Colombia’s Peace Negotiators: The View from the United States
With great fanfare and even greater expectations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos this week identified the people he’s chosen to represent the government in peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the leftist guerrilla group that has been at war with the Colombian government for nearly 50 years.
Where the talks will lead is anybody’s guess, but as the negotiations take shape, it’s worthwhile to review what declassified (and leaked) documents from formerly secret U.S. files reveal about two of the individuals selected to lead the process.
As director of the Colombian National Police (CNP), Óscar Naranjo Trujillo was one of the most trusted members of former President Álvaro Uribe’s security team and gained the respect and admiration of U.S. officials through routine and frank engagements with them on a host of sensitive matters. Naranjo had “a pretty good track record for success,” according to U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield’s account of an October 2009 meeting, and was “perhaps the smartest, best informed member of the [Government of Colombia],” and someone whose “views and observations are usually worth serious consideration.”
The National Security Archive’s declassified files include one especially interesting example of how Naranjo earned his reputation for blunt disclosures, although it does not reflect particularly well on the CNP as an institution. The 1996 cable reports that Naranjo, then director of police intelligence, admitted to U.S. diplomats that CNP forces “do not act” in the parts of Colombia under control of the country’s illegal militia forces, led by indicted paramilitary warlord Carlos Castaño.
Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that Naranjo continued to be an important source of information for the U.S. on political, criminal and security-related developments during the new century. Naranjo’s name appears in 76 of the leaked cables, many of which pertain to the most sensitive scandals of the Uribe presidency.
In a March 2007 cable published by Wikileaks, Naranjo is reported as saying that fugitive paramilitary chief Vicente Castaño—older brother of Carlos Castaño —“enjoys ‘significant collaboration’ from elements of the police and military,” despite the government’s supposed efforts to dismantle the illegal groups.
Wikileaks has also shown that Naranjo accused top Uribe advisers Bernardo Moreno and José Obdulio Gaviria of orchestrating a massive illegal wiretapping operation that targeted judges, journalists, human rights defenders and other presumed political opponents—even, in some cases, U.S. citizens.
- In an August 2008 cable the U.S. Embassy reports that Naranjo “said presidential advisor Jose Obdulio Gavaria was behind a recent attempt to discredit [Supreme Court magistrate Iván] Velasquez using former paramilitaries in Medellin.” Naranjo said that “former Senator Mario Uribe [cousin of President Álvaro Uribe] had orchestrated a similar effort involving a former paramilitary (“Tasmania”) who claimed Velasquez had offered him legal benefits to implicate Uribe in a murder,” according to the cable.
- In an October 2008 cable, Naranjo reportedly told the Embassy that “Jose Obdulio Gaviria pushed the DAS [intelligence agency] to collect political intelligence.”
- A May 2009 cable published by Wikileaks notes that Naranjo had named José Obdulio Gaviria and Bernardo Moreno as the officials who “had pushed DAS to spy on the GOC’s domestic opponents.” Similar accusations by Naranjo are included in an October 2009 report.
Another Wiki-leaked cable indicates that Naranjo worked closely with the U.S. on planning for the possibility of politically-sensitive, cross-border military raids against FARC targets in Panama, according to another cable made available through Wikileaks. The cable said that the Embassy was “grateful” for “Naranjo’s commitment to working in concert with the USG [U.S. government]” on the matter.
But while the U.S. seems to have viewed Naranjo as a trusted ally, former Colombian Armed Forces commander Jorge Enrique Mora, another member of the negotiating team, is a horse of a somewhat different color. While the U.S. viewed Mora as a capable and professional military officer, he was sharply critical of civilian efforts to prosecute members of the Colombian military for human rights violations, and a fellow officer privately told U.S. officials that Mora was “one of those who looked the other way” and did not interfere when members of the military collaborated with paramilitary death squads.
In other words, according to the U.S. defense attaché report, Mora and other senior officers “never allowed themselves to become directly involved in encouraging or supporting paramilitary activities, but they turned a blind eye to what was happening and felt the [Colombian Army] should in no way be blamed for any resulting human rights atrocities committed.” The attaché added that the unnamed senior military officer was referring to the time when Mora was commander of the Colombian Army’s 4th Brigade in Medellin, at a time when paramilitary forces were beginning to consolidate control over that region (1994-95).
Stay tuned for more on Colombia’s peace process as it develops.