EL TIEMPO, November 6, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Colonels and Sergeants have been arrested, but no general. ELN and the Dissidents have been among their customers.
Colombian Army Colonel Óscar Alexánder Amado Pinzón posted pictures on his social networks pictures that were taken in the United States Defense Department. He also posted decorations he received from Governors, photos taken beside then-Commanders of the Colombian Army, and even photos taken in tactical and parachute training.
His men and his superiors were positive that he would be invited to the Brigadier Generals’ course. Nevertheless, he has turned out to be the highest-ranking officer to be captured for alleged trafficking of military weapons, weapons that ended up in the hands of criminal organizations.
The Attorney General’s Office is accusing him of belonging to a network that was removing weapons from the impenetrable Fort Tolemaida, the one where Amado had been the Director of the Tactical Training School. Next the stolen arsenal was sent to Cali, where it ended up in the hands of the FARC Dissidents.
Amado was formally charged last September. And even though he did not admit to the charges, he was released because the prosecutors missed a procedural deadline. He is the 12th member of the military who has been arrested in the last 13 months and accused of supporting criminal organizations by selling them weapons, supplies or equipment, and, in other cases, furnishing them with classified information.
This is a file that the United States has followed very closely, and U.S. agents have contributed to a couple of arrests.
The mother file
EL TIEMP9O investigated and established that there is evidence that these networks have stolen military materials from at least eight battalions and artilleries in seven regions of the country: Caquetá, Putumayo, Meta, Tolima, Cesar, Indumil (in Soacha), and even the Cantón Norte Supply Battalion in Bogotá.
“In these same battalions that I have mentioned, they also grabbed equipment and material from the stored weapons that had been seized (. . .) Those are the petty cash for everybody that works in that kind of a storage place (. . .) Sometimes they come and make me offers for 200, 400, even 500 40-millimeter grenades,” one of the witnesses in the case told the prosecutors.
He also revealed that there are members of the military that are stealing material that the Army has ordered destroyed, in order to sell them on the weapons black market that is functioning very quietly in Colombia and appears to be feeding other countries as well.
“The biggest weapons trafficker in this country, lamentably, sad to say, and very worrisome, your honor, is the Colombian Army itself,” the Prosecutor #11 in the Specialized National Directorate Against Organized Crime (Decoc in Spanish) said just a week ago, as he was filing charges against eight members of one of these networks.
The greater part of the investigations against this mafia is placed in a mother file that rests in the Directorate. Dozens of members of the military are mentioned there, along with alias Boris, the right-hand-man of “Gentil Duarte”, the slain chief of the FARC Dissidents, one of the customers of the corrupt militaries.
Guns and uniforms
These criminal networks sell an UZI submachinegun worth 14 million pesos (roughly USD $2,800 at today’s rates) for 6 million pesos (roughly USD $1,200 at today’s rates); a Galil ACE 23 worth 12 million pesos (roughly USD $2,400 at today’s rates) for 5 million pesos (roughly USD $999 at today’s rates); and a Glock pistol worth 13 million pesos (roughly USD $2,600 at today’s rates) for 4 million pesos (roughly USD $800 at today’s rates). The ammunition is even cheaper.
The point of departure for this investigation, which is shaking up the military, was Alfonso Vesga, alias Pingo, characterized as one of the biggest purveyors of rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, pistols, and even controlled medications to the Dissidents and other illegal organizations.
Pingo was captured in Florencia (Caquetá Department) in September 2021 and, after several procedural interruptions, two parallel files against several active members of the military were set in motion.
Dozens of intercepts and witnesses allowed prosecutors to follow the route of the guns and even grenade launchers that were leaving the military bases and ending up in the hands of the mafia structures in Cauca and Caquetá. They negotiated using codes, through intermediaries, and they even included a street vendor and some shopkeepers.
