This piece by Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy is particularly revealing of the high-level links between members of the Colombian government (including military) and right-wing paramilitary groups that are included on the U.S. list of World Terrorist Organizations. CIA evidence incriminates a celebrated military commander trained at the U.S. military training center formerly called the School of the Americas. Gen. Mario Montoya’s case is part of a much broader scandal unraveling at an almost dizzying pace.
Of course, here in Colombia, Gen. Montoya is denying all charges, scoffing at CIA evidence, and lambasting the LA Times for being irresponsible. The Colombian government is publicly supporting the General. Might this test the cozy international relationship between these the U.S. and Colombia, two countries that so need each other, politically, at this time? Read excerpts from Isacson’s piece below:
The front page of today’s Los Angeles Times has a huge piece of news: “The CIA has obtained new intelligence alleging that the head of Colombia’s U.S.-backed army collaborated extensively with right-wing militias that Washington considers terrorist organizations, including a militia headed by one of the country’s leading drug traffickers.”
According to the story, a U.S. intelligence document accuses Gen. Mario Montoya of collaborating closely with paramilitaries in one of the signature military operations of President Uribe’s first term.
Gen. Montoya’s men were working hand-in-glove with the paramilitary group headed by “Don Berna” – Diego Fernando Murillo, a feared paramilitary chief whom the U.S. government wishes to extradite to face drug-trafficking charges.
This means big trouble for U.S. military aid to Colombia. Gen. Montoya has been a favorite of the United States. He was trained, and even served as an instructor, at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. He headed “Joint Task Force South,” the unit that coordinated U.S.-funded military operations in southern Colombia when Plan Colombia began.
We’re not talking about a rogue “bad apple” from a hard-line military faction. These allegations of paramilitary collaboration are leveled at the head of Colombia’s entire army. The LA Times piece goes on to allege that Montoya’s immediate superior, the head of the entire armed forces, is not beyond suspicion either.
These revelations are emerging at a crucial moment, as the new Democratic-controlled Congress begins to consider U.S. aid to Colombia for next year. Many of those involved in drafting the aid legislation are critics of the mostly military nature of past U.S. assistance to Colombia. Most have gone on record several times expressing concerns about human rights, and about allegations of military-paramilitary collaboration.
The U.S. and Colombian authorities have repeatedly assured these congressional critics that charges of military-paramilitary ties are (1) false or exaggerated; (2) something that happens at low levels but is not tolerated at the top; or (3) a problem that is rapidly disappearing as the armed forces improve. These arguments have come from ambassadors, generals, State Department officials, and President Uribe himself; as a result, members of Congress – even skeptics – have generally had to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The “benefit of the doubt” disappears when the LA Times’ front page can report that the military’s top leadership truly collaborated with paramilitaries on a recent, high-profile military offensive like Operation Orion. Key members of Congress will be left feeling that their longtime suspicions have been confirmed, and are likely to act accordingly.
The U.S. policy that began with Plan Colombia is in bigger trouble today than it has ever been.
Janna Bowman is the Documentation and Advocacy program coordinator for Justapaz, the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action of the Colombian Mennonite Church. Join Christians from across North America and Colombia in Days of Prayer and Action for Peace in Colombia, May 20-21. Learn more and find resources to participate at peaceincolombia.org.