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The “Sixth Division”: Military-paramilitary Ties and U.S. Policy in Colombia

Putumayo (Twenty-Fourth Brigade)

Dario always knew in advance about Army raids, so he could make arrangements so that nothing was found. The paramilitaries had radios and cellular phones, and were in close communication with police agents and their military contacts.

- "Pilar," a bookkeeper who worked for the AUC

When the witness we call "Pilar" first met the man she knew as "Dario" in February 2000, she assumed he was a Colombian Army soldier. Dressed in camouflage, Dario was standing with a Colombian Army officer she knew as Major Cuéllar, Pilar told Human Rights Watch. The two met in Puerto Asís, Putumayo department's largest urban center.27

Pilar said that Major Cuéllar introduced Dario to her as a personal friend.28 According to Colombian government documents cited in this report, at the time a Major Cuéllar was the commander of the "Domingo Rico" Infantry Battalion No. Twenty-Five, based in nearby Villagarzón and part of the Twenty-Fourth Brigade.29

Later, Pilar said, Dario asked for help with bookkeeping tasks. But it was not until a month later that she says she realized that his real job was as the AUC's financial chief in the Putumayo.30

"A friend who had seen us talking at the Metropolis discotheque pulled me aside and asked me if I realized that he was a paramilitary leader," Pilar told Human Rights Watch during an interview in Puerto Asís. The Metropolis is the city's largest dance hall. "By that time, I had begun to do some work for him, and feared that if I stopped suddenly, he would get suspicious. So I continued working for him until September."31

That was Pilar's introduction to the alliance that eyewitnesses, government investigators, and local authorities told Human Rights Watch existed between the Twenty-Fourth Brigade, some CNP officers, and paramilitaries from 1999 and throughout 2000. While in the Putumayo in January 2001, Human Rights Watch obtained extensive, detailed, and consistent evidence showing that the Twenty-Fourth Brigade maintained a close alliance with the paramilitaries, resulting in extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and death threats. The Twenty-Fourth Brigade regularly coordinated actions with paramilitaries and allowed them to operate openly, and even established one of their principal bases within a short walk of an army installation. At their base, paramilitaries held a training camp that drew dozens of novice fighters from across Colombia. According to Pilar and confirmed by a local official, known as the personero, paramilitaries regularly paid military officers for their cooperation.

In one case confirmed by the personero and detailed in this report, evidence suggests that an army officer arranged to have a close relative killed by paramilitaries. In another that we described in these pages, Óscar Cardona, a grieving father whose son was murdered by paramilitaries, haggled over a reparations payment that was supervised by CNP officers.

To date, government authorities have done little to investigate this alliance or the Colombian Army officers who may have sponsored it. Some soldiers have been transferred out of the Putumayo, and one battalion was removed for "retraining." However, the officer who led the Twenty-Fourth Brigade in 2000, Col. Gabriel Ramón Díaz Ortiz, is scheduled for promotion to general and appears to be facing no disciplinary action. As this report went to press, Human Rights Watch continued to receive information that the alliance between the Twenty-Fourth Brigade and paramilitaries continued.

AUC Push into Putumayo

Residents told Human Rights Watch that the AUC first announced its intention to send forces to the Putumayo in January 1998. For over a decade, the FARC-EP had exercised de facto control over the region, even acting as a local judicial and police force.32 With the arrival of increased coca cultivation in the 1990s, much of it taxed by guerrillas, the Putumayo had become an important strategic and financial bulwark for the FARC-EP that paramilitaries sought to make their own.33

A year after its announcement, the AUC committed the largest massacre to date in the Putumayo, the January 9, 1999 killing of at least twenty-six people and the forcible disappearance of fourteen more in the village of El Tigre, near Puerto Asís.34

Since that time, residents told Human Rights Watch, the paramilitary presence grew village by village, town by town. By the time another year had passed, the paramilitaries controlled the city of Puerto Asís and maintained regular roadblocks, which residents had to negotiate even when on mundane errands. On September 22, 2000, for instance, José Agustín Martínez escorted his mother across the main bridge over the Putumayo River, which divides Colombia from Ecuador. A unicyclist, Martínez was not from the Putumayo, but was performing with the Latin Brothers circus in Puerto Asís. According to his wife, who testified later to authorities, the paramilitaries who stopped him at an AUC roadblock on the Colombian side of the border had another José Martínez -- a common name in Colombia -- on a death list. Martínez's mother told his wife that the paramilitaries seized him, and Martínez remains "disappeared."35

So many people were murdered, the local priest told Human Rights Watch, that no one has kept accurate records. His own registry, filled with the names and causes of death of people who had received a Catholic burial, was one of the few ways to grasp the level of fear and grief that had seized the town. Most featured the word "murder" (asesinato) as the cause of death, and the priest surmised that most were carried out by paramilitaries or the FARC-EP.36

Germán Martínez (no relation) is the Puerto Asís personero who took the wife's testimony. The personero is the municipal official whose job it is to accept complaints from citizens and ensure that they reach the proper authorities. In 1999, 2000, and 2001, Martínez told Human Rights Watch, he collected dozens of similar testimonies about forced disappearances, murders, and threats at the hands of paramilitaries. He also collected evidence that the paramilitaries worked with the support and tolerance of the Colombian Army and the Puerto Asís police.37

To Human Rights Watch as well as in official documents, Martínez described the relationship as a "marriage" (matrimonio).38

