19 February 2008

CIA & Colombian Paras: Best of Buddies

The Colombian journal Semana has published articles linking the CIA with the Colombian paramilitaries, drawing on information gathered by the non-profit National Security Archive from official U.S. documents, and how the drug lords now look to being repatriated to the USA to escape international justice.
'Don Berna' is a man of few words and thousands of secrets, one of the main protagonists in Colombia’s violent history of three decades. A loyal, discreet and efficient gunman of the Castaño family, he was witness to the creation of Los Pepes (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar), a coalition of the underworld, the only purpose of which was to hunt down, dead or alive, the drug lord Pablo Escobar.

It was not just the gunmen of the underworld who were after Escobar’s footprints. The authorities simultaneously were looking for him. The President of the republic, César Gaviria Trujillo, kept Escobar in his sights. Not only did he have a constitutional responsibility but he had made the promise on the grave of Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, his leader assassinated by the mafia. Gaviria thought of the Bloque de Búsqueda (BB), an elite group of the armed forces, for this mission.

His initiative found immediate support from the government of the United States. The then ambassador in Bogota, Morris Busby, promised in public that sooner rather than later, the drug lord would fall. It was common to see the arrival at the airports of Bogota and Medellin men of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who joined the BB.

In parallel, in their ranches, the then members of the Castaño family sought help to face their rival. Fidel and Vicente were the leaders of that cause which was joined by their elder brother, Carlos, and the other powerful clan of that time, the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, who led the Cali cartel. There was speculation for years about the links the CIA established with Los Pepes to take out Escobar.

Michael Evans of the non-profit National Security Archive told Semana that recently declassified documents in the USA made clear the American security support “to a terrorist paramilitary organisation of Colombia”. According to Evans, it is clear that the BB was supported by the USA to “locate the fugitive narco-trafficker Pablo Escobar; it shared intelligence with Fidel Castaño”. If this were not enough, the USA monitored with great care meetings between the Colombian President and his senior security officials. That is, at the same time that it was helping President Gaviria, it was spying on all his movements.

A diplomatic cable of 1993 reveals that U.S. agent “kept an eye on the intimate circle of the Colombian President”. The cable describes that “in a meeting… the director of the Colombian Police said he ‘had ordered a high official to maintain contacts with Fidel Castaño, leader of Los Pepes, to compile intelligence”. A few days later (according to the cable), President Gaviria ordered an end to the intelligence cooperation with Los Pepes and ordered the police intelligence chief to 'pass the word' that the Pepes must be dissolved immediately”.

After Escobar’s death, the underworld that fought him reorganised and strengthened their military muscle as with, for example, the Castaño brothers. In May 1994, the State Department’s intelligence wing called Fidel Castaño a “super drug-thug and one of the most ruthless criminals in all of Colombia” who “could become a new Escobar.

Little by little, all the protagonists disappeared in a tale of endless violence. Fidel was assassinated. Carlos was killed by order of his own brother, Vincent, of whom there is no trace. One of the few survivors is ‘Don Berna’, the silent paramilitary chief. He certainly knows how the degree to which the USA incentivised them in forming the most powerful killing machine of recent history.” Don Berna might be guarding hi silence or he might be saving it to negotiate in the USA, to which he is at the point of being extradited.

Oh for a Visa: Current and former Colombian paramilitary bosses are negotiating with U.S. Justice Department so that they can be extradited to that country, Semana reveals in another report. Rather than staying in Colombia where they run the risk of being killed by their enemies or emerging drug barons, they are willing to serve time in U.S. prisons, where they expect to get prison term reductions of up to 70% and later the right to remain there. After serving some four or five years in prison, they can then pursue their own American dream.

The paramilitaries fear that the International Criminal Court might seek to try them and handing themselves over to the U.S. system would spare them the fate as the USA does not recognise the court. It is said they will have to pay a considerable amount to the USA and reveal the drug and arms links as well as pay their victims. The paramilitary bosses are said to have been influenced by the stories of some of their former compatriots who now own stud farms in Florida. Semana asks who stands to gain more from the extradition, the paramilitaries or the country.

Originally published in Semana Article l and Article ll
Unraveling the Pepes Tangled Web at The National Security Archive

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You may find, and perhaps with help from a Freedom of Indormation search or the National Security Archive that it is far from certain that Fidel Castaño is dead. My understanding is that the US authorities themselves have not concluded on this yet. He has been reported sighted in Portugal and Paris it seems. It is worth making an official approach to the US government to ask them what their view is on this. If the US authorities think he may still be alive and he is indeed one of the most dangerous criminals on earth why is he not Public Enemy Number One (or number two after Osama BL) in the States? Of course, the USA likes to keep secrets on Colombians in power. They hold huge dossiers on Uribe Velez which for the moment they don't like to talk about, while he is their best friend.