Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP) has been infiltrated by organized crime and is spying on the people they are supposed to protect, according to local media.
Among the ranks of the UNP is a suspected hitman and kidnapper who has been in charge of the security detail for public officials, congressmen, a land claimant and a trade unionist, the likes of whom have been targeted in a recent wave of violence, news website La Nueva Prensa reported Monday.
The agency and other government bodies were discredited in the beginning of this century after claims they had been infiltrated by paramilitary organization AUC, which carried out most of the killings of people receiving extra state protection.
This time, the special unit has reportedly been infiltrated by a Medellin-based death squad with some members of the UNP accused of sexual harassment and rape, drug trafficking and spying on the very people they are supposed to protest.
On June 20, an operation by the anti-kidnapping unit GAULA led to the arrest of nine policemen – five active and four retired who were accused of forming a band of kidnappers and assassins in the Antioquia province known as “Los Magnificos.”
Among those arrested was Jefferson de Jesus Sangregorio, a.k.a. “Mi Sangre,” who was an escort of the Integral Temporal Security Unit in 2016, a company contracted by the UNP in four zones in Colombia charged with the protection of thousands of threatened citizens.
The latest to have received protection from Mi Sangre’s was Luis Fernando Moreno, director of crime analysis website Analisis Urbano and president of the Corporation for Peace and Social Development (CORPADES).
Moreno had already denounced the existence of “Los Magnificos” and had specifically linked “Mi Sangre” to the kidnapping of engineer Alejandro Ramirez in March 2015.
The body of the engineer was found 20 months later in November 2016.
“Mi Sangre” was removed from that institution at the end of January 2016 but was hired as an Integral Security escort in January 2017 and has since “protected” the former president of the Union of the Inspector General, William Millan and the Undersecretary of Human Rights of the Mayor’s Office of Medellin, Carlos Alberto Arcila.
The alleged kidnapper and assassin was also a part of security detail for the indigenous leader Juvenal Arrieta and the congressman Juan Felipe Lemos.
According to UNP records, between 2017 and 2018, “Mi Sangre” was in the security scheme of the director of the National School Trade Union (ENS), Carlos Julio Diaz, and the former EPL member, political analyst and intermediary in the demobilization of urban gangs in Medellin, Mario de Jesus Agudelo.
In addition to “Mi Sangre,” Colombia’s police intelligence agency DIJIN acknowledged that two former members who were part of the criminal gang worked as escorts.
However, it was not confirmed that Charles Argumedo a.k.a “Villa” and Juan Pablo Martinez a.k.a “Yam” worked for the state protection unit.
UNP Director Diego Fernando Mora refused to be drawn on the situation with his deputy Coronel Nelson Aceros doing likewise.
Deputy director of Risk Assessment of the UNP, Colonel Alvaro Lopez, denied criminal infiltration and told La Nueva Prensa that the body “is absolutely autonomous and independent in the selection processes it carries out.”
The revelations are alarming as more than 311 social leaders have been assassinated by death squads and assassins since 2016 in a systematic campaign reminiscent of the extermination of the left-wing Patriotic Union party in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Far-right group Aguilas Negras recently vowed to “exterminate” all Colombia’s human rights defenders and social leaders, calling them “guerrillas in disguise.”
Colombia’s Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas has denied the existence of the Aguilas Negras and has clashed with Inspector General Fernando Carrillo who claimed last week that members of the security forces are taking part in the mass killing of leaders.
Among those considered “military objectives” by the Aguilas Negras are “each and every supposed Victims Table on Colombian territory,” journalist organizations, minority groups, think tanks, congressmen and dozens of social leaders.
Should it transpire that security companies charged with the task of protecting such groups have been infiltrated by criminal gangs, the outlook is bleak as the wave of assassinations continues across the South American country.