Martínez discussed his concerns frequently and publicly with military and police officers, hoping to stop the killings and prompt the arrests of those responsible. On February 4, 2000, for instance, the Puerto Asís mayor called a special meeting to discuss a wave of killings. Martínez publicly stated that part of the problem was that paramilitaries were "untouchable" even though he had personally informed the police about their role in at least four forced disappearances.39

The Colombian Army and Puerto Asís police, he said, reacted to his reports not by investigating and carrying out arrests, but by denying his information and threatening him:

Near the base that belongs to the Twenty-Fifth Battalion [part of the Twenty-Fourth Brigade], located at the road exiting Puerto Asís, toward Santana, there is a place occupied by the paramilitaries only 500 meters [a third of a mile] away, it is an abandoned house, on that same road they take people who have been disappeared from the town of Puerto Asís to the Hacienda Villa Sandra... Since Colonel Grabriel (sic) Díaz, commander of the Twenty-Fourth Brigade of the army said that he was not aware of the presence of paramilitary groups in this sector and had no information, I informed him as the personero that groups there acted with full liberty within the town of Puerto Asís and that they were located in the HACIENDA VILLA SANDRA, close to the Twenty-Fifth Battalion and the headquarters of the [Twenty-Fourth] Brigade. This information made it to the paramilitaries, who threatened me for what I had said during the Security Council meeting. Because of this Security Council meeting, I was later threatened by [Colombian National Police] Major Carlos Kenedy Veloza Lancheros, of the police, who personally told me that he was extremely upset and outraged because of what I had said and that my problem wasn't the result of my legal duties but my loose tongue, he was telling me at the end, 'We'll see who explodes first, you or me'..."40

The Testimony of CNP Agent Gilberto López

Another Puerto Asís resident who testified formally about ties between the security forces and paramilitaries came from inside the police force. CNP agent Gilberto López first approached the personero on August 4, 2000 to complain about what he termed were "irregularities" committed by paramilitary groups.41

López returned a month later to expand his original statement. On August 13, 2000, he recounted, he received a phone call from the AUC's military commander in the Putumayo, known as "Camilo." While Dario handled the finances, the AUC's military commander, Camilo, was in charge of fighting. He was reputedly a former

police lieutenant who had been discharged after being linked to paramilitaries and human rights violations while serving in the Urabá region.42

López said that Camilo informed him that paramilitaries would be visiting the police detachment in Orito, the town an hour's travel from Puerto Asís where López was working at the time. They wanted, he told the personero, to "talk some things over with me."

One of the emissaries was a paramilitary who called himself "Yaír":

[Yaír] had spoken with all of the town's authorities and I was the only one left... he told me that a high-ranking member of his organization had authorized a monthly salary for me, without anything required from me and that I should take it as a kind of collaboration and that it was a good sum of money... The companion of this man insisted that I accept this money two other times, that I take it and think it over very carefully.43

Agent López made a third and final declaration to the personero the next day, this time identifying a commanding officer and other agents who he said worked directly with paramilitaries. López described how he served as the bodyguard for CNP Major Carlos Kenedy Veloza, who in April had ordered López to meet him at a location in Puerto Asís. But Major Veloza, another police bodyguard, and the police driver were not there when López arrived, he claimed. Later, López testified, the bodyguard and driver told him that Major Veloza had missed the meeting because he had been with paramilitary leaders in Villa Sandra, the paramilitary base.44

The Killing of Óscar Cardona

Information about Major Veloza's visit to Villa Sandra came to the personero independently, from a local resident who said that he had witnessed it.

In his testimony, Óscar Cardona Aguirre explained that his son, also named Óscar, had been killed by paramilitaries in Puerto Asís on April 30, 2000. After taking his son's body from the hospital to the family home for a wake, Cardona went to Villa Sandra to talk directly with AUC commander Camilo. Cardona was well known to the police, since he did repairs at the police station:

At about 2:30 pm, I left for the Villa Sandra Ranch where I found the paramilitaries meeting with Major Carlos Veloza and with Captain Sierra seated in a police car and I spoke directly with the commander known as alias "CAMILO," so three of us went inside leaving the bodyguards on the first floor and we went to the second floor with Camilo, we greeted each other and Major Veloza said, "I never wanted to come here, but because of these circumstances that have occurred you people have offended us and you have offended me for the crap you pulled with the son of this respected craftsman, who is a person that we value very much in Puerto Asís, because he makes sure that everything in our station works well, so I want you to clarify what happened with this murder."45

Cardona said that Camilo tried to explain by saying that the paramilitaries had information indicating that Cardona's son had stolen a motorcycle. But the boy's father explained that the motorcycle belonged to a friend, who had lent his son the vehicle. Accepting that his men had made an error, Camilo then opened a briefcase, took out U.S. $200, and handed it to Cardona, saying, "Take this, sir, it won't return your son to you, but it will help with the expenses."46

Later that evening, another paramilitary who called himself "Mario" came to Cardona's home. Afraid that he would be killed for confronting Camilo, Cardona told his daughter to call Captain Sierra. Captain Sierra came immediately, saw Mario, but did nothing. When Cardona's daughter asked Mario why he had come, he said it was to apologize. He gave the Cardona family another U.S. $500.47

AUC Finances in the Putumayo

It was not unusual for paramilitaries to pay local residents for their "mistakes" - or pay police and military officers for their collaboration, as the AUC had offered to do with Agent López. Pilar told Human Rights Watch that she had direct knowledge of how the paramilitaries organized their finances in 2000 since she was responsible for recording their income and expenses on a computer diskette, delivering monthly reports to Dario, the AUC's financial chief, and even hand-carrying some payments to officers' families.

