IV. THE CONTINUING PARTNERSHIP
Human Rights Watch has learned that, far from ending with the discovery of the naval intelligence network in Barrancabermeja and its partnership with paramilitaries, collaboration between military intelligence, division, brigade, and battalion commanders, and paramilitaries continues, as laid out in Order 200-05/91. Based on our interviews with witnesses and former participants, the government's own investigations, and abundant material collected by human rights groups and journalists, we believe that military high command continues to organize, encourage, and deploy paramilitaries to fight a covert war against those it suspects of support for guerrillas.
In this report, we are not suggesting that all paramilitaries are intimate partners with the military. Clearly, others in Colombia - including wealthy landowners and drug traffickers - fund and direct private armies, which also commit acts of criminal and political violence. However, the military has not only created and taken advantage of paramilitary groups, but also allows all of these groups to operate when it serves their common purpose, ridding the area of perceived guerrilla support, political opposition, or critics of their tactics, including human rights monitors.
Indeed, human rights groups have noted a marked increase in paramilitary activity nationally. In part due to continuing political crisis, paramilitaries appear to be consolidating their control of key areas in collaboration with the military. Increasingly, paramilitaries present themselves as a coordinated entity, with a national presence, agenda, and strategy. 120 According to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, close to half of all political killings committed in 1995 where a perpetrator is identified can be attributed to paramilitaries. 121
In 1994 alone, two new national paramilitary groups were announced with high-profile assassinations. One, calling itself Death to Communists and Guerrillas (Muerte a Comunistas y Guerrilleros, MACOGUE), was credited with responsibility for the August 9 murder of UP Sen. Manuel Cepeda and death threats to twenty-five other leaders, including two bishops, politicians, and amnestied guerrillas. 122 The formation of another, Colombia Without Guerrillas (Colombia Sin Guerrillas, COLSINGUE), was announced on July 28, after the murder of three union leaders in Antioquia. 123
That year, journalists received a document called "First Summit of Colombian Self-Defense Groups," a fifty-seven page manuscript drafted following a November 1994 meeting in Cimitarra, department of Santander, and written by paramilitaries. 124 The document contains a history of paramilitary groups, and recognizes that "self-defense groups were [originally] regulated by the army through its Combat Intelligence Manuals." The document underscores that the paramilitary movement will continue to consider "the political and trade union ranks of the extreme left" to be "military targets," as long as the guerrillas "continue to assassinate military and civilian personnel outside of combat, and to attack the relatives of self-defense group members." It ends by describing paramilitaries as a legitimate political project that has "always been allied with the state." 125
For his part, President Ernesto Samper, elected in 1994, has begun to rely increasingly on the military for support and has delayed action on many of the measures he promised to improve human rights protections, end the militaryparamilitary partnership, and curb impunity. We welcome the periodic initiatives announced by the government to locate and arrest paramilitary leaders, like the special commission reactivated in 1995 by Interior Minister Horacio Serpa to coordinate the investigation and search for paramilitary leaders, originally set up in 1989. 126 Serpa reiterated his condemnation of paramilitary groups in November, qualifying their behavior as "criminal.... They are fostering violence, just as guerrillas do, and causing a lot of harm and violence in our country." 127 But so far, results have been few.
To the contrary, President Samper has appeared increasingly hostile to human rights and measures that would end the military-paramilitary partnership. Among the most obvious signs of this was his decision to authorize civilians to set up "rural security cooperatives" with the stated intention of providing troops with intelligence on their regions. 128 Called CONVIVIR, they differ little in organization from the paramilitary units organized by the military in the 1980s. To the public, CONVIVIR are presented as associations of ranchers linked by radio and able to call on a privately-funded security detail if a guerrilla unit is detected in the area. However, human rights groups have expressed serious reservations about CONVIVIR. As in the MAS model, CONVIVIR groups maintain a close working relationship with police and army commanders, are funded by wealthy ranchers, and depend on a hired crew of young men, often former soldiers, to collect intelligence and ostensibly fend off guerrilla attack. The identities of CONVIVIR members and their employees are secret. Although the government says it does not arm CONVIVIR members, those who apply for weapons licenses through normal channels can receive them. 129 One of the newest CONVIVIR was reportedly inaugurated in April near San Vicente de Chucurí, a well-known paramilitary stronghold. 130 According to the government, these groups now number over fifty. 131
President Samper has also made statements that ignore the disastrous record compiled by the security forces, their intelligence networks, and the military-paramilitary partnership. In an address to officers at the War College in May 1996, President Samper stressed his government's commitment to setting up new "specialized intelligence groups both in the air force and navy." In addition, he showed little inclination to punish those who commit abuses and vowed to "prevent (soldiers) from having to constantly appear before court to respond to unfounded charges ... by other enemies instead of carrying out their duties for the benefit of the country," a reference to Procuraduría human rights investigations, a statement he has made repeatedly. 132
