U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism 2004 - Colombia

Colombia remained a steadfast ally of the United States in the fight against narcoterrorism in 2004. The Colombian Government, through bilateral, multilateral, military, and economic activities, continued to assist US Government counterterrorism efforts and to disrupt terrorist acts, block terrorist finances, and extradite terrorists to face justice in the United States.

The US Government has designated three Colombian armed groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs): the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-De-fense Forces of Colombia (AUC). In February 2004, the US Government also designated the FARC and the AUC as significant foreign narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act. All three Colombian FTOs are primarily focused on domestic change in Colombia and on maintaining their own influence and viability but recently have been suspected of assisting violent groups in other countries such as Paraguay. In 2004, the three FTOs conducted car bombings, kidnappings, political murders, and the indiscriminate use of landmines. They also targeted critical infrastructure (water, oil, gas, electricity), public recreational areas, and modes of transportation.

Some examples in 2004 included the FARC's Christmas Eve kidnapping of seven people in Antioquia Department (Province) and New Year's Eve massacre of at least 17 people for suspected affiliation with the AUC; the FARC's bombing in May of a popular nightclub in Apartado, Antioquia, which killed five and injured almost 100; the suspected FARC bombing in August of Medellin's annual flower festival that injured approximately 38; the FARC's attempted mass kidnapping in February in a condominium complex in Neiva, Huila Department (one hostage was released two months later and three hostages remain in captivity); and the ELN's July kidnapping of the Bishop of Yopal, Casanare Department. Paramilitaries continued to displace forcibly civilians who resided along drug and weapons transit corridors or who were suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. In late June, the AUC kidnapped former Senator Jose Eduardo Gnecco and his family. Both FARC and the ELN continued attacks against the country's infrastructure and oil pipelines, albeit at reduced levels. Many more attacks were thwarted nationwide by the Colombian Government's excellent intelligence and security work.

All three FTOs carried out attacks in and around major urban areas in Colombia, including at supermarkets, places of entertainment, and other areas frequented by US citizens and expatriates. Colombia's FTOs continued to threaten and target US citizens in 2004. Historically, American victims of kidnappings and murders have included journalists, missionaries, scientists, human rights workers, US Government employees, and business people, as well as tourists and family visitors, and even small children. On February 13, 2003, a plane carrying five crew members (four US citizens who were US Government defense contractors and one Colombian citizen) crashed in a remote section of Colombia. Two crew members (the Colombian and one of the Americans) were killed by the FARC and the remaining crew members were taken hostage. The FARC continues to hold captive the three US citizens. In the past four years, 30 American citizens have been reported kidnapped in Colombia.

President Uribe's Government has made significant progress in achieving the goals of his national security strategy: to regain control of national territory from Colombia's FTOs, promote desertion and reintegration of former illegal armed militants, and demobilize AUC blocs. Colombian statistics for 2004 indicate that acts of terrorism fell by 42 percent, homicides by 13.2 percent, massacres by 43.5 percent, and kidnappings by 42.4 percent. At least 20 mid-level FARC leaders and financiers and at least 11 paramilitary field commanders have been killed or captured. Nayibe Rojas Cabrera (aka "Sonia"), who managed the finances and drug trafficking of the FARC's Southern Bloc, was captured in February 2004 and later extradited to the United States. In November, the Colombian Army killed FARC's Teofilo Forero Mobile Column Deputy and Operations Chief Humberto Valbuena (aka "Yerbas"), who had replaced Victor Hugo Navarro (aka "El Mocho") after he was killed by the Colombian Army in October 2003. On December 13, the Colombian Government arrested Rodrigo Granda Escobar, a reported FARC General Staff member, considered the FARC's "foreign minister." Nearly 7,000 insurgents and paramilitaries have been captured and more than 4,000 terrorists have deserted their FTOs. Approximately 1,100 extortionists and 400 kidnappers have been captured and 120 civilian hostages have been rescued. Government presence has been restored in all municipalities and internal displacement is down 50 percent.

