Colombia: Video links President Uribe with Terrorist Leader
Leaked video shows a 2001 meeting between Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the leader of a US-delcared terrorist group - the AUC. Uribe has repeatedly said he's never had any meetings with these folks. Interestingly, the AUC leader - commandante Esteban - is not one of the handful who have surrendered to authorities to take part in the disarmament and truth committee proceedings currently undeway. This man was responsible for at least hundreds of deaths. The Colombian FBI had been staking him out for arrest during the period. He was arrested in connection with 80 deaths just two months later.
By FRANK BAJAK, Associated Press Writer, June 17, 2007
BARRANCABERMEJA, Colombia - In his five years as president, Alvaro Uribe has repeatedly denied accusations that he's been cozy with Colombia's murderous right-wing militias, whose thousands of victims include suspected rebel sympathizers and union activists.
Yet newly uncovered video of his 2001 campaign shows him shaking hands with a militia leader who was arrested only weeks later on suspicion of involvement in multiple murders, and is now a fugitive with a price on his head. It's the latest headache for the law-and-order president, who has seen one ally after another jailed for allegedly colluding with the outlawed militias.
"I haven't known the paramilitaries, haven't been friends with them, haven't had contact with them," Uribe declared on national television on April 19.
The militia chief in the video, which bears an Oct. 31, 2001, time stamp, was identified by three people familiar with him — including human rights activists — as Fremio Sanchez Carreno. Carreno, better known as "Comandante Esteban," had just finished spearheading the bloody militia takeover of this steamy oil-refining city on Colombia's main river when Uribe met with him and about a dozen other people.
Local human rights activists say Uribe could be expected to know that the local leaders in the videotaped meeting answered to the privately bankrolled outlaw army that had just secured control of their city — a takeover that helped persuade the State Department to add Sanchez's paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia — known by its initials AUC in Spanish — to its list of international terror organizations only weeks beforehand.
Opponents contend Uribe, beginning as governor of the neighboring state of Antioquia in the 1990s, promoted landowner-bankrolled militias as a means of eradicating Colombia's half-century-old leftist insurgency and ending a plague of kidnappings and extortion targeting ranchers and other businessmen.
Twelve of Uribe's allies in Colombia's Congress have been jailed since late last year on charges of colluding with the paramilitaries to gain office or other favors. Uribe's former domestic security chief is among his confidants accused of working with paramilitaries, and Colombia's foreign minister stepped down in February after her senator brother was arrested in the scandal on charges including kidnapping.
Uribe's press secretary posted an appeal on the presidential Web site Friday, asking the media to "abstain from making malevolent insinuations," after the video's existence was first reported by The Miami Herald's Spanish-language paper, El Nuevo Herald.
It shows the local leaders pleading with Uribe, who would be elected the following May, to campaign publicly in their city. But Uribe seemed hesitant, telling them: "Barranca is a very delicate case for me for innumerable circumstances, and I'll have to give this the most delicate treatment."
Paramilitaries assassinated 600 people in 2001 in Barrancabermeja, said Ravelo.