Without warning, the Colombian government shipped 14 imprisoned paramilitary chieftains to the United States on May 13 for prosecution on drug trafficking. The Alvaro Uribe government has intensified accusations that the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments are tied to groups it calls terrorists, specifically the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Critics see these developments as attempts to deflect problems.

The heads of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) were in prison as part of a deal. Under Colombia’s 2005 “Justice and Peace Law” they agreed to tell the truth about crimes in return for demobilization of some 20,000 troops and short stays in low security jails. Over decades, the AUC massacred thousands, took over peasant lands, and displaced millions.

What prosecutors, Colombia’s Supreme Court and reporters learned from the detainees hurt. Politicians allied to President Uribe were seen to have protected the AUCs in exchange for money and election support. Over 60 congresspersons, 31 of whom are in jail, are being investigated along with mayors, municipal councilors, governors and former legislators.

As disclosures mounted, authorities moved the AUC heads to secure prisons and extended sentences. Then retired Supreme Court President César Valencia Copete claimed that the President pressured him to secure the release of former Senate head Mario Uribe, his cousin, jailed for securing AUC support for Alvaro Uribe’s election in 2002.

In early May, further devastating testimony circulated in the press. Jailed paramilitary Francisco Villalba charged that Alvaro Uribe, as governor of Antioquia, helped finance, plan and celebrate a 1997 AUC attack in El Aro that killed 15 peasants and displaced hundreds. Allegedly brother Santiago Uribe was involved. Other reports connect Uribe and Vice President Francisco Santos with efforts to build up AUC presence in Bogota.

Their hard disks, laptops and cell phones were in the airplane along with the extradited AUC leaders. U.S. courts will not be looking at human rights abuses. Gary Leech asserts that regarding the AUC role in Colombian politics, President Uribe has “stymied future investigations into the so-called para-politics scandal.” (Colombiajournal.org) Investigator Claudia Lopez points out, “They’ve taken away all the witnesses.”

The government’s publicity campaign highlighting Venezuelan and Ecuadorian complicity with FARC insurgents is characterized by critics as another effort at damage control, as a smokescreen used to distract and obscure. The media have focused on computers found at the site in Ecuador where the Colombian military killed 20 FARC combatants on March 1.

Colombia alleges that information contained in three laptops, three flash drives, and two hard drives demonstrate Venezuelan and Ecuadorian ties to the FARC. Officials sent the material to the international police agency Interpol for corroboration.

That agency’s report announced May 13 may have backfired. Acknowledging that “no evidence of tampering” was found, it stated that “verification … does not imply validation of the user files … or source of the user files.” OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza dismissed the report as a technical opinion unrelated to production or content. Critics suggest that Interpol violated forensic standards by breaking the “chain of custody” and “failing to copy original computer material.”

The report failed to mention emails leaked by Interpol or Colombia and used by Spanish and U.S. media to associate the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments with the FARC.

Signaling Colombian dependency on the U.S. military, the Uribe puppet regime allowed Washington’s ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield to announce early plans for a U.S. base in La Guajira, Colombia adjacent to Venezuela’s oil-rich Zulia state. The lease on the U.S. military base in Manta Ecuador is not being renewed.

Over 60 Colombian troops are reported to have entered Páez municipality in southwestern Venezuela on May 16. Signs of mounting regional tension occur amidst preparations in Colombia for Uribe’s second re-election campaign in 2010, presently barred under Colombia’s 1991 constitution.

atwhit@ road runner.com