the pistol and the grenades.
Because of the results that Genera Herrera Díaz had been getting in the 29th Brigade in Cauca, he was promoted to Major General and appointed Commander of the Army’s 6th Division, headquartered in Florencia, Caquetá, with jurisdiction in the departments of Vaupés, Caquetá, Putumayo and Amazonas.
Cambio and Noticias Uno contacted General Herrera Díaz to ask for his version of the serious allegations he had made in the Command Staff meetings.
At first the General promised to take part in a video interview from Florencia. He set a date and time, but at the last moment his aide made excuses, arguing that he had been called to an urgent meeting.
As Cambio was simultaneously consulting the Commander of the Army, General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro, on that same afternoon Herrera was called to Bogotá to report to his superiors on the case.
The General arrived alone at the Noticias Uno station, without any bodyguards, and wearing a discreet Argyle jacket instead of his uniform. He listened to the audio tapes and denied having relationships with the “Los Pocillos” gang. He said that it was a misunderstanding, that he had had visits from Caliche and Pocillo, but that, as signers of the Peace Agreement they had come to the Brigade on a mission. He forgot that there is an audio tape where he himself stated that those two men were the ones that continued to be in control of the drug trafficking in the area. He made clear that he is indeed a supporter of killing the enemies, but only if they are armed and masked.
Regarding the operation that ended in the killing of Alias Tigre Indio, allegedly unarmed and not in combat, General Herrera said that he was not responsible because it was an action carried out by a different military unit.
We also talked with the commander of the Colombian Army, General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro, and we asked him if the Army had opened an investigation of the statements made by General Jorge Hernando Herrera; if the Army would admit that its men have alliances with drug traffickers or guerrillas so as to combat other irregulars; if he himself had been aware of the circumstances in which Navides Chilhueso Noscué, alias Tigre Indio, had been killed; and whether soldiers were permitted to kill unarmed guerrillas that were not in combat. And finally, whether a commander could give the instruction that he preferred kills over captures. General Zapateiro at first decided to answer Cambio and Noticias Uno by way of Whatsapp, in a single paragraph:
“It was very prudent of you to raise these subjects, very well stated and recorded, and to send them to the Control Agencies so immediately and so URGENTLY!!!! Because this is a very delicate matter and requires all of their attention, and they will act appropriately according to their jurisdictions!!! And with regard to your questions, the Institutional Policy is one of zero tolerance of criminality or with actions NOT in accord with the LAW. That is my ONLY RESPONSE!!!”
However, the next day he sent a pronouncement on his official stationery and we reproduce it in its entirety:
Following up on my response to your questions sent by Whatsapp yesterday afternoon, I would like to emphasize the following:
- The Colombian Army, in compliance with its mission assigned by the constitution, exercises its capabilities within the legal framework cemented in the constitution, laws, and international treaties, at all times with strict respect for human rights and the application of international humanitarian law.
- In addition, respect for the constitution and laws, as well as for human rights and compliance with international humanitarian law are part of the Army’s principles, and those are imperative in every action carried out by the men and women who are part of the Colombian Army.
- So, with regard to your questions, they appear to concern acts that show characteristics of conduct that may be criminal and must be reported. That obligation is sustained in the constitutional obligations of citizens to collaborate with the administration of justice and to act in conformity with the principle of solidarity. It is prudent to crystallize these allegations through competent authorities, and that there be an investigation to clarify any act believed to be contrary to legal regulations.
- In the same manner, and if you should wish it, considering that you are the ones that have the information that is the basis for your questions, you can address those allegations to the Army, for the purpose of advancing the appropriate legal actions, such as referring them to existing investigative and prosecutorial agencies.
- I have ordered the Army’s Legal Department to send you a more extensive report, which will be furnished to you as soon as possible.
- Finally, I recognize and thank you for allowing us to communicate our position regarding this report, in the interest of balanced information.
General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro Altamiranda
Commander of the Colombian Army
But this wasn’t his final response either. On Saturday morning, February 12, General Zapateiro sent another answer, seven pages long. It was accompanied by a disc which, according to the General “permits us to show with transparent clarity that the planning, servicing, execution, and evaluation of the Colombian Army’s military operations obey a standardized operating procedure, so that anyone who contravenes that, ignores it, omits or overreaches the legal, constitutional, judicial, or doctrinal framework of the Army, will be exposed to legal, disciplinary, and administrative actions that are called for.” In his statement, General Zapateiro promised to evaluate the evidence once he received it through official institutional channels.
Letter dated February 11, 2022 from the Colombian Army Legal Department to:
Sr. DANIEL ALFONSO CORONELL CASTANEDA
CARRERA 09 NO. 76-49 PISO 8
Subject: Response to questions sent by WhatsApp on February 10, 2022
I hereby direct my attention to Sr. Daniel Alfonso Coronell Castaneda, so as to respond from a legal perspective to the questions presented informally via WhatsApp to my cell phone number on February 10 of this year. Please permit me to explain the following “Considerations”.
The holistic vision of the institutional activities of the Colombian Army is based on its center of gravity in “Legitimacy”, “Legality”, Transparency”, and “Respect”, thus constituting it as a 21st century Army, and a fundamental of democracy in our country.
Everyone knows that the Colombian Army has been transformed in its organizational and doctrinal aspects, so as to increase the efficacy, efficiency, and effectiveness of its constitutional mission, its administrative and operational capabilities, the military vocation, the leadership of its commanders, military education, its operational strength, and military discipline.
Since 2020, the fundamental pillar of the “Policies and Guidelines” of the Commander of the Army has been respect for human rights and compliance with International Humanitarian Law, as can be seen in the “Guidelines for Colombian Army Commanders I 2020” ……………..
The idea that the Armed Forces ally themselves with drug trafficking groups in order to fight other criminals is nothing new in Colombia, but it has always been both illegal and clandestine. In fact, “Los Pepes” (a group that pursued Pablo Escobar) functioned as the point of the lance for the Police and for United States federal agencies in order to achieve the downfall of the greatest capo in history. That is as true and evident as it is unproveable in the judicial area. What is strange is that a General in this country admitted in a Command Staff meeting that it he cared more about the end than the means, and that he put forward an operation that was clearly illegal, being allied with guerrillas and drug traffickers.