<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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"We Don't Negotiate with Terrorists?"

United States Officials Had Brunch with the Colombian Paramilitaries Last Month


By Luis Gómez
Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

June 16, 2003

Last Thursday – the 12th – a report shook Colombia and some circles in the U.S. Congress: Officials from the political section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, had brunched with a representative of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC, in its Spanish initials) last month, on May 3rd. According to a report published in the daily El Colombiano.

In a follow-up report, Saturday, in the daily El Tiempo, the State Department publicly admitted that “an official from the Embassy met with a civilian advisor of the AUC,” but, at the same time, he denied that there had been any kind of negotiation (it was “only a reiteration of U.S. policy”) with the paramilitary group led by Carlos Castaño, an act that, in fact, is considered illegal under U.S. anti-terrorism laws and one that can bring a penalty of 10 years in prison, if applied, to officials of the Bush government.

After the news was reported, Jim Foster, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, catagorically stated: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists. There was no negotiation.” However, some media organizations last week received copies of a memorandum in which a member of the AUC provided details of the meeting in which Salvatore Mancuso, considered to be the number-two man in the organization, and in which the names of U.S. officials Alex Lee, Carlos García, and Stewart Tuttle, were mentioned.

An Associated Press wire dated on Thursday indicated that the paramilitary member who wrote the document, known only as Pablo, confirmed having conversed with Lee about an amnesty treaty for the principal paramilitary leaders on the part of the United States government if they cooperate with authorities once they are placed under arrest by Washington, and that “Mister” Lee believed that the peace negotiations in Colombia were more important, although the charges filed by the U.S. Justice Department would, at the same time, be considered… That’s not a negotiation? That was a reiteration of U.S. policy? What is happening between the Bush government and the Colombian paramilitaries?

Chatting with Narco-traffickers

On September 24, 2002, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft made a statement that was dramatic in substance: “Today, the Justice Department is filing charges against leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia for trafficking more than 17 tons of cocaine to the United States and Europe since 1997… In the criminal complaint, five charges of narco-trafficking were filed against AUC leader Carlos Castaño and two other members of the paramilitary command, Salvatore Mancuso and Juan Carlos Sierra Ramírez… The accused would face a penalty as high as life imprisonment if they are found guilty of the charges.”

The AUC are already on the two most important lists of the United States international agenda: that of organizations that are considered to be terrorists, and that of the top drug lords. The first determination, as terrorists, is almost two years old and is well known. And on June 2nd they were categorized as narco-traffickers… On this date, an official communiqué established that: “The President has notified Congress for the fourth time about the list of narco-traffickers according to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (the law that determines the international heads of narco-trafficking). This is the first year that the President has included foreign groups as kinpins…” Castaño and his gang appeared on the list.

Now, the official communiqué of the State Department indicates that the breakfast with Pablo last May 3rd was nothing more than a meeting for purposes of “dialogue” in which the U.S. political agents reaffirmed that “the policy of the US is to extradite Colombians upon whom judicial processes have been opened in the US, and that the violators of human rights must be judged for their crimes…”

However, a couple of months after the charges filed by Ashcroft last year, it became known that Carlos Castaño has sustained, over time, direct contacts with the DEA and other United States government agencies. Not to mention that the government of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has achieved what no other world power has done: favoring his direct negotiations with the AUC, Uribe succeeded in causing the omnipotent Bush administration to suspend in mid-air the extradition orders against Castaño, Mancuso y Sierra… with whom Uribe is now in constant contact.

Without going any further than what occurred last week, it is also known that Castaño sent a letter to the Colombian president in which he made proposals to reach a “peace accord,” such as proposing that the Colombian Congress begin to debate a law of “pardon and forget” for paramilitary leaders… As well as granting land titles to those paramilitaries who become demobilized and to place minors of age who are AUC soldiers into the custody of the State. In exchange for that, Castaño would provide information to weaken narco-trafficking: location of the transport routes, illicit crops, and data that reveals the mechanisms utilized for money laundering and other illegal activities.

Uribe has already established a government comission to study the letter. It is headed by Interior Minister Fernando Londoño and the top peace talks negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo… who certainly received a copy of the memorandum about the brunch that the men of Bush say was not a negotiation and nothing of the kind was spoken there. Is this a coincidence? Or is it part of a wider movement that seeks, as Narco News Contributing Writer Jeremy Bigwood said, the legalization of the bloodiest and most corrupt paramiltiary organization in Latin America? Wouldn’t it be easy, most of all, for Castaño to provide such key information about narco-trafficking because he is part of it?

Brunching with the Enemy

Carlos Castaño published a book, aided by journalist Mauricio Aranguren Molina: Mi confesión (“My Confession”) is a book that could (like any other confession) be used against the maximum leader of the AUC. It has interesting passages about his participation in the business of narco-trafficking.

“From time to time on or another capo of narco-trafficking bribes me generously to do favors for him…

“I think that if a narco-trafficker wants to give $50 million and it is not necessary to protect him or his illicit business, it is most welcome. Some have plantations an a region and seek security for their lands. His money is received due to his role as investor, not as narco-trafficker. This happens in many regions where the AUC is the authority and we have received $100,000 dollars or $200,000 dollars from time to time.”

“The AUC is anti-subversive… not anti-narco…”

Is that so, Castaño? This correspondent would say that, yes, there is no doubt that he can obtain information about the drug business already conducted with the Colombian government… And that, in this meeting where Alex Lee did not negotiate with the “civilian advisor” of the AUC (but where he promised indulgences if they deliver themselves to justice and cooperate), the U.S. policy now stands naked: It’s not interested in justice, it doesn’t care about the massacres perpetraded by the AUC, nor in the fact that Castaño and his paramilitaries are financed by the narco… Perhaps its own laws against terrorism and drug trafficking don’t mean a thing, in reality, to the U.S. government.

That famous September 24th of 2002, Ashcroft said that the charges filed by the Bush administration against the top AUC leaders were like this: “Today we see, more clearly than ever, the interdependence that exists between the terrorism that threatens the U.S. citizenry and the drugs that threaten the U.S. potential. As today’s charges remind us, the anarchy that produces terrorism is also fertile ground for the narco-trafficking that maintains terrorism. To surrender to either of these threats is to surrender to both of them…”

What he didn’t seem to say is that his government had been in contact with them, that part of the money given by taxpayers in the United States would soon be spent to have brunch with them in order to promise them “leniency.”

Publisher’s Note for the English-language readers of this report: The AP story on the meeting between U.S. officials and paramilitaries presented the usual milquetoast whitewash of news embarrassing to the interests of Plan Colombia. The story thus needed to be retold with a dose of common sense and dignity.

On a related note, see my “domestic news” weblog this morning for some comments on the disappearance of former State Department fixer Rand Beers from Foggy Bottom – who until late winter was a key architect of US-Colombian policy – and his sudden reappearance as foreign policy advisor to US presidential candidate John Kerry. Beers, topic of various Narco News reports in recent years, still has a lot to come clean about regarding his tenure at State.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America