The government has also begun to rely on the declaration of states of siege, now called a state of "internal commotion," to govern. 133 After President Samper declared a state of internal commotion on August 16, 1995, following a series of massacres in the Urabá region, national human rights groups withdrew from a joint government NGO commission to study ways to improve human rights protections. In a joint statement, the groups described the government's attitude as an "180-degree turn ... previous government statements in support of human rights have been put off or subordinated to policies stemming from the state of commotion." 134 In a decision that surprised many, the Constitutional Court, a new institution formed as a result of the 1991 constitutional reform, struck down the decree as unconstitutional since, the court argued, the government had failed to prove that the violence was out of the ordinary and therefore merited extraordinary measures. 135 Subsequently, several magistrates reported receiving death threats related to their decision. 136
On November 2, 1995, President Samper declared the second state of internal commotion of his presidency, in response to the assassination of Conservative leader Alvaro Gómez. 137 Apparently chastened, the Constitutional Court upheld its constitutionality. 138 Nevertheless, in what was considered a public rebuke of the Court, in July 1996, President Samper introduced to congress a bill that would reform the constitution and bar the court from reviewing the reasons behind a state of internal commotion in the future. 139 The state of internal commotion was prolonged twice by a Senate vote and remained in effect through October 1996. 140
One of the measures implemented as a result was Decree 0717, which bypasses civil authorities and allows military commanders to petition the executive to declare "special public order zones" and suspend key rights, like the right to travel and the right to live in some areas. 141 The first was declared in Urabá in May following a massacre of nine people attributed to the FARC. 142
Within a week, over one third of the country-including the departments of Vaupes, Caquetá, Meta, Guaviare, Vichada, and the Antioquia municipalities of Segovia and Remedios-were declared "special public order zones" under Decree 0871. 143 In the case of Guaviare, the department governor publicly criticized authorities for failing to notify him after the Fourth Division commander based in Villavicencio successfully petitioned for a "special public order zone." 144
In the following section, we illustrate the continuing partnership between the military and paramilitaries with a case study on the northern Magdalena region. In it, we focus on key areas of collaboration, including the collection of intelligence; the targeting of legal political groups, municipal offices, and individuals and the actions taken against them; and the transfer of weapons and supplies. Additional information on these ties is included in the key cases that are part of the Impunity section.
The Northern Magdalena: A Case Study
In 1995, Human Rights Watch carried out an in-depth investigation of the military-paramilitary partnership in the northern Magdalena region. Although we documented coordination between the military and paramilitaries in other regions, the northern Magdalena is a particularly revealing case study for two reasons. First, there is abundant evidence that the military and paramilitaries work together according to the MAS model tested in the 1980s and reformulated by military high command in Order 200-05/91. As importantly, the most compelling evidence we have collected comes from the government itself, and demonstrates that it is possible to identify the perpetrators of attacks and develop strong legal cases against them. All that is lacking is the political will to aggressively prosecute the military sponsors of paramilitary atrocities and bring them to justice.
Made up of parts of the departments of Cesar, Norte de Santander, and Bolivar, the northern Magdalena is primarily agricultural, with large cattle ranches interspersed with smaller family farms growing produce for local markets. Narrowed by two mountain ranges and bordering Venezuela, it combines humid river valleys with and plateaus and thickly forested mountains. 145
Law enforcement investigators identify three groups engaged in violence here: the FARC and ELN; a handful of ranching families and drug traffickers who have organized paramilitary groups; and the military. Although violence has a long history here, the most recent increase dates from the early 1990s, as the military-paramilitary alliance based in Puerto Boyacá and Puerto Berrío began to push north in pursuit of suspected "subversives." By 1993, when Mobile Brigade 2 was active in the area, human rights groups were flooded with reports of serious human rights abuses. 146
In Ocaña, paramilitaries appeared publicly with their weapons. A uniformed police agent told Human Rights Watch in 1995, "We work with them. They help us with the guerrillas." Paramilitary leaders there use two-way radios to communicate directly with the army, said one witness who observed these communications from inside Ocaña's Santander Battalion. Said another witness, "The paramilitaries even have an office in town with computers." 147
In a letter to the Public Ombudsman (Defensoría) in Bogotá, the regional ombudsman identified a group calling itself the "Peasant Self-Defense Group" (Autodefensas Campesinas) as responsible for the July 30, 1994, massacre of six people. He reported that despite abundant evidence, Gen. Ricardo Cifuentes, commander of the Fifth Brigade and the officer responsible for the area, claimed "not to be aware of self-defense groups in the area." At the same time, civil authorities described themselves as "overwhelmed" with reports of such groups. 148
In 1995, a police investigation determined that local paramilitaries were organized by Maj. Jorge Alberto Lázaro Vergel, the Aguachica military commander. 149 According to the testimony of the Aguachica police commander, Major Lázaro had told him that he would "put bullets" in guerrillas active in Aguachica, named on his secret blacklist. Major Lázaro boasted of the support he received from the DAS, the Anti-Kidnapping Unit (Unidad Anti-Secuestro y Extorsión, UNASE), and local ranchers, including the Prada family, who had identified the police commander as a potential threat for failing "to collaborate with the work of the paramilitaries ... and hand[ing] over captured paramilitaries to prosecutors. 150
A later police investigation identified brothers Roberto, Juancho, and Martiniano Prada as paramilitary leaders. Among others was Fidel Medina, a foreman working for another rancher. Calling themselves "Los Masetos," the group consisted of approximately forty men armed with short- and long-range automatic weapons. 151 Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that paramilitaries in this area use .38 caliber revolvers, 9mm semi-automatic pistols and 9mm Uzi automatic sub-machine guns, Galil and G3 automatic rifles and AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, most illegal for civilian use. 152
To support them, local ranchers and farmers were obligated to pay monthly or quarterly protection fees. Among other things, fees go to purchase weapons, either from the military or on Colombia's thriving black market. 153 Those who failed to pay had to leave the zone or risk assassination. The Aguachica police commander described one meeting with Major Lázaro:
He wanted me to tell him who I was with, with them or with who. He said what I had to do was close my eyes and keep the police inside when they were doing an operation.... He told me that no one could operate here without my order and I tell them yes or no, they are under my command and that we're not going to leave dead people around, we are going to grab people and disappear them because the dead make a lot of noise. 154
On January 15, 1995, paramilitaries under the command of Major Lázaro apparently carried out the most aggressive operation to date in the region: the Puerto Patiño massacre. Unlike in other cases we are aware of, a credible investigation was done by police. Human Rights Watch obtained an internal report on the massacre prepared by a special unit of the Judicial and Investigation Police (Dirección de Policía Judicial e Investigación de la Policía Nacional, DIJIN), part of Colombia's National Police. The report, included here as Appendix B, concludes that military officers, "in clear abuse of their authority, have failed to comply with state and institutional laws and directives [by] making alliances with armed groups." 155
This police investigation demonstrates two crucial points. Timely, independent investigations can identify the perpetrators of violence; and the failure to prosecute those perpetrators stems primarily from a lack of political will.
Puerto Patiño is a town north of Aguachica. A police investigation begun six days after the massacre established the following sequence of events. At approximately 5:00 a.m., forty heavily armed men, some wearing military uniforrns, entered two brothels called La Guapachosa and Los Charcos. There, they ordered everyone to lie face-down. After identifying those present, they took nine people. 156
Hours later, one of the nine returned and told family members "not to worry as nothing was going to happen to the boys and they would later be freed." Police suspected that the lone survivor was actually a paramilitary informant. After the massacre, soldiers detained him, then released him without making him available to testify to investigators. Despite the man's assurances, a search began. Two corpses were found in the morning; the remaining six were found that afternoon. Although the armed men had accused all present of being guerrilla collaborators, the police concluded that only two or three may have had ties to guerrillas, either by giving them shelter in their homes or transporting them in their canoes along the Patiño river. According to police, "The rest, it seems, were eliminated in order to have a psychological impact on the population, and thereby compel them to pay the protection money." 157
Some Puerto Patiño residents, well aware of the retribution they faced if they testified to police, were reluctant to cooperate. 158 Even as police investigators were preparing their report, a death list reportedly prepared by a regional DAS office collaborating with the military and containing the names of twelve we known civic leaders was being circulated. 159 The month of Lázaro's arrest, an armed group wearing army uniforms and armbands identifying them as the ACC broke into a meeting of local farmers on the Tokio ranch, captured four men and a woman, and executed them. The meeting had been called to discuss how to divide up the ranch, which had been peacefully occupied by poor farmers, then bought by the state to be deeded to them. 160
Lázaro was arrested by the Barranquilla branch of the attorney general's office on March 17, 1995, and held in the Fifth Brigade. 161 Nevertheless, Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Torrado Quintero, then army inspector general, denied to Human Rights Watch any army involvement. "The major didn't participate in any massacre, and the military isn't involved in any way," he maintained. 162
In an interview with Human Rights Watch at the Aguachica base, Lt. Col. José Domingo García García, Lázaro's replacement, also denied that his forces ally with paramilitary groups. "The guerrillas are the ones who are outside the law. They are the delinquents. The only problem here is the guerrillas." 163 A day before the Human Rights Watch visit, García had defended the paramilitary presence on local television. "There is a conflict between the subversion and these groups who are trying to defend themselves," he told reporters. "These groups, the cattle ranchers and agricultural producers, are tired of the subversion." 164
Soldiers under his command who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch denied knowing about local paramilitaries. One, Private Rivera, who wore the uniform of an elite counter-guerrilla unit called Panther Task Force No. 27 (Fuerza de Tarea No. 27 Pantera), said he also didn't know what a Nazi swastika meant, or how one came to be tattooed on his arm. 165
