An estimated 700 emails from the computer of former AUC commander and drug lord Vicente Castaño revealed the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and many top Colombian politicians may have been working with the paramilitary group.
One of the messages revealed that Vicente’s brother Carlos, who founded the extreme right paramilitary group the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU) with Vicente, allegedly spoke with CIA agents to help American authorities capture the leaders of the Cali Cartel, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and Jose Santacruz-Londoño.
Santacruz-Londoño was killed in 1996 while attempting to flee police after escaping from a Bogota prison months before. Rodriguez, who was extradited to the U.S. in 2004, is currently serving a 30 year sentence in Pennsylvania for drug trafficking.
The emails also implicated several high-ranking members of former President Alvaro Uribe‘s administration. Former Minister of the Interior and Justice Sabas Pretelt de la Vega, who was already banned from holding political office for 12 years for accepting bribes in the “Yidispolitica” scandal, reportedly pledged to present a law that would prevent the extradition of AUC members to the U.S.
“If you make me a guarantee, and I comply with the agreements, I will surrender [to authorities],” Vicente Castaño wrote to Pretelt.
Further emails referenced a meeting between AUC leaders and politicians in a Bogota apartment to expediate the passing of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law. “We have to push through the Constitutional Court ruling regarding Law 975. Surely it will come with substantial modifications to the original text approved by Congress. This has to be done in haste,” an email read.
The widely-criticized reform meant that demobilized paramilitaries could only serve a maximum of eight years in prison, causing many to accuse the bill of allowing impunity for human rights violators. 1500 AUC members may be released next year unless Colombia’s Senate decides to reform the law.
In another damning message, former High Commissioner for Peace Luis Carlos Restrepo, who is wanted for allegedly faking the demobilization of a non-existent FARC front in 2006, told Vicente Castaño to surrender. “Think about it, if you resist the presidential directive now and stay in hiding, you will enter a place of no return and destroy all that’s been built for you in this process.”
It was also discovered that Vicente Castaño sent emails to the brother of Carlos Pizarro, the demobilized leader of guerrilla group M-19 and former presidential candidate, confessing to his 1990 murder.
The Castaño brothers are widely believed to be responsible for the influence of paramilitaries on Colombian society. Before forming the ACCU, a precursor to the AUC, the pair, along with older brother Fidel, worked for Pablo Escobar‘s Medellin Cartel at the height of its cocaine-fueled power. Eventually however, the relationship between “El Patron” and the three brothers soured.
The trio used money from rival drug gangs to finance “Los Pepes,” a vigilante group comprised of Escobar’s many enemies bent on destroying him and his drug network. It was this group that sent Escobar on the run until he was killed in a shootout with Colombian police in 1993.
Dozens of Colombian politicians have been convicted of paramilitary ties, with hundreds suspected of being implicated in what has become popularly known as the “parapolitics scandal.”