Among the regular expenses, she said, were monthly payments to police and military officers, some of whom would even visit Dario's house to pick up cash. She told Human Rights Watch that these payments were based on rank. "Each captain received between U.S. $2,000 and U.S. $3,000 per month. Majors got U.S. $2,500. A lieutenant receives U.S. $1,500. The colonels also got paid, but not directly," Pilar noted. "They would send intermediaries to pick up the cash."48

Pilar said she personally sent money to the wife of one Twenty-Fourth Brigade major in August and October by using Servientrega, a local wire service.49 The personero told Human Rights Watch that he was later able to confirm this transaction by consulting the Servientrega records.50

Pilar said she occasionally saw the same Twenty-Fourth Brigade major at Dario's house in Puerto Asís and also a Colombian Army captain. Another eager CNP Anti-Narcotics agent also came to the house to collect his March payment, Pilar recalled, though she did not know his name. "I had dropped off the diskette [of accounts] and saw his CNP pickup truck outside. He was inside counting his money."51

Once, Pilar said, Dario told her that he had paid a different Twenty-Fourth Brigade major over U.S. $12,500 to acquire military uniforms. "The major was tall and dark-skinned," Pilar recalled. "He never delivered the uniforms, though, and Dario was angry at him."52

In a formal declaration Pilar made to the personero, she explained that the requests for cash were constant. "Dario once told me that he was exhausted, completely sick, of all of these people from the army and police who thought he was the milkman (lechero), if it wasn't asking for their U.S. $100, $150, then it would be for airline tickets. I never learned the name of this one officer, but I know he belonged to the police, and he was asking for U.S. $20,000, so that he could buy some real estate in Bogotá."53

Overall, this money appears to have been a wise investment for the AUC. Despite intense scrutiny and dozens of visits from international missions and foreign journalists, the Puerto Asís police and Twenty-Fourth Brigade consistently denied any link to paramilitary groups in the region, even as the relationship was obvious. One taxi driver told Human Rights Watch how he saw known paramilitaries regularly walk through the doors of the airport, a facility that is heavily guarded by police and the Twenty-Fourth Brigade.54

"Dario always knew in advance about army raids, so could make arrangements so that nothing was found," Pilar explained. "They had radios and cellular phones, and were in close communication with police agents and their military contacts."55

Pilar also took care of the AUC's other expenses, including salaries for fighters and other expenses. In the Putumayo, she told Human Rights Watch, paramilitary fighters received a salary that depended on experience, rank, and location. "Fighters in rural areas got a minimum of U.S. $275 per month, which included money for food. In urban areas, they got U.S. $350 per month, increased if they were promoted."56

She said fixed expenses included guns, munitions, provisions, and telephone bills. Extras could be anything from coffins for paramilitaries killed in combat to extras to pay informants. Overall, according to Pilar, she oversaw a budget of U.S. $650,000 per month.57

According to Pilar, most of the income she registered each month came from cocaine taxes. Wholesalers paid paramilitaries a fee for every kilo of raw cocaine bought in villages that they controlled. Laboratories where raw cocaine was crystallized also paid a fee. For example, a small laboratory would pay the paramilitaries at least U.S. $ 3,500 a month, she said.58

Once Pilar completed her monthly report, she would record it on a floppy disk and deliver the disk to Dario. "Dario would send the disk to a man he called Rafael, in Cali. He was Dario's commander, and had a direct link to one of Carlos Castaño's brothers, who is part of the AUC high command."59

Rafael often visited Puerto Asís, Pilar told Human Rights Watch. In July 2000, she said, he presided over a paramilitary training camp held at Villa Sandra. The camp drew novice fighters from all over Colombia, Pilar noted, including one woman who won a contest for overall combat excellence. To get there, paramilitaries regularly and even daily passed in front of the Twenty-Fourth Brigade. "Dario told me that paramilitaries from all over Colombia came for a two-week training session, so he needed to spend extra money on beds, food, and other supplies," Pilar told Human Rights Watch.60

Puerto Vega Attack

Pilar also said that Dario and other paramilitaries frequently told her that they coordinated military operations directly with the Twenty-Fourth Brigade, including a June 2000 attack on Puerto Vega, a port just across the Putumayo River from Puerto Asís. Dozens of journalists had chronicled how the FARC-EP controlled the town, both before and after the clash.61

The Colombian military announced its action in Puerto Vega, claiming that soldiers had killed a FARC-EP commander called "Rodolfo," rumored to be the brother of Raúl Reyes, a member of the FARC-EP's General Secretariat.62

According to Pilar, however, the attack was carried out jointly with the AUC:

The paramilitaries told me that their commanders had been transported in an army helicopter. An informant from the area was the one who offered to take them in. During combat, the paramilitaries killed two guerrillas, and as a reward, the paramilitaries got their belongings, including Rodolfo's portable CD player. I saw about ten of them at Dario's house when they came back from the combat, still with their faces painted and in uniform. Two of the paramilitaries, who called themselves Yaír and Coco, claimed they had killed Rodolfo, not the army.63