However, Human Rights Watch has obtained a computer printout prepared by Panther Task Force No. 27 called "Latest Information on the Enemy" and dated July 11, 1995, that adds further evidence of the military-paramilitary partnership, threats against legal political groups, and political killings. Based on army intelligence, the list names dozens of people active in public life as alleged subversives, including "Libardo (sic) Galvis," a member of the local Communal Action Movement (Movimiento de Acción Comunitaria, MAC). 166 "Latest Information on the Enemy" describes MAC as a "political branch of the ELN [guerrillas]." According to army intelligence, Galvis and a colleague, Francisco Morato, had told peasants in a July 2 meeting "their objectives and how they hope to achieve them as a movement." 167
However, nothing is particularly suspect about that statement given that MAC is a legal political group organized in 1991. It represents an independent political movement supported by neighborhood committees, trade unions, and community activists. In Colombia's 1992 municipal elections, MAC members Manuel Claro Santiago and Elibardo Galvis were elected to the mayor's office and a seat on the municipal council (1992-1994), respectively. However, since the party's inception, MAC members have been persecuted by the army and local paramilitaries. 168
In 1994, Claro resigned from his post after receiving numerous death threats. His replacement, Patricia Rojas, lasted only six months before being replaced by a military mayor. 169 During her tenure, MAC member and municipal employee Erminson Sepúlveda Sarabia was shot and killed by five men who were identified by witnesses as using a vehicle belonging to UNASE to leave the scene. Sepúlveda had previously reported to the authorities threats from Major Lázaro and UNASE. 170
On July 31, 1994, President Cesar Gaviria appointed army Maj. John Carlos Vigoya mayor of Aguachica after civil authorities resigned due to threats and a rising climate of violence. 171 Far from restoring order, military control led to a virtual reign of terror by paramilitaries. Trade unionists, community activists, farmers, and local politicians all became targets. 172
Two months after the meeting attended by Galvis that was reported by army intelligence, on September 24, 1995, armed men, some wearing civilian clothes and others wearing uniforms with the insignia of the Panther Task Force No. 27, detained Jesús Emilio and Luis Tiberio Galvis Barrera, Elibardo's brothers and fellow MAC members, at a roadblock. According to the Association for Alternative Social Development (Asociación para la Promoción Social Altemativa, MINGA), a human rights group active in the area, the men's bodies were later found decapitated and with their fingers burned. After leaving the roadblock, the armed men reportedly went to the nearby village of Morena, where they ransacked a community store and ordered people to lie face-down on the floor. Among them was Morena's Police Inspector, Emelda Ruiz, who was then assassinated in front of the community. The perpetrators announced that they would be back for other people whose names they had on their lists. 173
The surviving Galvis brother, Elibardo, has since received death threats, and has been forced to leave the area. 174 In less than four years as a political movement, three MAC leaders were killed in circumstances that strongly suggest military-paramilitary collaboration. Other movement members and sympathizers have also been killed, forcing MAC to disband. 175
In fact, the surveillance of legal political groups appears to be among the prime duties assigned to military intelligence, which has apparently used paramilitaries to gather information and later act on it by threatening and attacking political leaders. 176 In an interview with Human Rights Watch, one retired army major described paramilitaries as the "principal source" of army intelligence. "These people live in the region and have contacts with both their own side and with the enemy," he told us. "In fact the principal action of the paramilitaries is [to collect] intelligence, in addition to serving as an extermination group." 177
When asked, Gen. Harold Bedoya, then army commander and since promoted to commander of Colombia's armed forces, acknowledged that army high command identifies intelligence targets, but categorically denied that these targets include leftist political parties or movements, trade unions, or similar groups:
We don't have anything to do with intelligence on political activity. We are the arm of the state. Our function is clearly constitutional. We do intelligence on terrorist groups, subversives, armed groups. But if we get information that someone is linked with subversive action, we pass it on to the attorney general to investigate. We don't have the capability to do anything else. 178
Human Rights Watch posed the same question to Maj. Gen. Manuel José Bonett Locarno, at the time commander of the Second Division, which covers Aguachica and the northern Magdalena region. Bonett, who has since been promoted and is now commander of the army, claimed that the military "(doesn't) even have an investigative capability. We only collect intelligence for combat." 179 However, Human Rights Watch has obtained army intelligence documents that directly contradict these assertions. One, classified reserved and dated July 24, 1995, is signed by General Bonett himself. A division-wide order, it provides a seemingly dispassionate rationale for including all municipal governments as targets of army surveillance. It ends by suggesting that any project that benefits the local population is suspicious and potentially subversive:
It is well-known that the enemy is displacing the center of gravity of its strategic forces to the urban area. Taking into account national and international circumstances, [the enemy] does not now consider the overthrow of the state feasible. For this reason, they are focusing on small and medium municipalities to try and control their mayors, town councils, and, in general, local authorities and their corresponding bureaucracies. Through this method, the goal is to manipulate the budget to further their political goals, order public works that would benefit the population, remove resources for themselves, and in general manipulate the municipal situation. To prevent this requires permanent surveillance of the municipalities and the way in which they are managing their funds.
