by Cyril Mychalejko
30 May 2008
A retired Colombian army general and former CIA asset was arrested Tuesday over the disappearances of 11 people.
Ivan Ramirez, formerly the Colombian Army's third in command, led an intelligence unit of soldiers in a 1985 raid that recaptured the Palace of Justice, which had been seized by leftist rebels during one of the country's most violent periods of its ongoing civil war. Prosecutors claim that his unit escorted 11 people, which included cafeteria workers and one rebel, out of the Palace as the military raided the building. These people were never heard from again.
An official from the chief prosecutor's office told the AP that soldiers from Ramirez's unit claimed that these people were tortured and killed. The former general faces at least 20 years in prison if convicted of "forced disappearance" charges.
The Washington Post reported in a 1998 article that Ramirez served as a "key CIA informant," even while he maintained close relationships with right-wing death squads involved with drug trafficking. Ramirez, who received training in Washington, "was the first head of a military intelligence organization designed by U.S. experts to fight Marxist guerrillas and [ironically] drug traffickers."
Unfortunately for Colombians, some things never change. Last year the CIA released intelligence that alleged Colombia's current Army Chief, General Mario Montoya, also has ties to right-wing paramilitaries involved with drug trafficking. Montoya was also formerly an instructor at the School of the Americas.
But the paramilitary scandal doesn't stop with the military. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's family and political allies in Congress have also been charged with conspiring with right-wing paramilitary death squads. In fact, President Uribe, President Bush's strongest ally in Latin America, is himself the target of investigation.
Meanwhile, last week President Bush, dismissing human rights concerns raised by Democrats, urged Congress to reward President Uribe, whom he called "a bold leader" and a "reformer," with a free trade agreement.
"He is a clear example of a leader who has set an agenda that is bold, and he's following through with that agenda," said Bush.