According to Pilar, Yaír was among the AUC fighters who was a former army soldier. Interviewed independently by Reuters in May 2000, Yaír claimed to have served in the Colombian Army's Special Forces and to have received training from U.S. Special Forces Rangers and Navy SEALs during his eight years in the Colombian military. "We have got military and operational capacity to clear these zones where the guerrillas are ... so that army troops can set up their bases for supply areas for vehicles and other modes of transport," Yaír told Reuters.64

The Workplace Battleground

Hoping to extricate herself from work with the AUC, Pilar accepted a job in a public institution in Puerto Asís in September 2000. To her surprise, she found it almost as dangerous as doing Dario's accounts, she told Human Rights Watch. The workplace, Pilar said, "was an inferno." To her dismay, she discovered that the battle between the FARC-EP, paramilitaries, and the security forces continued within its walls.65

Pilar worked for a deputy administrator. After October, she said, she no longer did accounts for Dario, but continued to receive frequent calls from him, which she believed reflected a romantic interest that was not reciprocated. Yet she feared that if she did not accept his calls, he would endanger her and her family.66

"Dario told me that one of the [managers] had asked paramilitaries for help to get rid of the director, so that this [manager] could become the director," Pilar recalled in her conversation with Human Rights Watch. Both the current director and the rival who wanted his position were summoned to Villa Sandra at least once, Pilar told Human Rights Watch. "Luckily, the director resigned, and [the aspiring rival] became the new director." The alternative, Pilar noted, was for the incumbent director to risk being killed so that his rival, who had enlisted paramilitary support, could take his place.67

Similar tension was evident in the town's only hospital, where guerrillas and paramilitaries vied for control and access to the doctors and medicine. On September 1, 2000, a local family brought their year-old son, Brayan Moreno Guamán, to the emergency room. Dissatisfied with the treatment, they took him home the following day, according to the pediatrician who monitored him. Late that afternoon, the pediatrician, Dr. María Fernanda Ramírez, received an urgent call to return to the hospital. In a declaration Dr. Ramírez later gave to the Puerto Asís personero, she described what happened:

The emergency room doctor who was on call called me to say that the family members of the patient were in the emergency room with the Paramilitaries calling for my immediate presence... I went immediately to the emergency room, and two minutes later two men arrived and one of them is the grandfather of the patient and the other told me that he needed to hear my version of what had happened with the patient, because he had information that I had not properly treated the boy.68

Dr. Ramírez later discovered that a nurse may have treated the family brusquely. Out of concern for their ailing son, they had appealed to the most powerful authorities in town - the AUC. In her declaration, Dr. Ramírez described how armed paramilitaries regularly waited at the hospital while colleagues were undergoing treatment, even as police and army soldiers came and went normally.69

Word spread quickly that Dr. Ramírez had reported the incident to the personero and claimed that the paramilitaries had threatened her. While paramilitaries may have overlooked the incident itself, they did not tolerate making it public and drawing unwanted attention to their control over Puerto Asís.

According to Pilar, Dario called her and lamented that he had orders to kill Dr. Ramírez. "Dario called me to say that he was amazed that they were going to kill a doctor."70 However, Dr. Ramírez fled Puerto Asís before the week was out, and has since left Colombia.71

The "Disappearance" of "Nancy"

Pilar also helped the personero untangle a case that took place in 2000. It involved the "disappearance" of "Nancy," a student who vanished in Puerto Asís.72

"["Nancy's"] father came to my office to report that she had vanished," Martínez told Human Rights Watch. "Her father told me that [a close relative], a Colombian Army [officer] working at the Thirty-First Battalion in Orito, had called her asking her to come to Orito to help him solve a problem. She borrowed plane fare from her father and arrived on the regular Satena flight. Then she vanished. When her father called [the Army officer], he claimed that he had never asked her to come to Orito."73

Martínez counseled the worried father to post flyers around Puerto Asís with Nancy's photograph and a number to call, which he did. "Several days later, I was taking down information from Pilar, who mentioned something about one of the paramilitaries saying that after they had seen a flyer, they realized that they had mistakenly killed an innocent person."74

In her declaration to the personero, Pilar recounted how Dario had told her that one of their cellular telephones had "gotten too hot... I remember that he called me very worried, isterical [sic], 'Ha, there are many flyers stuck on the walls of the hospital, what a mess, just because I lent some telephones to someone from the

Army and he got them hot for us, because he, well, he gave us some information and in the end what they did was a personal favor and this was just a mess... because this soldier had said that it was a guerrilla arriving on the airplane."75

"Putting the two testimonies together," Martínez told Human Rights Watch, "I discovered that the paramilitaries were referring to Nancy." For personal reasons, Martínez learned, the army officer had wanted to get rid of her. "So he told the paramilitaries that a female guerrilla that looked like his relative was going to get off the Satena flight that day. What appears to have happened is that they took Nancy directly from the airport and killed her. I believe she may be one of the people buried at Villa Sandra. The Army officer used one of the paramilitary cellular telephones to make the call, as I later was able to document with telephone company records."76

Official Investigations

The insistent and detailed work of the Puerto Asís personero prompted several visits by the Bogotá-based office of the UNHCHR. After expressing its concern repeatedly to the government about the brazen alliance of the security forces and paramilitaries -- and receiving no effective response -- High Commissioner Mary Robinson included this description of the situation in her annual report, published in February 2001:

It is common knowledge that a paramilitary roadblock stands at the entrance to the settlement of "El Placer,: only fifteen minutes away from La Hormiga (Putumayo), where a Twenty-Fourth Brigade army battalion is stationed. Eight months after the Office reported to the authorities that it had seen it, the roadblock was still there. The military authorities denied its existence in writing. This Office also observed that paramilitaries were still operating at the Villa Sandra estate between Puerto Asís and Santa Ana in the same department, a few minutes from the Twenty-Fourth Brigade base. [The Office] was later informed that two raids had been made by the security forces, apparently without result; yet the existence and maintenance of this position are public knowledge -- so much so that it has been visited repeatedly by international journalists who have published interviews with the paramilitary commander. Reports received by the Office even speak of meetings between paramilitaries and members of the security forces at the Villa Sandra estate. In late July, the Office warned the authorities of an imminent paramilitary raid on the inner city area of La Dorada... which indeed took place on September 21. The paramilitaries remained in the area for several weeks despite the fact that it is only a few minutes away from the Army "La Hormiga" base.77

In September, investigators sent personally by Colombia's Internal Affairs chief as a result of the U.N. office's concerns arrived in Puerto Asís. It is unusual for Internal Affairs to send top investigators, reserved for cases that are particularly sensitive and that may involve crimes committed by high ranking officials. In his statement to Internal Affairs investigators, Martínez once again summarized the wave of killings and forced disappearances that had overwhelmed his office:

I can say that I have myself seen on several occasions members of the government security forces, the Army, conversing in public places with people who are known as Paramilitaries. I can say without doubt that there is not omission [on the part of the security forces], but that what exists here is a coordination between the legal forces that one supposes are legal and the illegal forces that one supposes to be illegal.78

A day later, Internal Affairs investigators noted that one paramilitary house could be viewed "perfectly" from a Twenty-Fourth Brigade base and was less than 500 feet from its heavily guarded entrance. Further along the road was Villa Sandra, where investigators noted that armed and uniformed AUC members were playing pool in full view of the heavy traffic.79

During its visit to Puerto Asís, Human Rights Watch was able to document the geography that Martínez, the U.N. office, and Internal Affairs describe to underscore the proximity between the security forces and paramilitaries. Beginning at the airport, a heavily militarized road leads west out of town. During the course of two days, Human Rights Watch observed several Colombian Army units patrolling the road in full battle gear. In quick succession, the road passes the Anti-Narcotics police, the paramilitary base at the Villa Sandra ranch, and the Twenty-Fourth Brigade. The entire trip from the airport to the Twenty-Fourth Brigade took Human Rights Watch twenty minutes. By the time Human Rights Watch visited Puerto Asís, Pilar and the personero told us, Dario and the group's new military commander, "Enrique," had moved their headquarters to the town of La Hormiga, and Villa Sandra appeared deserted.

While in Puerto Asís, Reuters noted how paramilitaries, whom locals called "Power Rangers" after the popular cartoon series, mounted patrols both day and night in town, "under the very nose of a sizable police detachment and the army's Twenty-Fourth Brigade. Despite three arrest warrants issued since he joined the AUC three years ago, Yaír, named after an Israeli mercenary who trained drug mob assassins in the 1980s, moves freely in and out of town, passing unhindered through military checkpoints."80

While traveling to the nearby village of La Hormiga on public transportation, Internal Affairs investigators were stopped by three armed AUC paramilitaries dressed in civilian clothes. This roadblock had been a permanent fixture for a year, since paramilitaries carried out the massacre of eleven people in the nearby hamlet of El Placer on November 7, 1999.81 La Hormiga is under the control of the Twenty-Fourth Brigade and its "Sebastián de Belalcazar" Counterguerrilla Battalion No. 31.

During the stop, the paramilitaries demanded identification and an explanation of the purpose of the visit from each passenger. Once in town, the investigators were followed by another paramilitary wearing a camouflage uniform, AUC armband, and carrying a rifle. La Hormiga was heavily militarized, but Internal Affairs investigators reported that it was impossible for the investigators to distinguish between Colombian Army and paramilitary fighters:

We say for the record stated here that during the time that we remained in the town, we observed constant patrolling by the members of self-defense groups, in pick up trucks and on foot, and we saw that they wore the uniforms reserved for the sole use of the military forces, and on their uniforms it was possible to see the patch saying 'Army.'82

Five days after the Internal Affairs investigators took that statement, the FARC-EP enforced an armed strike in Putumayo department, prohibiting movement completely. At one roadblock, FARC-EP guerrillas lectured a correspondent from the San Francisco Chronicle about the reasons for the strike, which threatened to starve the region's 350,000 residents and deprive them of basic services like health care. Two miles down the road, Colombian Army Sgt. Jairo López calmly explained to the same reporter that once his unit moved on, paramilitaries would take control. "They have a list [of people they intended to kill]," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "There are lots - 20 or 30 on it."83

On the basis of their investigation, Internal Affairs investigators invoked a special procedure that asks the Internal Affairs chief to interview implicated government officials immediately and recommend specific administrative disciplinary measures, including dismissal or fines. Although the measures were invoked on October 9, 2000, as of the time this report went to press, Internal Affairs had yet to take any measures, an omission that has not been explained.84

To our knowledge, all of the officers named in the Internal Affairs investigation for alleged failure to do their duty and take action against paramilitaries - Army Colonel Gabriel Díaz and CNP Captains Ohover de Jesús Cáceres Díaz, Jorge Raúl Sierra Suárez, Javier Alexander Parra Prada, and Major Carlos Veloza Lancheros -- remain on active duty. At the time this report was being written, Colonel Díaz was completing course work for his promotion to the rank of general.85

"Col. Gabriel Díaz told us that information about paramilitaries were just stories, without proof," one international observer who had interviewed the Twenty-Fourth Brigade commander told Human Rights Watch. "He even told us there was a search going on as we sat in his office, but that they had found nothing."86

Human Rights Watch interviewed several observers who recounted how Colonel Díaz had informed them of on-going searches of Villa Sandra that resulted in no evidence of paramilitaries, despite the fact that these same observers had themselves seen paramilitaries at Villa Sandra that day. Colonel Díaz mounted a similar "show" that was later described in the news weekly Cromos. The magazine visited the Putumayo in October 2000, during the FARC-EP armed strike. As the journalists noted, "One doesn't need much military intelligence to corroborate [the paramilitary presence]. On the four occasions that CROMOS passed by, a group of uniformed AUC fighters with their rifles played pool in full view of all travelers."87

When the Cromos reporters commented on what they had seen to Colonel Díaz, he said, "This is a topic that NGOs use to blacken the name of the Army." He then showed them a file containing several registries of searches done by the army that had not uncovered evidence of the presence of any armed group. Yet when the Cromos journalists left the Twenty-Fourth Brigade and again passed Villa Sandra that same day, the armed and uniformed paramilitaries they had seen earlier were still playing pool.88

To others interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the relationship between the Twenty-Fourth Brigade and paramilitaries was so clear - and apparently normal - that Colonel Díaz openly flaunted it. According to one observer, who spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity, during a December 2000 visit to the Twenty-Fourth Brigade and to Colonel Díaz, this officer calmly pointed out to him a known paramilitary who was walking by the military base, but made no effort to have the paramilitary detained and investigated, as is required by law.89

Attorney General Arrest

On December 15, 2000, a special team sent by the Attorney General's Human Rights Unit arrived to carry out arrests of alleged paramilitary members in Puerto Asís. But they met with little success, apprehending only a paramilitary known as "the Russian" (El Russo).90

Pilar told Human Rights Watch that Dario, whom she spoke to by telephone after the arrest, told her that "the Russian" was caught because he failed to understand the hand signals made by the police guarding the Puerto Asís airport entrance. "Some of the police were sitting in the 'El Paisa' restaurant in front of the airport, and they were trying to signal him to get lost, there was danger," Pilar said. "He didn't understand."91

It could have been worse, Pilar said Dario told her. When prosecutors escorted "the Russian" on a commercial flight out of Puerto Asís, four other paramilitaries were traveling as regular passengers on the same flight, leaving the town until things cooled down and they could then return.92

A high ranking government official who helped coordinate the arrest told Human Rights Watch that the operation was considered a partial success even though it net only one paramilitary. "The only reason it had any success at all was because the military was not informed," he said.93 Investigators also exhumed two bodies from an unmarked gravesite at Villa Sandra. Efforts are being made to identify them.94

"We sent a team of CTI agents and Human Rights Unit prosecutors to the Putumayo to make arrests, but there is little we can do if the military is protecting them," a high level government investigator acknowledged to Human Rights Watch. The Technical Investigations Unit (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigaciones, CTI) employs the Attorney General's investigators, and is not authorized to heavily arm them to carry out dangerous operations so must rely on the CNP or military.95

Attacks on Indigenous Groups

Among the groups most affected by the paramilitary advance in the Putumayo have been Colombia's indigenous people, who live along the Colombia-Ecuador border. An estimated 35,000 people belonging to the Cofán, Inga, Quechua, and Emberá ethnic groups live in the Putumayo according to indigenous leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Attacks on them have gone virtually unnoticed by the media.96

In December 26, 2000, suspected paramilitaries killed Henry Pascal, a Cofán leader. A week later, on January 3, paramilitaries reportedly killed Pablo Emilio Díaz, the director of a Cofán assistance organization known as the ZIO - AI Foundation. Paramilitaries reportedly forced Díaz from his boat and killed him, throwing his body into a river, and told his family that if they recovered the body, they would be killed. Dozens of other Cofans have been forced to flee the area.97

Death Threats

The paramilitaries realized early in 2000 that the personero's diligence was causing them a major problem. In July, Martínez told Human Rights Watch, he and the town's mayor were summoned to a slaughterhouse outside town to meet with Rafael, the AUC commander from Cali. According to Pilar, Rafael worked directly with one of Carlos Castaño's brothers, so was relatively high up in the AUC hierarchy. Rafael ran the meeting wearing a hood, Martínez remembered.98

"'Rafael wanted me to clarify my position on his group, and I replied that it was already quite clear," Martínez told Human Rights Watch. "He also offered me a stipend (sobresueldo). We had a very heated discussion, and he told me I should already be dead. A couple of days later, Camilo [the AUC military commander] sent me a bottle of whiskey to apologize for Rafael's tone."99

Months later, Martínez received another summons from Camilo, ordering him to present himself at Villa Sandra. He refused, so Camilo came to him, Martínez recalled. "He confirmed that Villa Sandra was their permanent base," Martínez told Human Rights Watch "He asked me to ease off, to let them continue to operate there. As a sign of good faith, he delivered to me four people who paramilitaries had seized and planned to kill. I refused to work with him, so they left for La Hormiga, where they are now."100

