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SOA Instructor Plans Assassination Plot PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik   
"Operation Dragon" targets Colombian Congressman Alexander Lopez Maya, former President of the Sintraemcali labor union, Luis Hernandez, President of Sintraemcali, and Berenice Celeyta Alayón, 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award Laureate

Whenever information surfaces about attacks against human rights activists in Latin America, the chances that the SOA is connected to the crime are high.  Berenice Celeyta AlayónThree Colombians have been targeted by an assassination plot known as "Operation Dragon" for their work in support of the Sintraemcali labor union's campaign against corruption and privatization of the Cali Municipal Corporation (Emcali), Colombia's third largest public utility company.  On August 23, 2004, Colombian Congressman Alexander Lopez Maya of Bogotá received a notice from an unnamed military official informing him that assassins had been paid to murder him, Luis Hernandez, President of the Sintraemcali labor union, and Ms. Berenice Celeyta Alayón that week.  Upon informing the Colombian Attorney General's Office of the notice, its director authorized a raid conducted in the cities of Cali and Medillín on August 25.  The information confiscated from the home of an SOA graduate and former instructor revealed that this plot was part of a surveillance plan organized under the direction of Colombian military intelligence and involved private inter-national security organizations with ties to paramilitary groups.1

For several years, Sintraemcali has engaged in a highly contentious campaign against corruption and privatization of Emcali.  On December 24, 2001, the national government announced its plan to privatize the company in an effort to stem what it claimed was inefficient distribution of its water, sewage, electrical and communications services.  This effort received support from several regional and local politicians, as well as powerful business owners and national politicians, including Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.  However, the union claimed that the company was viable and its sale would only benefit well-connected owners at the expense of the workers and local population.  Because of the union's opposition, its leaders and members were accused of subversion and consistently harassed, threatened and even killed by police and military forces, as well as private security groups with alleged links to paramilitary groups.  In addition, Representative Lopez received a hand written death threat letter on October 27, 2004, delivered to his Congressional office in Bogotá.  In December, Ms. Celeyta returned her cell phone, issued by the Protection Program of the Ministry of the Interior, because of late-night phone calls in which she received threats and heard sounds of automatic weaponry being fired.

The August 25 raid in Cali took place at the residence of Lieutenant Colonel Julian Villate Leal, a highly decorated member of the Third Brigade of the Colombian Army, who received US military training and taught at the School of the Americas (SOA).2  There, police uncovered evidence that revealed the army had supplied classified information to the Consultaría Integral Latinoamericana (CIL), a private international consulting firm specializing in the liquidation of assets of publicly-owned companies, and its associate, Seracis, a private security company.  This information detailed the political positions, habits, activities and the daily movements of Ms. Celeyta, Representative Lopez Maya, Mr. Hernandez and over 175 union leaders, human rights workers and members of the political opposition.  According to evidence gathered, the purpose of this plan was to "impede or neutralize the irregular actions of Sintraemcali" and "research the personal security [and] vulnerability" of those opposing privatization.

In SOA grad Lt. Colonel Villate's possession were names, phone numbers and addresses of those under surveillance, as well as highly sensitive information concerning detailed protection measures granted to those under surveillance by the Protection Program of the Colombian Ministry of the Interior.  Lt. Colonel Villate's notes also reveal the existence of an intelligence network through direct correspondence involving a nexus of private companies, private security groups and public security forces, including: the management of Emcali, the Superintendent of Public Services, the Third Brigade of the Colombian Army, the Intelligence Service of the National Police (SIPOL), the National Electrical Finance body (FEN), the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), and the Cali Metropolitan Police Department. 3

During his interrogation, Lt. Colonel Villate revealed that CIL had been contracted by Emcali and the Superintendent of Public Services of Cali to carry out an analysis of the economic, financial and socio-political reality of the company, and to in turn provide strategic recommendations to guarantee its viability.  He further revealed that he had been employed by CIL, to which he referred as "our company," and that various public security entities, including the DAS of Bogotá, were aware of his activities, which further establishes the government awareness of the surveillance plan and the plot against Ms. Celeyta and her colleagues.

