COLOMBIA: US-FUNDED TROOPS BACK PARAMILITARY MASSACRES 
A Weekly News Update on the Americas Supplement 
March 22, 1998

Weekly News Update on the Americas is published weekly by the 
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* Will US Withhold Aid?

On Jan. 8 of this year, Associated Press cited US Embassy officials--
speaking on condition of anonymity--saying that the US government 
is withholding $10 million in "non-lethal" US military aid to Colombia 
already approved by the US Congress, pending full details from 
Colombia about collusion between the army and paramilitary death 
squads. While the Colombian police and judiciary have received more 
than $1 billion over the past decade in US aid--designated for anti-
drug efforts--some direct aid to the military has been held up over 
human rights accusations. 

According to AP, Washington began to reconsider military aid last 
year because of the growing strength of Colombia's leftist guerrillas, 
who are said to control 40% of the countryside. To be legally eligible 
for the aid, Colombia signed an Aug. 1 Memorandum of 
Understanding (MOU) on "end use monitoring" in which it promised 
to provide a list of all military units accused of rights violations; 
detail the alleged abuses; and verify that the cases are being 
investigated. The navy and air force have delivered their lists, but 
the army's is still pending, US officials said. The "non-lethal" aid that 
has been held up includes night vision goggles and flak jackets. [AP 
1/8/98] 

Aid to the police continues, as do subsidized military sales. Between 
direct aid, regional aid, and defense draw-downs--all subject to 
different regulations--the figures on total US aid to Colombia are 
unclear. "I doubt anybody really knows how many different 
programs result in the transfer of military equipment and assistance 
to Colombia," says Carlos Salinas, Latin America program officer for 
Amnesty International in Washington. [Christian Science Monitor 
1/16/98] In a Dec. 29, 1997 letter sent to the Washington Post, 
Salinas points out that "since 1989, Colombia has been the number 
one recipient of US security assistance in the Western Hemisphere." 
[Fax of letter to WP] 

The latest charges focus on the army's role in allowing rightwing 
paramilitary groups to fly into southern Colombia to commit 
massacres. Last May, the paramilitary groups formed a national front 
and began to move into the southeastern region, where the military 
had taken over major towns and airstrips in 1996 as part of an anti-
drug strategy. This region is Colombia's main coca- growing area and 
a traditional stronghold of its largest leftist guerrilla group, 
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). 

* Massacre in Mapiripán

On July 12, 1997, some 120 paramilitary fighters landed in two 
chartered planes at a military-controlled airport in San José de 
Guaviare, according to judicial investigators and civil aviation 
officials. Assault rifles and machine guns were boxed as cargo. No one 
recorded their 2:30 pm arrival in the airport's log book, reported it 
as suspicious or prevented the paramilitaries from setting out by 
speedboat for the town of Mapiripán, in Meta department, where 
they tortured and killed some 30 alleged guerrilla sympathizers over 
a five-day period. The army denies any knowledge of the flight, as 
do the antinarcotics police. Next to the airstrip is the police barracks 
that houses a team of US advisers and pilots who are part of 
Colombia's drug fumigation program. [AP 1/8/98; CSM 1/16/98]

Mapiripán's municipal judge, Iván Cortés Novoa, told a Colombian 
reporter that he made eight frantic telephone calls to an army 
battalion commander 40 miles away in San José del Guaviare, 
pleading for help. But the regional military commander, Gen. Jaime 
Umberto Uscategui, refused to send soldiers to stop the killings, said 
Cortés. "Every night at dusk, they killed five or six defenseless 
people, civilians cruelly and monstrously massacred, first tortured," 
Cortés wrote in a letter faxed on July 21 to his superior in the 
regional capital of Villavicencio. Cortés, later forced by death threats 
to flee the country, said that he witnessed 26 murders and that most 
of the bodies were thrown into the Guaviare River. Some victims 
were cut up alive with cleavers and several people who tried to pull 
relatives' bodies from the river were themselves killed and tossed in, 
said a representative of the government human rights office who 
interviewed witnesses. The official said all the witnesses were too 
terrified of reprisal to make formal complaints. [Dallas Morning News 
1/10/98; AP 1/8/98]

* The Miraflores Murders

A second paramilitary killing spree, this time in the southern 
garrison town of Miraflores, Guaviare department, began on Oct. 18--
the day before Barry McCaffrey, head of the White House Office of 
Drug Control Policy, arrived in Colombia to show support for the 
military and police, and to campaign for increased US military 
support to combat the growing influence of the so-called "narco-
guerrillas" [see Updates #403, 404, & Update supplement "Colombia: 
Rebel Offensive Continues," 3/1/97]. Control of Miraflores has been 
considered crucial to the government's efforts to halt the cocaine 
trade, antinarcotics police officials say. The US government routinely 
dispatches antinarcotics advisers there. [DMN 1/10/98; AP 1/8/98] 

The Miraflores case has attracted special attention because 
antinarcotics police were present at the time of the murders. Local 
residents say that the paramilitaries were taken directly to a joint 
military and police base in Miraflores when they arrived. After 
leaving the base on the morning of Oct. 18, the paramilitaries strolled 
down the block and killed four people on a central street of 
Miraflores--in broad daylight and in plain sight of the military and 
police base, 100 yards away. [AP 1/8/98; CSM 1/16/98; DMN 
1/10/98]
In a letter to the United Nations (UN) human rights representative in 
Colombia, Almudena Mazarrasa, five Miraflores residents said that 
the killers identified themselves as paramilitary fighters and carried 
a list of the victims they were seeking. The paramilitaries moved 
freely about the town, communicating with walkie-talkies, over a 
three-day period. As this was going on, "the police, army and navy 
did not make an appearance," the residents wrote in the letter. (The 
Colombian navy has a small river patrol contingent in Miraflores.) 
[AP 1/8/98; DMN 1/10/98]