Neiky Torres Perea, characterized as a large scale purveyor for the Dissidents that were committing crimes in Nariño and Cauca also appear in this network. Torres was captured in a joint operation with United States authorities.
A mission that has the authorities confused has landed in the region. It involves Uniform No.4 of the “Chameleon Bicentennial”, which was first displayed on July 20. Men of the slain Chief of the Dissidents, ‘Mayinbú’ wore it at the luxurious funeral they held for him last Thursday.
The corner store
Julián Pinilla Agredo, a Sergeant Second Class attached to Military District 20 in Cauca, appears in the same mother file. Cauca is a department where 16,554 hectares of coca are growing, dozens of mafia structures are present, and security is very much at risk
There is evidence that, working with a soldier, Milton de Jesús Ávila Ortiz, and two shopkeepers, the Pinilla network hid the weapons in a corner store in Medellín. They distributed the plunder from there. The Sergeant did not admit to the charges and EL TIEMPO even established that he managed to be assigned to house arrest.
John Manuel Ramos Ortega, attached to the 18th Brigade in Arauca, where the Army is permanently in combat with the Dissidents, has also been charged.
In addition, Humberto Muñoz Páez of Military District No 43 in Florencia (Caquetá) was also charged. He had registered an increase in assets of 55 million pesos (roughly USD $11,000 at today’s rates). He is seeking a plea agreement with the prosecutors.
Also sent to prison were Sergeant First Class Juan Manuel Torres Hernández and soldiers, Ronald González, Jesús Tique, Eris Pacheco, and José Alexánder Muñoz.
But there is another package of investigations that is disturbing military intelligence and counterintelligence even more. On October 1, Sergeant Andrés Felipe Saldarriaga Echeverri was alleged to be an informant for the Clan del Golfo, and he was put in jail.
According to the file, he turned information over to the subsidiary ‘Gonzalo Oqundo”, so that they could evade operations by the Armed Forces in the eastern part of the country.
But the most serious case, which will implicate even a general (on whom data has already been obtained), acting under the alias “El Padrino”, is not conclusive.
The Attorney General’s Office was able to identify an active officer and seven retired officers, including Colonel Robinson González Del Río, who sold information to Juan Larinson Castro Estupiñan, alias “Matamba” and even was advising him. When “Matamba” was evaluating an alleged collaboration, he escaped from the La Picota Prison, and was later killed in a Police operation.
What they were able to establish is that, with an exchange of large amounts of money, they were furnishing information even as far as to the personnel that were operating in the Pacific part of Nariño Department, the fiefdom of “Matamba”.
In the middle of the “total peace”
In a parallel manner, they are investigating what is behind the proliferation of these networks when people are talking about ‘total peace’.
Security expert Néstor Rosania believes there is a lot of military equipment on the street, but that’s been constant in Colombia’s armed conflict.
“The worst thing is that there are agencies of control that have not been proactive in investigations when they involve the Army or the Police. Historically, the investigators end up flying in helicopters with the officers. The Disney part of the war,” he said.
For his part, the former Undersecretary of Security and Coexistence in Bogotá, Andrés Nieto, said that in our analysis we have to keep in mind that the ELN is present in 23 of the 32 departments and the Dissidents are in 119 municipalities. Besides that, there is combat with the “Clan del Golfo” in 45 municipalities.
“In some of those territories, the Armed Forces are alone and subject to pressures. You have to investigate the reasons that lead the members of the Armed Forces to take part in these criminal networks and even rule out threats and extortions,” Nieto pointed out.
The security analyst Hugo Acero flatly rejects the idea that those cases are related to demoralization of the troops because of the retirements and the changes that have been ordered.
“The people that are selling these weapons are criminals who, dishonorably, are using the uniform of the Armed Forces in order to commit crimes. That was going on long before Gustavo Petro came to power,” added Acero.
For now, the case of Colonel Amade has been turned over to the Military Criminal Justice system, “to gain insight into the case proceedings.”