COLOMBIA: Jaime Garzón’s Murder; No Digging Allowed – Part 2

  • by Constanza Vieira* (bogotÁ)
  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

On each anniversary of his death, the TV newscasts replay the biting political parodies that made him one of Colombia's best-loved television personalities.

The day he was killed, people in Bogotá wept in the streets, even hardened middle-aged men who were taught that crying is a sign of weakness.

A decade later, the popular wisdom is that 'they killed him because he told the truth.'

Garzón was shot in his car by two gunmen on a motorcycle near the Radionet station where he worked, on the west side of Bogotá.

According to the Inter-American Press Association’s (SIP/IAPA) Impunity Project, Garzón, a peace advocate and journalist as well as a political satirist, apparently discovered that some members of the 13th army brigade in Bogotá were selling weapons and even kidnap victims to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas (the main rebel group, which emerged in 1964).

The murder has now taken on a new twist, as a result of the ongoing scandal over illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court judges, prosecutors, human rights defenders, social activists, opposition politicians and journalists by Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS).

The scandal broke out in February, when the press reported on the spying by the DAS.

It was Senator Gustavo Petro of the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party who drew a link between the political satirist’s murder and the espionage and sabotage operations carried out for years by the Special Intelligence Group, a DAS unit known as G-3.

The subsequent probe by the Cuerpo Técnico de Investigación (CTI - the Office of the Attorney General’s judicial police), aimed at discovering who in the DAS leaked the information on the spying to the press, opened a Pandora’s box.

In a report to the prosecutors to which IPS had access, the CTI summed up thousands of pages from G-3 archives classified as 'top-secret' and organised in 104 A-Z expanding files.

On Jun. 9, Petro led a debate in the Senate - attended by only 18 of the 102 senators – in which he presented the CTI report along with additional information gathered by his office. Although the session was broadcast live, it received little attention from the press.

A national security man

The senator focused on the activities of the G-3, which was created by José Miguel Narváez, although the unit never appeared on the DAS organisation chart.

Starting in the late 1990s, Narváez, an economist and business consultant, advised the Defence Ministry on kidnapping, a crime in which this civil war-torn South American country is the world leader.

Narváez was an adviser to the 13th army brigade when, at the start of President Álvaro Uribe’s first term in 2002, his name emerged as a possible director of an intelligence unit that the right-wing president was planning to create.

He became an adviser to Jorge Noguera, director of the DAS from August 2002 to November 2005.

Then, with the full knowledge of Noguera – according to the files studied by the CTI – he set up the G-3, the existence of which was denied by the DAS until last March.

In June 2005, Noguera named Narváez deputy director of DAS. Not long afterwards, they were caught up in bitter infighting, and Narváez was sacked and Noguera resigned in the midst of scandals over their apparent ties to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), far-right paramilitary militias supposedly created to combat the guerrillas.

On Jun. 23 Noguera, who is in prison awaiting trial, denied to Attorney General Mario Iguarán that he had anything to do with the G-3.

Four former paramilitary chiefs have identified Narváez as one of the main figures in the flow chart of the far-right groups, 'and as a key link between the paramilitary militias and the country’s political elite,' Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), told IPS.

Narváez has been mentioned as a member of the so-called 'Group of Six' influential people who late paramilitary commander Carlos Castaño described as 'true patriots,' 'nationalists,' and 'upright, respectable' citizens who used a certain symbol - which he did not describe – that represented a 'self-defence society.'

This 'conclave,' which Narváez denies forming part of, decided who was to be killed and who was not, from the lists that they were given by Castaño, as the AUC commander himself stated in his book 'My Confession', published in 2001.

Two of the 14 former paramilitary chiefs who were extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges in May 2008 remember Narváez as one of the AUC’s main ideologues and instructors.

They said he taught a class titled 'Why it is legal to kill Communists in Colombia', and identified him as the instigator of the murders of Garzón and journalist and lawyer Manuel Cepeda, a Communist senator and the father of the MOVICE spokesman, who was killed in 1994 in Bogotá.

Narváez was an instructor in the army’s military and intelligence academies, and according to Iván Cepeda, 'an Uribe administration adviser on national security issues.'

