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Colombia: Measures against the drug trade, the implication of government corruption, and links between the Armed Forces and drug dealers (1998-1999)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 July 1999
Citation / Document Symbol COL32197.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Colombia: Measures against the drug trade, the implication of government corruption, and links between the Armed Forces and drug dealers (1998-1999), 1 July 1999, COL32197.E, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1998 on Colombia, published by the US Department of State, provides a comprehensive review of measures undertaken by the Colombian and United States governments to counter the drug trade in 1998. It is available on the Internet at . With reference to prosecution of narco-corruption in 1998, the report offers the following information:

Narco-related corruption in all branches of the government continues to undermine counternarcotics effectiveness in Colombia. The Pastrana government has made eliminating corruption one of its major initiatives. As a matter of policy, the GOC [Government of Colombia] does not encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances, or the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions.

 In November, U.S. Customs and DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] discovered 700 kilograms of cocaine and six kilograms of heroin aboard a Colombian Air Force aircraft in Florida. The investigations continue in Colombia. Several Air Force officers and enlisted men have been arrested in connection with the incident and are awaiting trial by a civilian court. The Air Force commander, who is not implicated, resigned as a point of honor, setting a laudable precedent for acceptance of responsibility.

There were several successes in the prosecution of narcocorruption cases in 1998. In March 1998, former Senator Armando Holguin Sarria and former Congressman Jose Felix Turbay Turbay, both of whom represented the Valle de Cauca region, were sentenced to six years and five and a half years, respectively, on illicit enrichment charges. Also in March 1998, former Cali mayor Mauricio Guzman was sentenced to five and one half years for knowingly receiving narcotics money.

Several sources state that the Colombian military has ties with paramilitary groups who are implicated in the drug trade (The Economist 29 May 1999; El Tiempo 22 Apr. 1999; High Times 30 June 1999; The Washington Post 31 Jan. 1999). Although the military denies any links to paramilitary groups (El Tiempo 26 Jan. 1999; The New York Times 15 Oct. 1998), a lengthy Human Rights Watch/Americas report featured in the The New York Times stated that "abundant evidence is consistent and terrifying" and that there are "many examples of army connivance with paramilitary death squads and of top army commanders, including Gen. Manuel José Bonett, former chief of the combined forces, thwarting investigations" (ibid.). General Fernando Tapias, chief of the military forces, stated, however, that "the military had no policy of violating human rights and that it was committed to prosecuting cases of collusion with paramilitary forces" (ibid.).

In April 1999, Colombia's largest rebel force, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) turned over a second list to the authorities that included names of soldiers and civilians suspected of "sponsoring" paramilitary activities (El Tiempo 22 Apr. 1999). No names of high ranking officers were included in the list, however, among them, are the following military and police officials:

The second report includes information collected by the Eastern Bloc, the Middle Magdalena Bloc, the Southern Bloc, and from the Joint Central Command [of the FARC]. The most extensive and detailed list is the one for Middle Magdalena, which mentions Pablo Elias Delgadillo, Luis Romero, Pedro Molina, and Horacio Chauna as the presumed paramilitary bosses of western Boyaca. Groups operating in this region are accused of not less than 11 murders. The document also claims that all 2nd Division commanders, through 5th to 14th Brigades "have been involved in the guidance and coordination of paramilitary actions in Santander, southern Bolivar, southern Cesar, Puerto Boyaca, and northeast Antioquia." Also listed are the police commanders of Puerto Parra, Cimitarra, Barrancabermeja, San Vicente de Chucuri, El Carmen, Puerto Araujo, Puerto Berrio, San Pablo, Simiti, Santa Rosa, Sabana de Torres, San Alberto, Morales, Vegachi, Maceos, Remedios, Segovia, Zaragoza, and El Bagre.

Also mentioned are soldiers from the Luciano De Lhuyer, Heroes de Majagual, Guanes, Nueva Granada, Rafael Reyes, Barbula, Calibio, Palagua, and Bombona Battalions.

According to the FARC, there are groups in Puerto Parra that operate with the support of soldiers from the Calibio and Rafael Reyes Battalions, through radios located at the La Linda ranch. The report includes the name of Major Gerardo Ferreira.

The list includes retired General Mallarino, who according to the FARC owns El Brillante farm and is the alleged sponsor of Puerto Berrio self-defense groups.

The guerrillas' Joint Central Command claims that there are connections between soldiers of the 6th Brigade and the Caicedo Battalion, such as Colonel Tafur Leal and Major Cabezas, without specifying any details. The FARC also include a long list of rich farm owners and people from Puerto Saldana and El Cambrin (Tolima).