Pilar later testified to the personero that Dario had spoken to her of the first meeting in the slaughterhouse. "Dario told me that Rafael had threatened the personero," Pilar told Human Rights Watch.101 In her declaration to the personero, Pilar noted: "[Dario said] the person who was causing them so many problems was the son of a bitch Personero, that in any case his term was going to end, but it didn't matter, they had to kill (pelar) him anyway because he was causing too much trouble... he didn't know why the personero was still alive, but before he ended his term they were going to kill him."102

Pilar also described how Dario had tried to threaten the town council members into choosing a new personero who would tolerate their activity. Whoever did not vote their way, Dario said, "would be declared a military target."103

Martínez continued to accept testimonies despite great personal risk. "Through several sources, I was told that the paramilitaries would attempt to kill me before I completed my term on February 28, 2001. Even one of my police bodyguards received this information and documented it in a letter to the local police commander."104

Since the Human Rights Watch mission to the Putumayo in January 2001, both the personero and local priest have been forced to leave because of threats from paramilitaries.105 However, we are not aware of any disciplinary action taken against the Puerto Asís police or the officers in charge of the Twenty-Fourth Brigade for their clear links to paramilitaries. This is despite unprecedented attention to the region because of the U.S.-backed "push into southern Colombia" to eradicate coca.

Far from moving to clean up the Twenty-Fourth Brigade, the United States and Colombia have made this unit a key part of the eradication efforts carried out

in December 2000 and January 2001, described later in the U.S. Policy section of this report.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that on December 20, 2001, the day after U.S. fumigation planes began spraying the Putumayo, paramilitaries used three trucks to enter the village of Puerto Caicedo, about two hours west of Puerto Asís. They also announced their intention to move into the department capital of Mocoa by the end of 2001.

"In just one month, we registered at least fifteen murders in Puerto Caicedo, as a result of the paramilitary advance," said the local priest in Puerto Asís.106

One Puerto Caicedo resident told Human Rights Watch that paramilitaries had a chilling message. "The paramilitaries asked around to see who had applauded when guerrillas held a meeting and criticized Plan Colombia," the witness said. "They promised to make these same people applaud to the sound of bullets."107

In March 2001, Putumayo-based paramilitaries boasted to visiting journalists that they were spearheading the anti-coca offensive, taking control of areas ahead of the army to prevent guerrillas from shooting at spray planes. "Plan Colombia would be almost impossible without the help of the [paramilitary] self-defense forces," Commander "Wilson," an AUC member, told the Boston Globe.108

One paramilitary sentry "picked through a pack of US Army C-rations, hunting for chewing gum and pound cake" while the journalist watched. "He shrugged off questions about where he got the supplies, issued to the three Colombian Army antidrug units that have been trained by US Special Forces advisers."109

27. Fearful of reprisal, Pilar agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Human Rights Watch interview with "Pilar," January 15, 2001; and "Panorama Actual del Putumayo: Análisis Regional," Observatorio de Derechos Humanos, Vicepresidencia de la República, May 2000.

28. Human Rights Watch interview with "Pilar," January 15, 2001.

29. The documents do not include his first name. Pilar only knew him by his rank and last name. A list of Colombian Army units and their locations is available on the Colombian Army's web site at

30. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 15, 2001.

31. Ibid.

32. Human Rights Watch interviews in the Putumayo, June 1992; and "Situación de Derechos Humanos, Derecho Internacional Humanitario y Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales en el Departamento del Putumayo," CINEP, MINGA, CODHES, May 19, 2000.

33. According to the U.S. State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Putumayo has Colombia's largest registered number of plots dedicated to the cultivation of coca. Human Rights Watch interview with Puerto Asís residents, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001; and "Panorama Actual del Putumayo: Análisis Regional," Observatorio de Derechos Humanos, Vicepresidencia de la República, May 2000.

34. Subsequently, the Attorney General's office arrested Luis Guillermo Millán, accused of leading the paramilitaries who committed the massacre. "Panorama Actual del Putumayo: Análisis Regional," Observatorio de Derechos Humanos, Vicepresidencia de la República, May 2000; and "Fiscalía responsabilizó a Millán Cardona de masacre," El Colombiano, October 29, 1999.

35. Declaration of Diana Milena López Restrepo to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, October 2, 2000.

36. Human Rights Watch interview with priest, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

37. Human Rights Watch interview with Germán Martínez, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

38. Ibid.

39. Minutes from the Security Meeting held on February 4, 2000, in Puerto Asís in the office of the mayor.

40. Colombian mayor, governors, or the country's president can call special security meetings (Consejo de seguridad) that include security force officers, municipal officials, and others to develop coordinated strategies to address political violence. Martínez has since completed his term as personero and left Puerto Asís for his safety. Declaration by Germán Martínez, personero, to Luis Carlos Domínguez Prada, Internal Affairs agency, September 19, 2000.

41. López's three declarations corroborate Pilar's declaration and her interview with Human Rights Watch. Declaration of Agent Gilberto López to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, August 4, 2000.