The order goes on to say that such surveillance has led to investigations of town "mayors in Aguachica, San Alberto, Sabana de Torres, San Vicente [de Chucurí]" and even "some [state] governors." 180
A related military intelligence document, marked reserved and dated March 15, 1995, asserts that "subversives" have infiltrated an estimated 800 locally elected municipal governments nationwide and an unknown number of non-governmental organizations. In doing so, the document explicitly ties advocacy for human rights to a guerrilla-led campaign:
The subversion, directly or indirectly, has relations with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially leftist ones. They support public forums in apparent coordination with leftist groups, and have launched an offensive against the State and Colombian Military Forces, accusing them of being recurrent violators of human rights. 181
This document goes on to say that NGOs "in Colombia, the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean" have as part of their political objectives "the overcoming of impunity ... .. the vigilant and effective monitoring of human rights," and "the construction of a process of peace" - all, in the language of the analysis, elements of a guerrilla strategy. The order was sent from the Fifth Brigade to the army's Luciano D'Elhuyar commander at San Vicente de Chucurí.
Such surveillance of political groups is, in fact, military policy nationwide. At the army's Fourth Division headquarters in Villavicencio, Meta, officers - apparently unaware of any need for secrecy - freely showed Human Rights Watch the Weekly Intelligence Summary (Resumen Semanal de Inteligencia, RESIN). It features the categories for "traditional political parties" and "leftist political parties" and includes categories for "government" and "trade unions," suggesting that belonging to such groups may be considered an indication of guerrilla sympathies. One intelligence officer explained: "The idea is to establish who is a member of a subversive cell." 182
Given that such policies are implemented at the highest levels of the Colombian military, it is not surprising that Major Lázaro's 1995 arrest alone has not halted the killings in the northern Magdalena region. 183 To date, the Colombian government has failed to take the strong measures needed to halt violence stemming from the military-paramilitary partnership. In a letter to Colombia's interior minister, Aguachica mayor Luis Fernando Rincón reported a continuing high level of paramilitary activity. "In San Alberto so far this year, for example, three members of the town council, three alternates, and four local party leaders have been assassinated, among nearly 100 assassinations overall. Most of these murders have been attributed to paramilitaries. Likewise, in San Martín, it is commonly known that paramilitaries move with complete freedom." 184
Of the twenty-five civilians with outstanding arrest warrants for their alleged participation in paramilitary groups, Human Rights Watch is aware of only two arrests, including that of Roberto Prada. 185 In Pelaya, north of Aguachica, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that paramilitaries continued to patrol openly months after the arrests of Prada and Major Lázaro. "Look, in Pelaya there is a restaurant that is diagonally across the street from the police and military outposts, and that's where the paramilitaries go to eat lunch," said one. "There's even a billiard hall next door where they both [soldiers and paramilitaries] hang out." 186 Further north, in Pailitas, a paramilitary group detained over sixty people at an afternoon roadblock on May 8, 1996, tortured two bus drivers with a whip that had a bullet tied to its tip, then executed them. 187
The military continues to deny that it sets up, sponsors, or tolerates paramilitary groups. In a series of interviews with Human Rights Watch, army commanders repeatedly claimed to be doing all they could to combat paramilitary groups. General Bedoya, at the time commander of Colombia's army, told us that the Colombian military has severed all ties and has pursued paramilitaries who refuse to disarm. "The army has nothing to do with groups on the margin of the law. It is a policy of the government and the army not to get involved with these groups, which are illegal. Our mission is to confront delinquents." 188
For his part, Maj. Gen. Marino Gutiérrez Isaza, commander of the Fourth Division based in Villavicencio, department of Meta, told us, "The paramilitaries? Nobody has given me any information about where they are, or I'd go capture them." 189 Gen. Gutiérrez was apparently unaware that a 1994 police investigation concluded that Víctor Carranza, a well-known emerald dealer and reputed drug trafficker, controls a so-called "private justice group" in his jurisdiction that is armed with guns licensed by the Defense Ministry. 190
