“Honored by the king with awards of money and
titles, these five institutes of espionage shall ascertain the purity
of character of the king’s servants…Having set up spies over his prime
ministers, the king shall proceed to espy both citizens and country
Kautilya, the 3rd Century BCE Indian
government official, is credited with having authored the most thorough
treatise on statecraft, the Artha??stra, which highlights the
importance of espionage to preserve the king’s rule. While political
systems usually evolve from their barbaric past, it seems recent events
in Colombia demonstrate a devolution.
DASgate — the recent scandal involving the illegal wiretapping by Colombia’s spy agency DAS
of political opponents, judges and journalists, sometimes on behalf of
drug lords — has shed a harsh light on government corruption that used
the veil of “protecting democracy” to conceal its shadowy activities.
But what is particularly worrying about this latest uproar is the
popular belief that it was the work of few rotten apples within the
Such a belief does not hold up in the face of the facts. After the 2005 discovery that the DAS had been infiltrated by paramilitaries,
a commission recommended reforms, but they were never implemented. Even
the recent government response to shift the responsibility for
wiretappings to the national police
(not the most transparent institution) ignores the root problem, which
stems from lack of accountability by the spy agency and the government.
Having such powerful organization — it serves as national intelligence
agency, judicial police, secret police and immigration control —
reporting directly to the president without any mechanisms for
oversight raises troubling questions. Similarities to the former USSR’s
KGB may be pure coincidence.
The president has said the agency is necessary and should live on and is merely in need of reform.
The president is right, the DAS is important to protect his version of
democracy. A democracy that tramples on civil liberties, the rule of
law and the constitution; some of the cornerstones of democracy.
Moreover, a very influential adviser to the president, Jose Obdulio
Gaviria, instead of offering explanations, questioned the reporting of
the wiretappings. It seems that the current self-censorship in the
national media is not enough in Uribe’s democracy
The President’s office argues it is innocent
because its own officials and ministers were also wiretapped. To the
contrary, this reveals the degree of power accumulated by Uribe. This
serious damage to the rule of law and civil liberties would have led to
mass protests had it occurred in another country. In Colombia, however,
60 per cent of the public would like the president to run for a second
Finding the persons responsible may never happen. So far the Prosecutor General’s office has failed to find any evidence
of illegal wiretapping. Thus, the investigation may turn into yet
another whitewash and no government official will ever accept
responsibility. Even a scapegoat is difficult to find, contrary to what
occurred in the “false positives” scandal that led to the discharging
of 25 army officials.
The problems will continue until those ordering the illegal
wiretappings in high level positions of the government are apprehended.
Until then, reforms, if forthcoming, would be futile.
Kautilya’s preference for one-man-rule may be what Uribe is after, but it is the last thing Colombian democracy needs.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong