The Colombian ambassador to the U.S. criticized NGO the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) for its “unacceptable” suggestion of a connection between the embassy and a paramilitary group, El Tiempo reported Wednesday.
In a strongly worded letter sent to WOLA director Jay Olsen, Ambassador Carolina Barco said that WOLA’s May 17 press release, in which the NGO listed death threats that they had received from paramilitary group the “Aguilas Negras,” was completely “unacceptable” due to the connection it suggested between the embassy and the illegal armed group.
In the original version of the press release, WOLA said that it had received the death threats a day after meeting the ambassador in Washington to talk about threats made against fellow human rights workers in Colombia.
While the paragraph making the connection between the embassy and the paramilitary group was later removed by WOLA, Barco said that the story had been “thoroughly distributed on a national and international level, causing lasting damage, and leading to the appearance of defamatory stories [against the Colombian embassy] in other publications, which arose out of the irresponsible insinuations from WOLA.”
One article, published on May 21 in the Huffington Post, called the Colombian embassy the “Death squad’s embassy in Washington.”
WOLA, whose aim is to redirect U.S. policy in Latin America towards goals of “human rights, democracy, and social and economic justice,” issued a press release on May 17 claiming that they had received an email signed by the Aguilas Negras that threatened them and fellow NGO workers with death for their human rights work in Colombia.
The email allegedly warned the NGOs that, “as so called human rights defenders, don’t think you can hide behind the offices of the [Colombian] Inspector General or other institutions… we are watching you and you can consider yourselves dead.”
According to WOLA, the paramilitary group declared them and 80 other Colombian NGOs who work with Colombia’s indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and internally displaced populations, as “military targets.”