Similarly, Major General Bonett, then the army's Second Division commander and responsible for the northern Magdalena region, said: "Training bases for paramilitaries? If we knew of one, we'd go there and capture them." 191
In fact, the locations of paramilitary training centers in both Meta and the northern Magdalena region are well known. Human Rights Watch has obtained reports written during Colombian law enforcement investigations identifying paramilitary training centers in Valencia, department of Córdoba; Quipama, Otanche, Borbur, and Puerto Boyacá, department of Boyacá; Cimitarra, El Carmen, San Vicente de Chucurí, and Puerto Parra, department of Santander; Puerto Nare and Puerto Berrío, department of Antioquia; La Azulita, department of Putumayo; Puerto López and Puerto Gaitán, department of Meta; Yacopi, department of Cundinamarca; Trujillo, Tuluá, and Cartago, department of Valle; and the Urabá region. In addition, the investigations describe the department of Cesar, where Aguachica is located, and the department of Casanare as paramilitary "areas of influence." 192
Among the paramilitary leaders who reportedly maintain training bases is Victor Carranza. One government report lists land bought by Victor Carranza in the northern Magdalena region in 1994 and used for training:
[Near] San Martín there were, in addition to a "command post" operating in the urban center, two places that were being used as "paramilitary bases." One is the Hacienda El Tesoro, located behind the Morrison Base, and the other is the El Barro farm, located near the army's base in Torcoroma. According to witnesses, armed men often leave these [paramilitary bases] in [four-wheel drive] vehicles with polarized windows ... What is highly disturbing is that, according to certain information, the army has not acted on these suspicious movements. 193
Witnesses from the region told Human Rights Watch that Hacienda El Tesoro is normally guarded by about forty armed men. 194 Witnesses reported that one army lieutenant from the Morrison base forced his soldiers to turn over their camouflage uniforms to the paramilitaries based at El Tesoro farm. 195
In the face of credible reports from civilian investigators, high-ranking officers have closed ranks and charged that evidence of the military-paramilitary partnership is merely guerrilla propaganda - with a chilling effect on any attempt at serious inquiry. For example, Gen. Rito Alejo Del Río Rojas, who has been linked to support for paramilitaries in the Middle Magdalena and at the time of our interview was the commander of the Seventeenth Brigade, told the press in 1996 that such allegations are "manipulations by the FARC." 196 In an interview with Human Rights Watch, General Del Río, who commands an area where the Castaño family's ACCU has a highly visible presence, complete with uniformed members and frequent roadblocks along heavily-travelled roads, acknowledged their existence, but claimed that because paramilitaries "never attack" the security forces, they are virtually impossible to locate and capture. 197
Accusations that reports of paramilitary activity are guerrilla propaganda are not new, nor do they always remain at the level of statements to the press. Human rights groups that publish credible reports, including information about the military-paramilitary partnership, and call for investigations have been drawn into court by military commanders claiming slander (calumnia). Although Colombian courts have so far ruled against the military in such cases, the litigation has a chilling effect. 198
For instance, in 1996, General Bedoya filed slander charges against Father Javier Giraldo, the director of Justice and Peace, a leading Colombian human rights group, for its reporting on the military-paramilitary partnership in the Chucurí. 199 Three years earlier, Bedoya accused sixty-one human rights leaders of slander for publicly characterizing the arrest by troops under his command of a trade unionist as an arbitrary detention. Bedoya claimed that the statement threatened the military's "good name," but a judge ruled that the charge was unfounded. 200
120 Human Rights Watch interviews, Santafé de Bogotá, June 25-30, 1996.
121 In 1993, paramilitaries were linked to 18 percent of such killings, rising to 35 percent in 1994 and 46 percent in 1995. CCJ, Colombia, derechos humanos y derecho humanitario, 1995 (Santafé de Bogotá: CCJ, 1996), p. 5.
122 EFE, Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), Latin America, August 22, 1994.
123 They were Guillermo Marin, Efren Correa, and Jairo Leon Agudelo, El Tiempo, FBIS, July 31, 1994.
124 in an interview with Human Rights Watch on July 4, 1996, in the state of Córdova, Colombia, Carlos Castaño, the leader of the ACCU, stated that "First Summit of the Self-Defense Groups of Colombia" ("Primera Cumbre de las Autodefensas de Colombia") was written under his guidance.
125 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Ibid.