Following the raids, there have been continued threats against individuals targeted by "Operation Dragon."  On September 17, 2004, paramilitary forces with alleged ties to Lt. Colonel Villate made multiple phone calls to Sintraemcali President Luis Hernandez, Vice President Luis Enrique Imbachi Rubiano, and union leader Carlos Marmolejo.  On the same day, a man in a bulletproof vest conspicuously inquired about the whereabouts of union leader Carlos Ocampo at his university.  On October 21, former Sintraemcali member and retired Emcali employee Tania Valencia was carjacked, beaten and interrogated about the activities of Representative Lopez Maya, Carlos Marmolejo, and Carlos Ocampo.  During these encounters paramilitaries referred to Sintraemcali union members as "Indumiles," a term used by Lt. Colonel Villate in his notes to describe those under surveillance and targeted for assassination, which further illustrates the connection between those harassing the union members and those behind gathering information confiscated during the raid.

Lt. Colonel Villate's alleged connections with the assassination plot and illegal paramilitary forces are just one more example that illustrates the impact of the SOA on the Colombian people. Colombia has sent more than 10,000 soldiers to train at the SOA, more than any other Latin American country.  The results are chilling. SOA Watch has documented cases in which SOA graduates and instructors have been involved in massacres, the killing of striking workers, assassinations and torture. The 1993 human rights report State Terrorism in Colombia cites 247 Colombian officers for human rights violations. Fully one half of those cited were SOA graduates. Some were even featured as SOA guest speakers or instructors or included in the "Hall of Fame" after their involvement in such crimes. For example, General Farouk Yanini Diaz was a guest speaker at the school in 1990 and 1991 after his involvement in the 1988 Uraba massacre of 20 banana workers, the assassination of the mayor of Sabana de Torres, and the massacre of 19 businessmen. According to a U.S. State Department Report, he was also accused of "establishing and expanding paramilitary death squads, as well as ordering dozens of disappearances, and the killing of judges and court personnel sent to investigate previous crimes."

A 1998 U.S. State Department Report states that Colombia's 20th military brigade was disbanded for its involvement in human rights abuses, including the targeted killing of civilians. The commander of that brigade was SOA graduate Paucelino Latorre Gamboa. The report also links SOA graduates to an illegal raid on the offices of a nongovernmental human rights group, to the 1997 massacre of more than 30 civilians in Mapiripan, as well as many other atrocities.

On February 21-22, 2005, eight members of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in Urabá, Colombia—including three young children—were brutally massacred. Witnesses identified the killers as members of the Colombian military, and peace community members saw the army's 17th and 11th Brigades in the area around the time of the murders. General Héctor Jaime Fandiño Rincón is the commander of the 17th Brigade of the Colombian army. Fandiño Rincón is a graduate of the School of the Americas.

As the military repression in Colombia continues, SOA Watch staff and Erik Manuel Giblin of the RFK Center for Human Rights had a meeting with Ms. Berenice Celeyta Alayón concerning the most effective way to protect her and her colleagues. The RFK Center and SOA Watch are seeking support to further the investigation and prosecution of Operación Dragon specifically through the following actions:

1. Write to your Congressional Representatives, educate them about the situation in Colombia and make it clear that SOA-style military solutions to social problems will not work.  Ask them to oppose military aid to Colombia and to sign on HR 1217, the bill to suspend and investigate the training at the SOA (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

2. Write to the Colombian authorities, requesting the prosecution of the material and intellectual authors of Operation Dragon:
Presidente de la República
Dr. Alvaro Uribe Vélez
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Fax 011 + 57 + 5662071

Vicepresidencia de la Republica
Dr. Francisco Santos
email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Procuraduría General de la Nación
Dr. Edgardo José Maya Villazón
email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Notes:
1  This summary is based on a press bulletin written on August 27, 2004 by Colombian Congressman Alexander Lopez Maya and public information confiscated by the Attorney General's Office during the Cali raid.
2 Lt. Colonel Villate trained and taught courses at the SOA (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Ft. Benning, Georgia (1993); he also trained at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas (1992), and at the US Naval Postgraduate School located in Monterey, California (1998).  He was the Dean of the Escuela Superior de Guerra (National War College) of Colombia from July 1, 2002 until his retirement on August 10, 2004.
3 Correspondence between the military's Regional Central Intelligence Office and the Director of the Central Intelligence of Bogotá accused Sintraemcali of having ties to the ELN and FARC insurgencies.  Documents also made specific references to the members of the following opposition parties: Polo Democrático, Frente Social y Político, Alternativa Democrática and MOIR; Congresspersons Wilson Borja, Gustavo Petro, Maria Isabel Urrutia, Carlos Gaviria, Jorge Enrique Robledo and Luis Carlos Avellaneda; El Valle Governor Angelino Garzon and Bogotá Mayor Luis Eduardo Gazon, among others.
 
 
Published in the Fall 2005 issue 
 
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