The US-Colombian extradition relationship continues to be one of the most successful in the world; President Uribe's administration has extradited more than 180 individuals to the United States through the end of 2004. On December 31, the Colombian Government extradited senior FARC commander Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera (aka "Simon Trinidad") to the United States on charges of kidnapping, providing material support to terrorists, and narcotics trafficking. The threat of extradition has been cited as a significant concern of the FARC, ELN, and AUC leaders.

The Colombian Government's peace process with the AUC, involving AUC demobilization, made substantial progress in 2004 with the removal of nearly 3,000 AUC paramilitaries from combat in November and December 2004. This effort should further reduce overall violence and atrocities, disrupt drug trafficking, and serve as a model for future peace processes with the FARC and ELN.

Although kidnappings have declined, Colombia still suffers from the world's highest kidnapping rate (over 1,500 in 2004). The US Government has provided $25 million to support the Colombian Government's Anti-Kidnapping Initiative, which trains and equips Colombian Army and Colombian National Police anti-kidnapping units (GAULAs); is developing an anti-kidnapping database to collect, analyze, and disseminate information on kidnappings; and has established a training facility near Bogota. US-trained GAULA units have rescued over 48 hostages, arrested over 200 hostage takers, and seized over $7 million paid as ransom money.

In September, Colombia's Constitutional Court struck down the 2003 Antiterrorism Bill (proposed by President Uribe) that would have allowed the Colombian Government to conduct wiretaps, search residences, and detain suspects more easily.

Colombia continued to cooperate internationally in the war against terror. On December 16, 2004, the Bogota Appeals Court reversed an earlier decision to acquit three IRA members of providing support to the FARC, sentenced them to 17 years in prison, levied heavy fines, and ordered their recapture. It is unclear, however, whether they are still in Colombia, having been released under conditional parole based on earlier acquittal. This case reportedly came from an exchange of information by Interpol in 2000 about a possible three-way link among the FARC, the IRA, and ETA. Less than a year later, Colombian authorities arrested the IRA members, who had been preparing to leave the country; one of the three was the official Sinn Fein representative to Havana. Even though the IRA-ETA link is well established, there is little indication that ETA has ever actively engaged with the FARC.

Counterterrorism cooperation has paid dividends for Colombia, as illustrated by Ecuador's capture and deportation to Colombia in January 2004 of "Simon Trinidad." Canada and the European Union have added the FARC, ELN, and AUC to their terrorist lists. Mexico closed the official FARC office there in April 2002. Colombia continued to take an active role in the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) to enhance hemispheric counterterrorism cooperation, information-sharing, and capacity-building. In August 2003, the Chiefs of State of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay signed the Asuncion Declaration supporting Colombia's struggle against terrorism and condemning terrorism and narcotic trafficking.

The use of areas along Colombia's porous border by the FARC, ELN, and AUC to find logistical support and rest, as well as to transship arms and drugs, poses a serious challenge to Colombia. Colombia seeks to cooperate with its neighbors to enhance border security. The situation on the Venezuelan side of the Colombian border, which all three Colombian FTO's exploit, is especially disconcerting. Even though the Colombian Government repeatedly made offers to Venezuela to enhance counterterrorism cooperation, the level and quality of cooperation from Venezuela has been very limited. This is despite the issuance by the Colombian Government of a strong statement condemning an alleged paramilitary plot against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in May 2004, and the release of prison records and criminal information on all individuals arrested.

Colombia continued to cooperate fully with the United States in blocking terrorist assets. The Colombian Financial Information and Analysis Unit collaborated with the US Government to close suspicious bank accounts. In August, the Colombian military, police, and investigative units produced an estimate of FARC finances. The Government plans to continue this research and expand it to include other terrorist groups in Colombia, which will assist in further developing strategies to cut off the FARC's financial resources. In September, US Secret Service and Colombian National Police seized $3.6 million counterfeit dollars from the FARC, which had planned to use them to purchase weapons and explosives. The Government also took steps to reorganize and streamline its Inter-Insti-tutional Committee Against Subversive Finances.

Colombia made significant strides in combating narcotrafficking, the primary source of revenue for Colombia's terrorist organizations. Eradication programs targeting coca and opium poppies continued throughout the year with record results for the third straight year. Interdiction operations also resulted in record seizures this year.


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