126 Human Rights Watch interview with Interior Minister Horacio Serpa Uribe, Santafé de Bogotá, November 7, 1995.
127 "Colombia: Colombian Government Condemns Paramilitary Groups," Reuter, November 7, 1996.
128 According to Decree 3567, issued on February 11, 1994, weapons licenses can also be issued by the government to "cooperatives, community associations, or communal businesses to operate a communal watch committee and private security in the area where the community is located. They can operate with or without weapons." Translation by Human Rights Watch.
129 Human Rights Watch visit to CONVIVIR, Rio Negro, Antioquia, July 4, 1996.
130 Convivir: Opción de Guerra por la paz," El Espectador, April 28, 1996.
131 Human Rights Watch interview, with Interior Minister Horacio Serpa, November 16, 1995.
132 "President Discusses Military Issues," Sanfafé de Bogotá Radiodifusora Nacional de Colombia, FBIS, May 10, 1996.
133 The state of internal commotion is part of Law 104, passed in 1993.
134 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Declaración de las ONG pertenecientes a la Comisión Mixta de Derechos Humanos creada por el D. 1533 de 1994.
135 Nelson Socha Masso, "No es el tiempo de la Corte," Ciendías, Jan-March 1996, pp. 12-14.
136 "Amenazas contra magistrados de la Corte Constitutional," El Tiempo, October 23, 1995.
137 "Colombia: Military Shuffle does not affect Esguerra," El Espectador, FBIS, May 21, 1996.
138 Diana Losada Castaño, "Habrá libre circulación en zonas de órden público," El Colombiano, July 6, 1996.
139 "Reducirán control de la Corte," El Tiempo, July 10, 1996.
140 "Samper solicita al Congreso prorrogar Estado de Conmoción," El Tiempo, April 16, 1996.
141 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Decree 0717, April 18, 1996.
142 "Colombia: FARC guerrillas kill 9 in Uraba 'Massacre'," Santafé de Bogotá Radio Cadena Nacional, FBIS, May 6, 1996.
143 "Cinco mil policías irán a zonas rojas," El Tiempo, May 17, 1996.
144 "Colombia: Defense Minister Discusses Border Issues," Santafé de Bogotá Emisoras Caracol, FBIS, May 22, 1996.
145 Colombians divide the Middle Magdalena into two "sub-regions": the southern portion, centering around the cities of Bucaramanga and Barrancabermeja and tied closely to oil production; and the northern portion. centering on the cities of Aguachica and Ocaña and primarily agricultural. For more, see CCJ, Nordeste Antioqueño y Magdalena Medio (Santafé de Bogotá: CCJ, 1993), pp. 74-86.
146 At the time. Gen. Agustín Ardila Uribe commanded Mobile Brigade 2. Letter from Father Javier Giraldo, Justice and Peace, to Carlos Vicente de Roux. Presidential Counselor for Human Rights, August 2, 1993.
147 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ocaña, April 1995.
148 Letter from Hernando Toro Parra, Defensor del Pueblo-Regional Magdalena Medio, to Jaime Córdoba Triviño, Defensor del Pueblo, July 2, 1994.
149 Previously. local activists and human rights monitors had identified other army officers attached to Aguachica - including Maj. Julio Jaramillo and Maj. Raúl Samuel Rodríguez Aguirre - believed to support paramilitaries and sponsor threats and attacks against local leaders. Aguachica includes the Aguas Claras base, in Aguachica, and the Morrison Base, in nearby San Martín.
150 UNASE is a combined force of police and military personnel, and in this area is run by the army's Fifth Brigade. Declaration by Aguachica police commander to the Judicial Police, February 6, 1995.
151 DIJIN, "'Report on the Investigation of the Puerto Patiño (Cesar) massacre, Santafé de Bogotá, February 13, 1995.
152 Human Rights Watch interviews, Magdalena region, April 1995.
153 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, September, 1995.
154 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Declaration by Aguachica police commander to the Judicial Police, February 6, 1995.
155 The following summary is based on the police report. DIJIN. "Report on the Investigation of the Puerto Patiño (Cesar) massacre. Santaf&etilde; de Bogotá, February 13, 1995.
159 Association for Alternative Social Development (Asociación para la Promoción Social Alternativa, MINGA) Urgent Action, January 30, 1995.
160 Investigation by San Alberto police, Oficio 084, April 22, 1995, and related correspondence to DIJIN.
161 "Trasladado capitán de policía en Aguachica," El Tiempo, April 11, 1995.
