In his five years in power, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has repeatedly denied accusations that he has been cozy with Colombia's murderous right-wing militias, whose thousands of victims include suspected rebel sympathizers and union activists.
Yet newly uncovered video of his 2001 campaign shows him shaking hands with a militia leader who was arrested only weeks later on suspicion of involvement in multiple murders and is now a fugitive with a price on his head. This was the latest headache for the law-and-order president, who has seen one ally after another jailed for allegedly colluding with the outlawed militias.
"I haven't known the paramilitaries, haven't been friends with them, haven't had contact with them," Uribe declared on national TV on April 19.
The militia chief in the video, which bears an Oct. 31, 2001, time stamp, was identified by three people familiar with him -- including human-rights activists -- as Fremio Sanchez Carreno. Sanchez, better known as "Comandante Esteban," had just finished spearheading the bloody militia takeover of this steamy oil-refining city on Colombia's main river when Uribe met with him and about a dozen other people.
Human-rights activists have identified the person standing behind Uribe in the video as Comandante Esteban -- the same militia leader who had signed letters threatening local human- rights and labor leaders with death in the months before the meeting. The activists asked not to be identified for their own safety because militias remain active in the area.
While the video does not show Uribe speaking with Sanchez, the image of them together in a private meeting further enmeshes the president -- the staunchest ally of the US President George W. Bush administration in Latin America -- in a scandal that has alarmed Democrats on Capitol Hill, who want to cut some of Colombia's US$600 million in annual military aid.
The video also shows Sanchez receiving a diploma from the region's top paramilitary leaders during a ceremony timestamped Nov. 25, 2000, with the camera zooming in on his "Comandante Esteban" name tag.
"He was the paramilitary boss of this entire zone," said David Ravelo, who runs the local human-rights group CREDHOS. "He was very well-known."
Associated Press obtained a copy of the video from a person who would like to see Uribe toppled and provided it on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. This person said the video was recorded by paramilitaries and said the Uribe-Sanchez encounter occurred in the city council's chambers in Puerto Berrio, a paramilitary stronghold an hour from Barrancabermeja.
One rights activists said a person who attended the meeting confirmed it took place in Puerto Berrio and said Sanchez had all but obliged the participants to go.
Authorities offered a US$5,000 reward on Friday for Sanchez's arrest on murder charges.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable