COLOMBIA: Of Blackmail and Fake Guerrillas

  • by Constanza Vieira (bogota)
  • Inter Press Service

Saying she 'cannot be blackmailed,' attorney general Viviane Morales launched an investigation of her husband, former guerrilla and former senator Carlos Alonso Lucio.

She had announced on Monday that her office would seek the arrest of Luis Carlos Restrepo, a former high peace commissioner under then president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010).

According to Restrepo, Morales 'lashed back because I know a secret story about her husband.'

Restrepo will face charges for the case of Cacica Gaitana, which according to military intelligence was a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) unit that operated in the central province of Tolima.

The Cacica Gaitana unit demobilised with great fanfare on Mar. 7, 2006 in the middle of the campaign for the re-election of Uribe, and even surrendered a plane that was supposedly used by FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who died in 2008.

A U.S. embassy cable leaked by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, dated Mar. 22, 2006, raised doubts about the 'veracity' of the demobilisation, and said Restrepo 'was warmly congratulated by senior military officials.'

The Cacica Gaitana unit in fact never existed. The demobilisation of some 70 purported guerrillas was a farce that received wide media coverage. Around 15 of them were FARC deserters, and the rest were unemployed or homeless people recruited for the fake surrender operation.

The 'leader' of the false unit, alias Saldaña, had been in prison for two years. Part of the weapons surrendered apparently came from a cache of the far-right paramilitary militias, and the plane had been in government custody since 2003.

'Unemployed people were picked up, armed, given military supplies and instructed about FARC ideas, and then they 'surrendered',' José Alfredo Pacheco, a former FARC insurgent who took part in the farce told La FM radio station in 2008. 'Demobilisations of this kind have always been carried out in coordination with the army.'

After a 10-month investigation, the attorney general's office plans to issue an arrest warrant for Restrepo on Jan. 20 and charge him with fraud, conspiracy to commit a crime, and trafficking of arms.

Army colonels Hugo Castellanos and Jaime Ariza will also be accused, along with Pacheco and other participants, and drug trafficker Hugo Rojas — now in prison in the United States, where he was extradited — who reportedly financed the sham with between 500,000 and one million dollars.

Retired Colonel Castellanos was the liaison officer between then peace commissioner Restrepo and the defence ministry, to deal with the demobilisations of paramilitaries and guerrillas that were frequent during the Uribe administration. And Colonel Ariza was regional head of military intelligence in Tolima.

Restrepo said military intelligence informed him in 2006 of the imminent demobilisation of the Cacica Gaitana unit, and added that the report was 'confirmed by then army chief (General) Mario Montoya,' who assigned a helicopter to carry reporters to cover the event.

He also said 'the high command were there. What were they doing in that area? Several top generals were in the area where the demobilisation occurred.'

Without going into detail, he said the defence ministry 'knows that it was a military operation whose results are secret. Since it involves documents pertaining to national security, they cannot hand them over,' Restrepo said, adding that the classified documents are necessary for him to defend himself in court.

'Why do they insist on keeping that information classified? Why do they deny it? Tell us everything,' Restrepo said in an explosive interview Monday night with the RCN radio station.

He declared himself 'opponent number one' of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was Uribe's defence minister, and asked 'What is Santos afraid of? That maybe one of his brilliant officials who are now in the presidency and who were involved with the Cacica Gaitana case until well into 2010, under his ministry, will end up being implicated?

'Yes, there were many military operatives with them,' he added, referring to the fake guerrillas who surrendered with Cacica Gaitana, 'and there were high-level defence ministry officials working with them.'

Restrepo urged the government to reveal who in the defence ministry 'worked with these gentlemen after and during the ministry of Santos, and what they were involved in.' He also did not rule out the possibility that military intelligence was 'deceived.'

Former government minister Camilo González, director of the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), said the Cacica Gaitana demobilisation was not the only sham.

According to the Uribe administration, some 52,000 armed fighters laid down their weapons in eight years.

That total includes 32,000 members of the far-right paramilitary militias who surrendered in collective demobilisation ceremonies after controversial negotiations with the Uribe administration.

But only 15,000 people actually handed over weapons in these high-profile ceremonies: 10,000 armed combatants and 5,000 people close to them, who were recruited for the purpose, according to a civil society monitoring committee of which INDEPAZ formed part.

'There were 17,000 false paramilitaries who 'demobilised',' said González.

'The demobilisation of Cacica Gaitana was a total parody,' he told IPS. 'But that was not the main problem. The big sham was (the paramilitary demobilisation) which was of such dimensions that it was impossible for the highest spheres of government not to know.'

In González's view, the Uribe government 'formed part of the entire farce.'

The demobilised paramilitary chiefs confessed to the prosecutors that the militias 'had training schools where the people who showed up at the last minute put on uniforms, got haircuts, and learned to describe where they patrolled, what paramilitary front they were in, and what they did.'

Restrepo, meanwhile, argues that attorney general Morales, to whom he sent a letter containing his accusations, should herself be investigated because she took part in a public forum in Santa Fe de Ralito, where the government and the paramilitaries negotiated the demobilisation agreement.

He also maintained that it was a crime for her husband to be an adviser to paramilitaries and guerrillas, in the search for reconciliation. He alleged that Lucio was involved in negotiations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — who helped broker releases of hostages by the FARC — and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In response to his letter, Morales ordered the investigation of her husband, in which she said she would not take part. She also wondered why Restrepo only called for an investigation of Lucio after the attorney general's office announced that charges would be brought against the former high peace commissioner.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service