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U.S. Ambassador Cited Accused Colombian General’s Reliance on Death Squads

September 29, 2010

Gen. Rito Alejo del Río Rojas stands accused of murder and paramilitary ties

Curtis Kamman will not be called to testify in the trial of Rito Alejo del Río, the former Colombian Army general on trial for murder and collaboration with paramilitary death squads, but we do have some idea what the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia might have said, thanks to declassified documents published today on the Web site of the National Security Archive.

In one, a Secret “Biographic Note” attached to an August 1998 cable to Washington, Amb. Kamman said that the former 17th Brigade commander’s “systematic arming and equipping of aggressive regional paramilitaries was pivotal to his military success” in northern Colombia. The documents were also featured today in an article posted (in Spanish) on the Web site of VerdadAbierta, the preeminent source of information on Colombia’s illegal paramilitary militias.

Del Río was drummed out of the military in 1999 after the United States canceled his visa, but the criminal case against the former general, which resumed this month in Bogotá, has suffered from years of impunity and delay.

The documents posted today are contemporaneous accounts of Del Río’s paramilitary ties from U.S. officials who were required by law to monitor and certify Colombia’s human rights performance. As such they constitute a unique and potentially valuable source of evidence in a case that will hear from from retired military officials and demobilized paramilitary chiefs, among others, who will also testify to the former general’s paramilitary ties while in command of a key Colombian Army brigade in northern Colombia.

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