The paramilitaries remained in Miraflores for two days, living in a 
motel adjacent to the army and police base. Just before leaving on 
Oct. 20, they killed two more local residents, according to a formal 
complaint filed by then-mayor José Icardo Pérez Castillo. On Oct. 20, 
Colombian soldiers called from a public phone for a private plane to 
collect the "paras," said Héctor Guaviata, a jeep driver who 
witnessed the arrival of six paramilitary fighters in Miraflores. [CSM 
1/16/98; DMN 1/10/98] Local residents also charged that soldiers 
escorted two of the paramilitaries to the small plane that picked 
them up at Miraflores' landing strip. [AP 1/8/98] Several days later 
the paramilitaries returned, attempted to extort money from several 
shop owners, and then departed. [DMN 1/10/98] 

Access to Miraflores is primarily by air, and the antinarcotics police 
register everyone who steps off a plane. Army and police officers in 
Miraflores say that it would be impossible for anyone to enter the 
town without the knowledge of the military. However, both the 
police and the army in Miraflores denied knowledge of a 
paramilitary attack. [CSM 1/16/98] Lt. William Donato, base 
commander of the antinarcotics police, said he was not present 
during the attack, which he dismissed as a "psychological operation" 
by the guerrillas to intimidate local residents. He said the police do 
not normally patrol the town or investigate killings, because of the 
heavy presence of guerrillas. However, he confirmed that "no 
airplane arrives without its passengers being registered and their 
belongings searched by the police." [DMN 1/10/98]

After the allegations against the military were widely publicized, 
armed forces commander Gen. Manuel José Bonett transferred 
Uscategui, the battalion commander, and his division commander, 
Gen. Agustín Ardila, to desk jobs. Ardila then resigned. Four top 
officers in military intelligence were denied promotions, forcing them 
to retire. In a Dec. 29 interview with AP, Bonett said the men were 
relieved of duty in connection with the massacres, but he refused to 
discuss details of the case. Bonett denied that military units support 
or ignore paramilitary operations. "I've publicly declared them 
enemy No. 1," Bonett said of the paramilitaries. At the time Bonett 
made this statement, not one of 180 leading paramilitary figures for 
whom arrest warrants have been issued had been captured, noted 
AP. [AP 1/8/98] Nor have any military officers been prosecuted in 
connection with the Mapiripán or Miraflores massacres, despite 
direct pressure from the Clinton administration [DMN 1/10/98; CSM 
1/16/98], and despite Bonett's admission in a recent interview that 
informal collaboration between soldiers and paramilitaries may take 
place in "some isolated cases." [CSM 1/16/98] 

* Police Involvement "Disturbing"

"At this point in time I don't think the US can safely fund the 
Colombian military," Human Rights Watch/Americas (HRW/A) 
research associate Robin Kirk told the Christian Science Monitor. [CSM 
1/16/98] "This is not the case of rogue officers out of control," said 
Kirk. "It's a practice that, at the very least, is tolerated at the highest 
levels." She described the apparent involvement of antinarcotics 
police in the incident as particularly troublesome because of their 
normally strict compliance with international human rights 
conventions. The killers' presence at a police checkpoint only minutes 
before the attacks began "points to direct contact between the 
paramilitaries and the antinarcotics police," said Kirk. "We regard this 
as very disturbing." [DMN 1/10/98]

Kirk has particular reason to be troubled by the charges, which 
emerged less than six months after she gave HRW/A's "Seal of 
Approval" to US military aid to Colombia's antinarcotics police. On 
July 16, 1997, Kirk sent a memo to John Mackey, an aide to Rep. 
Benjamin Gilman (R-NY). The memo, which accompanied a statement 
in Spanish from HRW/A, reads: "Dear John: This is a statement we 
made today in Colombia regarding US military aid to fight drugs. In 
it, we state very clearly that we are not opposing aid to the Anti-
Narcotics Police because of their good human rights record, but 
continue to oppose aid to the Army.... (...) You're fully welcome to 
refer to this as the HRW `Seal of Approval' for police aid, if you wish. 
Hang onto it--it doesn't come often!" The memo was included in the 
Congressional Record of July 30, 1997, as part of a discussion on 
foreign appropriations. [Congressional Record 7/30/97 (House)] 
According to Kirk, the Miraflores case marks the first time in years 
that Colombia's antinarcotics police have been implicated in a major 
human rights case. [DMN 1/10/98]

In fact, police agents have been linked to the murder of civilians in 
anti-drug operations since at least 1992. In early February of this 
year, two former agents of the National Police were arrested in 
Medellín by the Attorney General's office after the office's Human 
Rights Unit accused them of participating in a 1992 massacre in 
Medellín's Villatina neighborhood. The massacre was one of many 
that took place in Medellín and its neighboring municipalities 
between 1989 and 1993, as police carried out a fierce pursuit of 
members of the so-called Medellín drug cartel. [Peace Brigades 
International (PBI) Colombia Team Catorce Días #94, 1/26-2/8/98, 
from El Colombiano (Medellín) 2/5/98] 

END

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