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Colombian Gen. Rito Alejo del Río: New Evidence of Paramilitary Ties Declassified

January 6, 2011

With the trial of former Colombian army commander Gen. Rito Alejo del Río set to resume this month in Bogotá, the Archive has obtained newly-declassified evidence of the retired general’s alleged ties to illegal paramilitary groups while in charge of the 17th Brigade in Urabá.  The 1998 cable—released this week in response to an Archive declassification request—reported the view of a retired Colombian military officer that Del Río was one of “the two most corrupt army officers in Colombia.”

Retired Colombian army commander Rito Alejo del Río Rojas after his arrest in September 2008. (Photo: Semana.com)

The source also claimed that Del Río “told 17th Brigade personnel to cooperate with paramilitaries whenever Del Río was physically absent from the area.”  Although the retired military officer responsible for the comments is not identified in the redacted copy, the Embassy added that it had “no reason to doubt his credibility.”

The cable adds to a growing body of formerly classified material suggesting that Del Río systematically collaborated with paramilitary forces, and is the third known instance in which the Embassy received incriminating information about Del Río from a Colombian military source.

  • Last month we highlighted key details from the first round of Wikileaks-related disclosures on Colombia, including the revelation that the Colombian Army inspector general, Maj. Gen. Carlos Suarez, had told the Embassy in February 2009 that Del Río was “working with right-wing politicians like former Minister Fernando Londono to undercut [Defense Minister Juan Manuel] Santos’ human rights initiatives.”
  • In September 2010 we published a declassified dossier on Del Río’s alleged paramilitary crimes, including a U.S. military intelligence report, based on an interview with his former deputy, Col. Carlos Alfonso Velásquez, who said that collaboration with paramilitaries “had gotten much worse under Del Río.”
  • In that same publication, we highlighted a Secret “Biographic Note” attached to an August 1998 cable, asserting that Del Río’s “systematic arming and equipping of aggressive regional paramilitaries was pivotal to his military success” in northern Colombia.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the Colombian military source in the document published here today also told the Embassy that Colombian military intelligence was a “mafia” led “for over twenty years” by its “godfather” Maj. Gen. Iván Ramírez Quintero, who “surrounded himself with loyal subordinates who ‘covered up for him.’”  Ramírez is currently under investigation for his role in the disappearances of 11 civilians during the 1985 Palace of Justice tragedy.

Recent disclosures in Colombia have raised questions about the role of confidential sources and the (sometimes failed) effort to protect individual identities while still disclosing pertinent information.  In one case, journalists from Le Monde working with redacted Wikileaks cables were able to identify a U.S. Embassy source as the Colombian National Police director after his name was inadvertently left in a subject heading after being scrubbed from the rest of the document.  Colombia’s top police official shared with the Embassy his “hypothesis” that an illegal wiretapping program being run out of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) had been ordered by two of President Álvaro Uribe’s top aides, Bernardo Moreno and José Obdulio Gaviria.

But if anything, these disclosures appear to support the notion that Embassy’s sources—including the army’s inspector general and the chief of the National Police—are in many cases among the most trusted leaders in Colombia, lending an extra measure of credibility to reports where their identities are kept secret.

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