EL ESPECTADOR, February 3, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Before his retirement, General Wilson Cháwez was mentioned in a report by the Attorney General’s Office. It put the illegal connections between the drug boss and high Colombian Army officials under the microscope. Although the Army explained that he was not being investigated, a document shows that the Army’s High Command did indeed investigate him.

The arrest of retired Colonel Róbinson González del Río in a drug traffic operation evidenced the perverse alliance between the Colombian military and the individual who, until February 2, 2022, was one of the most hunted drug bosses in the country, Juan Lárinson Castro, alias “Matamba”. The investigation by the Attorney General’s Office revealed that the retired Colonel did business with the boss of the drug trafficking organization, and that, even to the point of recruiting Colombian Army officers and noncoms, “Matamba” was able to consolidate a criminal monopoly in Nariño and in a large part of Cauca. In the file, retired General Leonardo Barrero was identified as possibly one of the highest-ranking connections with the criminal organization. But also the name of a General came to light, who was on active duty when the scandal broke: Major General Wilson Nehid Cháwez Mahecha.

At the time, the Army assured this newspaper that it could not refer to the case, because the facts were “under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office” and that the Army was careful to obey the decisions adopted by the judiciary and by control agencies. However, documents that were leaked from the High Command of the Armed Forces in a massive “hack” carried out by a hackers collective, the Guacamaya, shows that they themselves played roles in the matters in which General Cháwez was being investigated. EL ESPECTADOR had access to those secret files through the “Forbidden Stories” organization, a consortium of journalists based in France. They continue the work of journalists who have been threatened or murdered.

One of the documents that show what was really going on in the Army’s Command Staff between February and March of 2022, days after the Attorney General’s office made public some of the evidence demonstrating the relationship between the military and “Matamba”, was a decision signed by General Jorge León González Parra, Chief of the Command Staff. The high official ordered the opening of an investigation of General Cháwez, a very high caliber event, because the individual to be investigated was no less than the Chief of Joint Operations and fifth in the high command of the Armed Forces. In the decision, which this newspaper has seen, you can read that the investigation of the General seeks to clarify alleged acts of corruption committed by members of the military in alliances not only with “Matamba”, but also with alias “Sábalo”, making reference by the Colombian Army to the leader of the ELN.

The decision by González Parra went further and asked that General Wilson Cháwez also be investigated for actions as serious as data breaches and leaks of intelligence information about military operations. Although General Parra explained in the document that the investigation was based on information published in the press, the Attorney General’s Office had already referred to General Cháwez in an extensive report nearly 700 pages long by the Judicial Police, mentioning retired General Leonardo Barrero. According to the investigation, that last retired member of the military had been the link to the arrested González Del Río. Together, they had coordinated troop movements and furnished confidential information so that “Matamba” and his men could move around Nariño and Cauca at their leisure.

Although no investigation had explained the participation of Barrero in that criminal structure, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace had summoned him this week to testify voluntarily about his alleged connections with paramilitary organizations in Urabá and other parts of the country. Before he was extradited to the United States, Otoniel mentioned the names of some highly placed officers in the Colombian Army who would know about his offenses at the time that he was a member of the Self-Defense Forces and a member of paramilitary strongholds. One of those mentioned was Barrero, who allegedly was one of the key pieces of the Centaurs Bloc in Casanare Department in 2002. Besides that, in this case, the retired General was also summoned by the JEP to testify about his alleged participation in cases of extrajudicial executions.

General Cháwez was mentioned in several of the legal wiretaps made by the Attorney General’s Office. According to the calls between the drug boss, the retired Colonel González Del Río and other officers on the Mafia payroll, in 2019, Barrero had furnished information to Cháwez about alias “Sábalo” so that he would increase the operations against him. And furthermore, he had let him know about possible members of the military infiltrated by that other illegal organization. In the exchange of communications it was established that on October 25, 2019, González Del Río sent a secret intelligence document to “Matamba’s” organization that had been directed to General Cháwez. In other words, the investigators were able to prove in their report that both high officials had coordinated efforts to help the drug boss and his men.

Another one of the most delicate parts of the judicial report is a call between “Matamba” (“Juan”) and the arrested Colonel González Del Río (“Amigo”). “Juan” asks how he’s getting along, “Amigo” answers that they now have assigned him a person directly from Bogotá to talk about intelligence and to have control of the Intelligence Battalion in Popayán. He adds that they are going to talk about the transfers on Thursday afternoon with a General that’s going to remove “El Padrino” (General Barrero). “Amigo” says that they are going to send a package of intelligence about “Sábalo” so he can order G (Colonel Gómez) to get going. It appears that Barrero Gordilo had asked General Cháwez then to relieve an officer named Duque from his position. In those conversations they mention another General named Hoyos.

This and other accusations against Cháwez were collected by González Parra, head of the Command Staff, in a 16-page decision ordering the investigation of the then-General. To do that, General González Parra requested information from more than ten branches of the Colombian Army, such as data about operations against “Matamba”, troop movements right in the area where the drug boss was operating any way he wanted, at least between 2018 and 2020, and he asked for the testimony of Róbinson González Del Río and three other high-ranking commanders. Besides that, he asked the Attorney General’s Office if they had any open investigation of Cháwez. They answered him twice saying there wasn’t anything, and they said the same thing to the military justice system.

Wilson Neyhid Cháwez Mahecha is now a retired Army General. He left the Army in August of last year, when President Gustavo Petro was inaugurated and, by the President’s decision, more than 20 Generals retired. Among the criteria for the massive exit of high-ranking officers, the President stated that, in order to select the new Commanders, he considered officers that had no connection with cases of corruption and “zero violations of fundamental rights.” However, the retirement of the General did not imply that the investigation that the High Command had opened would be closed. The problem is that, after a year in which González Del Río was arrested, none of the investigations, neither by the Army, nor by the Attorney General, nor the Inspector General, have provided any results.

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