Sunday, May 20, 2007

More Evidence Of Colombian Government's Ties to Paramilitaries

From the Houston Chronicle:

ITAGUI, COLOMBIA — As the razor-wired gates slid open, an armored SUV escorted by police sharpshooters on motorcycles roared out of the prison yard.

The motorcade is part of the morning routine at this mountainside penitentiary. One by one, jailed leaders of Colombia's paramilitary death squads are whisked off to court to confess their crimes.

Their testimony has confirmed what many have suspected all along: that the cream of Colombian society — senators, business leaders, army generals — promoted and financed the paramilitaries, who committed hundreds of massacres during their 20-year dirty war against Marxist guerrillas and became major cocaine traffickers in the process. More revelations about the links between the outlawed gunmen and the country's elite are expected in the coming weeks.

"Do you think an irregular force of 17,000 fighters armed to the teeth could move throughout the country without anybody knowing? Without anybody collaborating?" paramilitary leader Ivan Duque asked in a jailhouse interview.

"That's why I call this a country of hypocrisies," he said, "a society of lies."

The most damaging allegations were leveled last week by Salvatore Mancuso, the commander-in-chief of the now-demobilized paramilitary army, during three days of testimony that shook the government of President Alvaro Uribe, the Bush administration's closest ally in Latin America.

Mancuso accused small-town mayors, big-time congress members and Uribe's vice president and defense minister of collaborating with the gunmen.

He described active-duty police officers piloting paramilitary helicopters packed with cocaine. He said businesses ranging from Colombia's state-run oil company to U.S. banana exporters regularly paid the paramilitaries for protection from the guerrillas.

What's more, Mancuso laid much of the blame for the outlawed militias' expansion at the Colombian government's feet.