162 Human Rights Watch interview, Villavicencio, October 9, 1995.
163 Human Rights Watch interview, Aguachica, October 14, 1995.
164 Television interview, Aguachica local broadcast, October 13, 1995.
165 Human Rights Watch interview, Aguachica, October 13, 1995.
166 Fuerza de Tarea No. 27 Pantera, Ultimas Informaciones del Enemigo, April 8-July 11, 1995.
167 Ibid. This characterization is especially ironic given that MAC has also been the target of guerrilla violence. Soon after it was founded, a MAC member travelling with Galvis was detained and later murdered by the ELN according to MAC members interviewed in Aguachica by Human Rights Watch in April 1995.
168 MAC Urgent Action (no date), referring to attacks and threats between 1991-1993.
169 MINGA Urgent Action, "Political Genocide Continues in Aguachica, Cesar," January 29, 1994.
170 Letter to Human Rights Watch from Justice and Peace and MINGA, February 1, 1994.
171 Patricia Rojas replaced Manuel Claro after he resigned due to death threats. In turn, she resigned after threats from paramilitaries and the ELN. Enrique Santos Calderón, "Tara vencer el miedo," El Tiempo, April 20, 1995; and "Alcalde militar en Aguachica," El Espectador, June 1, 1994.
172 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ocaña, April 1995.
173 MINGA Urgent Action, "Political Genocide Continues in Aguachica, Cesar," Santafé de Bogotá, September 25, 1995.
174 Human Rights Watch interview with Elibardo Galvis, October 4, 1995.
175 Human Rights Watch interview, Aguachica, April 14, 1995.
176 Human Rights Watch interviews with non-commissioned officers in Villavicencio, Meta, October 9-10, 1995; San Vicente de Chucurí, Santander, October 11-12, 1995, Aguachica, Cesar, October 12-13, 1995.
177 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, September 8, 1995.
178 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, October 20, 1995.
179 Human Rights Watch interview, Bucaramanga, October 12, 1995.
180 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Asunto: Examinación de la Estrategia Divisionaria, reserved, signed by Maj. Gen. Manuel José Bonet Locarno, Second Division commander, July 24, 1995.
181 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Asunto: Apreciación Coyuntural Situación Nacional 02 Marzo 1995, Atención San Vicente de Chucurí, Combate Batallón de Infantería No. 40 Luciano D'El Huyar (sic); (signed) Tnte. Cor. José Domingo García García, Segunda Comandante y JEM [Jefe del Estado Mayor] Quinta Brigada.
182 Human Rights Watch interviews, army Fourth Division, Villavicencio, October 9-10, 1995.
183 Despite repeated requests to the Defense Ministry on May 7 and July 26 and in person on June 24, 1996, for information on the whereabouts and legal status of Major Lázaro, we have not received a reply.
184 Translation by Human Rights Watch. Letter from Aguachica Mayor Luis Fernando Rincón to Colombian Interior Minister Horacio Serpa Uribe, October 3, 1995.
185 Letter from Father Javier Giraldo to Human Rights Watch, October 18, 1996.
186 Human Rights Watch interview with witnesses from southern Cesar, September 1995.
187 The victims were Luis Uribe and Luis Fuentes Marqués, who drove the route between Pailitas and the villages of El Terror and Caño Arenas. Amnesty International Urgent Action 260/95, Further information, July 1, 1996.
188 Human Rights Watch interview, Santafé de Bogotá, October 20, 1995.
189 As a brigadier general. Gutiérrez commanded the army's Fourteenth Brigade in Puerto Berrío, a known paramilitary center. Human Rights Watch interview with Maj. Gen. Marino Gutiérrez Isaza, Villavicencio, October 10, 1995.
190 Official Response number 2970, reserved, November 24, 1994, DIJIN Intelligence Section, Villavicencio, Meta.
191 Human Rights Watch interview, Bucaramanga, October 12, 1995.
192 Colombian law enforcement agency, "Private Justice Groups in Colombia," Santafé de Bogotá, July 1995. Our source agreement prevents us from further identification.
193 "Informe Sobre La Situación del Sur del Cesar y el Magdalena Medio Santandereano," Consejería para la Defensa, Protección y Promoción de los Derechos Especiales, Octubre de 1994.
194 Human Rights Watch interviews, April 1995.
195 Human Rights Watch interview with witnesses from southern Cesar, September 1995.
196 As a lieutenant colonel, Del Río was linked to a shipment of automatic weapons to paramilitaries in Puerto Boyacá in 1985. Although the DAS collected testimony from a former paramilitary implicating Del Rio, no investigation was ever conducted. OMCT and others, Terrorismo de Estado, p. 109.
197 Human Rights Watch interview, Carepa, July 6, 1996.
198 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, CCJ, September 12, 1996.
199 Human Rights Watch interview, Justice and Peace, Santafé de Bogotá, June 25, 1996.
200 "Denuncia penal a Comité de Derechos Humanos," El Tiempo, September 14, 1993; and Letter to Human Rights Watch from CCJ, September 21, 1993.