42. Pilar told Human Rights Watch that Camilo was named Freddy Alexander Rivera and that the AUC executed him on November 19, 2000, after he disagreed with his commanders. Agent Gilberto López, cited earlier, also told authorities that Camilo had been a police lieutenant. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

43. Declaration of Agent Gilberto López to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, September 18, 2000.

44. Declaration of Agent Gilberto López to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, September 19, 2000

45. Declaration of Óscar Cardona Aguirre to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, September 15, 2000.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.

48. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

49. Ibid.

50. Human Rights Watch interview with Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

51. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

52. Ibid.

53. Declaration of Pilar to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 13, 2001.

54. Human Rights Watch interview with "Estefan," Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001; and Declaration of "Estefan" to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, October 23, 2000.

55. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

56. Ibid.

57. Declaration of Pilar to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 13, 2001.

58. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid.

61. For instance, see Juan Tamayo, "Colombian coca-growing area shaken by a guerrilla blockade," Miami Herald, November 16, 2000.

62. "Dado de baja," Cambio, September 18-25, 2000.

63. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

64. In the same interview, Yaír claimed that twenty senior paramilitary commanders in Putumayo previously held ranks in the police or army ranging from corporal to lieutenant. Karl Penhaul, "Colombia death squads support US-backed offensive," Reuters, May 15, 2000.

65. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

66. Ibid.

67. Ibid.

68. Declaration of Dr. María Fernanda Ramírez to Puerto Asís personero, September 4, 2000.

69. Ibid.

70. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

71. Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Bogotá, January 8, 2001.

72. Since the case is on-going, we have omitted details that would identify the victim or alleged perpetrators.

73. Human Rights Watch interview with Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

74. Ibid.

75. Declaration of Pilar to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 13, 2001.

76. Human Rights Watch interview with Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

77. Paragraph 134, "Report of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Colombia," E/CN.4/2001/15, February 8, 2001.

78. Statement by Germán Martínez, personero, to the Internal Affairs agency, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, September 19, 2000.

79. Acta de Inspección practicada en la Vía comprendida entre la Ciudad de Puerto Asís y la Inspección de Santana a los sitios distinguidos como: El Batallón No. 25 'Domingo Rico', la 'Casa Abandonada', Hacienda Villa Sandra y la Brigada No. 24 con sede en Santana-Putumayo, Oficina de Derechos Humanos, Procuraduría General de la Nación, September 20, 2000.

80. Karl Penhaul, "Colombia death squads support US-backed offensive," Reuters, May 15, 2000.

81. "Situación de Derechos Humanos, Derecho Internacional Humanitario y Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales en el Departamento del Putumayo," CINEP, MINGA, CODHES, May 19, 2000; and "Violence in Colombia drug zone claims 24 lives," Reuters, November 8, 1999.

82. Acta de Visita Especial Practicada, en la Inspección de El Placer Municipio de La Hormiga (Putumayo), Oficina de Derechos Humanos, Procuraduría General de la Nación, September 19, 2000.

83. Robert Collier, "Travelers Take Life in Their Hands in Rebel-Controlled Zone," San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2001.

84. Internal Affairs chief Jaime Bernal Cuéllar completed his term after the investigators filed this extraordinary procedure and was replaced by Edgardo José Maya Villazón. Letter to Procurador Jaime Bernal Cuéllar from investigators, October 9, 2000.

85. As of September 2001, the case was stalled in the officer of the Procurador, almost a year after being submitted for urgent action. Letter to Procurador Jaime Bernal Cuéllar from investigators, October 9, 2000; Human Rights Watch telephone interview, February 22, 2001; and HRW electronic mail communication with Lt. Col. Luis Alfonso Novoa Díaz, coordinator, GRUDH-INSGE, February 27, 2001.

86. Human Rights Watch interview with international observer, Bogotá, January 8, 2001.

87. Martha Auiz, "La gente de Puerto Asís," Cromos, November 6, 2000.

88. Ibid.

89. Human Rights Watch interview, Bogotá, January 9, 2001.

90. Human Rights Watch interview with government official, Bogotá, January 10, 2001.

91. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 15, 2001.

92. Ibid.

93. Human Rights Watch interview with government official, Bogotá, January 10, 2001.

94. Letter to Human Rights Watch from Colombian government investigator, May 16, 2001.

95. Human Rights Watch interview with government investigator, Bogotá, January 9, 2001.

96. Human Rights Watch interview with indigenous leaders, Mocoa, Putumayo, January 16, 2001.

97. Human Rights Watch interview with Cofán representative, Mocoa, Putumayo, January 16, 2001.

98. Human Rights Watch interview with Germán Martínez, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

99. Ibid.

100. Human Rights Watch interview with Germán Martínez, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

101. Human Rights Watch interview with Pilar, January 18, 2001.

102. Declaration by Pilar to Germán Martínez, personero, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 13, 2001.

103. Ibid.

104. Letter from Patrol Agent (bodyguard) Edimer Camayo Vargas to Capt. Javier Alexander Parra Prada, commander, Second District, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 11, 2001.

105. Juan O. Tamayo, "Priest involved in Colombia war, told to `get out of town or die'," Mimi Herald, February 27, 2001.

106. Human Rights Watch interview with priest, Puerto Asís, Putumayo, January 15, 2001.

107. Human Rights Watch interview with Puerto Caicedo resident, Mocoa, Putumayo, January 16, 2001.

108. Karl Penhaul, "Outlaw role seen in Colombia effort," Boston Globe, March 28, 2001.

109. Ibid.

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