In this image made from video with a time stamp of Oct. 31, 2001 and obtained by the AP in June 2007, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, right, is seen shaking hands with a man identified identified by three people familiar with him — including human rights activists, as Fremio Sanchez Carreno, better known as paramilitary leader 'Comandante Esteban'. The person or persons who provided the video to The Associated Press, and who do not wish to be identified for security reasons, said it was recorded during a campaign meeting Uribe held with civic leaders from nearby Barrancabermeja in the city council chambers of the paramilitary stronghold of Puerto Berrio. The place and time of the video could not be confirmed independently. Uribe has denied any connection with the illegal paramilitaries. (AP Photo)
By Mark Weisbrot
July 11, 2007
A May 22 news report in the Washington Post summed up Colombia's ever-widening scandal: "Top paramilitary commanders have in recent days confirmed what human rights groups and others have long alleged: some of Colombia's most influential political, military and business figures helped build a powerful anti-guerrilla movement that operated with impunity, killed civilians and shipped cocaine to U.S. cities."
Yet the Bush administration wants to sign a "free trade" agreement with Colombia, which is the Bush administration's closest ally in Latin America and receives $700 million annually in mostly military aid. Congress is threatening to block the agreement, and they should.
The word "paramilitary" is a euphemism. In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was supporting the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, these organizations were called "death squads."
The Colombian death squads — which are classified as terrorist organizations by the US State Department — were mostly demobilized in recent years under an agreement that allows lenient sentences for the murderers in exchange for telling the truth about their crimes. But the truth has shown increasingly close ties between the death squads and high-ranking allies of President Alvaro Uribe. More than a dozen legislators, mostly Uribe allies, have been arrested, and his foreign minister has resigned. As the investigation progresses, including to President Uribe's home state, it is becoming clear that the death squads have been an integral part of the government.
One of the most sinister revelations has been the government's role in the murder of trade unionists, which continues despite the incomplete demobilization. Last year 72 trade unionists were killed, making Colombia the most dangerous place in the world by far for a union activist. According to witnesses co-operating with the Colombian Attorney General's office, the government's intelligence services provided names and security details of union activists to the death squads. The former chief of the intelligence service — who managed Uribe's 2002 presidential campaign in the state of Magdalena - has been arrested and charged with conspiring with the death squads to kill union leaders and others...
(click here to view entire report)