The Southern Bloc accuses Gustavo Gomez, whom they also accuse of drug trafficking, as being a paramilitary who operates with the support of members of the military bases in Puerto Leguizamo and La Tagua. In Caqueta, they accuse a major surnamed Marroquin as being in charge of the "paramilitary groups" in Solano.

The Eastern Bloc of the FARC accuse Colonel Miguel Ernesto Perez, commander of the Vargas Battalion in Granada of having suspected links to "paramilitary groups" and include a long list of plains farm owners who presumably allow paramilitary groups in their cattle ranches (ibid.).

On the issue of paramilitaries and its ties to the Armed Forces, The Economist report offers the following:

The paramilitaries have long been blamed for many of Colombia's worst atrocities, in particular for mass "punishment" killings of villagers held to be sympathetic to the guerrillas. According to their critics, they often operate with the protection of local army commanders, and are as much involved in drug-trafficking as are the guerrillas. Moreover, the FARC has made a crack-down on the paramilitaries a condition for agreeing to talk to the government. And crack down the government has. Last month two army generals accused of collaborating with the paramilitaries were forced to resign; this month a third general has been placed under arrest for the same reason   (29 May 1999).

According to the High Times report, the paramilitary groups, which call themselves self-defence groups, are involved in the drug trade with the Armed Forces at the wholesale exportation end of the industry, which is more profitable, while the rebels are involved in the "bottom-level" end of the industry with tasks such as securing jungle airstrips and collecting taxes from the coca and poppy farmers (30 June 1999).

The United States policy to curb the drug trade in Colombia was put into question following a series of mass killings in Colombia by paramilitary groups (The Washington Post 31 Jan. 1999). Given the alleged ties between these paramilitary groups and the Colombian military, the report raised the issue on whether the latter would "crack down" on the drug networks of the former in light of the fact that US funding for anti-drug initiatives in Colombia focus primarily on "resurgent leftist guerrillas who protect drug traffickers" (ibid.). However, in May 1999, Colombian police shut down a huge cocaine-producing factory operated by paramilitaries in the province of Magdalena Medio following an intense day of gun shooting (The Guardian 8 May 1999; see also The Economist 29 May 1999). According to the report, the raid on the factory was the first serious initiative by the government to target the paramilitaries' drug apparatus and "police estimate the traffickers invested at least $5 million in the complex, supporting fears that the paramilitaries and their allies have essentially taken over where Pablo Escobar's Medellin cartel left off in the early 1990s" (The Guardian 8 May 1999).

In early May 1999, peace talks were set to resume between the Colombian government and the FARC (AFP 9 May 1999; The Economist 29 May 1999; NotiSur 14 May 1999). Two of these sources state that proposals for crop-substitution of coca and opium poppies are on the peace talk agenda (AFP 9 May 1999; NotiSur 14 May 1999). FARC leader, Raul Reyes, is cited in the AFP report as saying that his group is committed to eradicating drug crops in its areas of control in 3 to 5 years.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 9 May 1999. "Eradication of Drug Crops Possible in Five Years: Colombian Rebels." (NEXIS)

The Economist [London]. 29 May 1999. "Messages of War." (NEXIS)

El Tiempo [Bogotá, in Spanish]. 22 April 1999. "FARC Present Second List of Collaborators." (FBIS-LAT-1999-0423 22 Apr. 1999/WNC)

_____. 26 January 1999. "Military Leaders Reject FARC Charges." (FBIS 26 Jan. 1999/WNC)

The Guardian [London]. 8 May 1999. Jeremy Lennard. "Colombia Shuts Cocaine Complex with Gun Battle." (NEXIS)

High Times [New York]. 30 June 1999. Bill Weinburg and Dean Latimer. "US Preparing Multilateral Intervention in Colombia." [Accessed on 13 July 1999]

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1998. February 1999. US Department of State. . [Accessed on 13 July 1999]

The New York Times. 15 October 1998. Diana Jean Schemo. "Rights Report Blames Paramilitary Forces in Colombia Violence." (NEXIS)

NotiSur [Albuquerque]. 14 May 1999. "Colombia: Talks Between Government and Rebels Resume." (NEXIS)

The Washington Post. 31 January 1999. Douglas Farah. "Massacres Imperil U.S. Aid to Colombia; Paramilitary Groups Linked to Army." (NEXIS)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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