The U.S. conviction of former President Alvaro Uribe‘s security chief for aligning with paramilitary groups may have a “profound impact” on Colombian politics and the country’s military, said experts. “There will be people in high places in Colombia who will be nervous about this.”
in the plea agreement between retired General Mauricio Santoyo and Eastern District of Virginia prosecutors, the disgraced Uribe aide acknowledged that from 2001 to 2008 he helped the AUC thwart anti-trafficking efforts by the U.S. and Colombia in exchange for bribes.
Santoyo also acknowledged that his assistance included tipping off AUC members to upcoming law enforcement arrest operations, divulging information about ongoing wiretaps, informing members of investigations by Colombian, British and U.S. law enforcement, and conducting unauthorized wiretaps of rivals.
“During the course of this conspiracy, high-level AUC members and associates would pay substantial bribes to the defendant in exchange for the defendant’s assistance in their operations, which included the commission of terrorist acts and drug-trafficking,” read the plea agreement, which the Justice Department made public.
“In exchange for these bribes, the defendant informed members and associates of the AUC of ongoing investigations by Colombian, British, and United States law enforcement.”
The retired police general admitted to having done so while serving Uribe between 2002 and 2006 and promised to surrender documents, audio and video, and other types of evidence to further prove his ties to the now-defunct AUC, an organization deemed terrorist by the U.S, and the “Oficina de Envigado,” a Medellin-based crime syndicate.
Conflict analyst Leon Valencia told newspaper El Pais that the former General’s trial “would have a profound impact” in Colombia as apparently the U.S. has began focusing on government officials.
Additionally, Santoyo’s pleading guilty, not to drug trafficking but to aiding what the U.S. deemed a terrorist organization amplifies the potential impact on the Colombian state and its (former) officials.
“What we see is a change in U.S. justice that has overlooked implicating top officials and focused its attention on the criminals, because the logic always was to work together with the government,” Valencia said.
“Paramilitarism is drug trafficking, but also a little more. It has a political impact and in Colombia is associated with national security issues and more complex aspects” such as “complex political and economical interests.”
“There will be people in high places in Colombia who will be nervous about this,” Michael Shifter, the president of U.S. think tank the Inter-American Dialogue, told the Wall Street Journal.
According to Foreign Minister mario Angela Holguin, the guilty plea of Santoyo is a “wake-up call” for Colombia’s armed forces that have seen thousands of its members, including generals, be implicated in paramilitarism, drug trafficking and the extrajudicial killings of nearly 3,000 civilians.
“It’s regrettable that generals of the republic are in a situation like this,” the Minister added while on a visit to Mexico.
Santoyo, who had been working closely with Uribe since 1997, is the first Colombian police general ever indicted in the U.S.
According to Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office, some 11,000 Colombian politicians, officials and businessmen are implicated in “parapolitics,” the collaborating with the AUC, held responsible for tens of thousands of human rights violations including homicide, rape and forced displacement.