Today he works with FEDEGAN, Colombia’s cattle ranching association.

'Despite these extremely serious allegations, and the fact that he was involved in spying on prominent Colombians by the state security agencies, the Attorney General’s Office has not yet investigated the denunciations,' said Cepeda.

Another piece of the puzzle

But the links between Garzón’s murder and the DAS wiretap scandal are not limited to Narváez.

Emiro Rojas has worked for the DAS for over 30 years. He was the agency’s regional director in the northwestern province of Antioquia from 1997 to 2002, and assistant national director until June 2005. Today he heads the DAS intelligence and public security academy in Bogotá.

During the trial for Garzón’s murder, the DAS office in Antioquia, headed by Rojas, accused two young men from the slums of Medellín, the provincial capital, of being the paid gunmen who shot the journalist. The Attorney General’s Office accepted that version and accused Castaño of ordering the murder.

But during the judicial proceedings, it was proven that Rojas was using a paid DAS informer as a witness, who is now wanted on charges of giving false testimony. In addition, a young man who refused to testify against one of the two alleged killers was murdered.

The two young men were acquitted for lack of evidence in 2004, after spending more than four years in pretrial detention.

But no investigation was carried out against Rojas or the other DAS officials involved in supplying false witnesses, even though the judge ordered an inquiry as well as a reopening of the Garzón murder case to track down the real killers.

On the contrary, Rojas was appointed to a 'truth commission' on the wiretap scandal set up by the government a week before Noguera resigned. The commission’s mandate was to investigate the spying and decide what should be done with the DAS, which answers directly to the president’s office.

Keep your noses out of Garzón’s murder

Journalists and lawyers who took an interest in clarifying Garzón’s murder ended up being spied on by the DAS.

That included Alirio Uribe (no relation to the president), the head of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective - a human rights group with United Nations consultative status – who represented the Garzón family in the murder trial.

The CTI report indicates that in the A-Z accordion file number 54 there is a document addressed to the DAS, dated Oct. 2, 2003, and signed by Alirio Uribe.

In the letter, the lawyer criticised the DAS for sidetracking the investigation into Garzón’s murder and complained about threats against and harassment of journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, who had been following the case since 2001.

The CTI also provides summaries of several DAS intelligence reports on Duque, dated between February and November 2004.

On Aug. 17, 2003, the investigative television programme 'Contravía' (which means 'against the current'), directed by journalist Hollman Morris, presented the main conclusions of Duque’s inquiry into Garzón’s murder.

The journalists did what the prosecutors had failed to do: they carried out a reconstruction of events, thus toppling the version put together by the intelligence agency.

DAS director Noguera told 'Contravía' at the time that 'a few DAS employees' had been investigated in connection with the case and 'we did not find any irregularities.'

But in the parliamentary debate that was not considered newsworthy, Senator Petro pointed to a link between DAS’s harassment of Alirio Uribe and journalists Duque and Morris: when the three indicated that the investigation was being sidetracked, and the judge acquitted the alleged killers, in 2004, they became targets of the intelligence agency’s illegal wiretap operation.

Petro said the files studied by the CTI included abundant information gathered by close surveillance of 'all of the members' of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective: intercepted e-mails, transcripts of telephone conversations, tape recordings, and details of their daily lives and those of their families, even their young children.

'There are photos of the schools their children attend, and there are even pictures taken inside the schools, in the classrooms' said the senator.

There are also 'photos of their homes, surveillance during trips in Colombia and abroad, photos of their passports, customs records, financial investigations and surveillance of international personalities' who came into contact with the targets, he said.

Other files show the results of close surveillance of Duque, Morris and their families (see sidebars).

Petro said 'there were private interests involved that led to people being followed because they were conducting investigations that were showing who the real killers were like in the case of Jaime Garzón.'

In other words, said the senator 'this was a persecution carried out by the DAS, in which the DAS officials who made the decision to persecute them are facing accusations': one, Narváez, of planning Garzón’s murder, and the other, Rojas, of manipulating evidence to frame innocent men and sidetrack the investigation into the murder, which has gone unpunished for nearly a decade.

*This is the second part of a special series of articles on the DAS wiretap scandal.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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