Colombian Army "Facilitated" Paramilitary Operation at Miraflores "From Beginning to End"
"Big-Time Narco" Carranza one of the "Best Known" Paramilitaries in Colombia but "Content to Operate Behind the Scenes"
Washington, DC, December 21, 2012 – An individual using the reported alias of Colombian billionaire Víctor Carranza Niño “freely admitted” that “he and men under his command” were “responsible for the October 1997 Miraflores massacre” and that the Colombian Army “had facilitated the operation ‘from beginning to end,’” according to a formerly-Secret cable from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. The document was published today by the National Security Archive as part of a special Web posting on the man widely-known as the “Emerald Czar.” The declassified collection is also the subject of a column published below and in Spanish on the Web site of Semana magazine and VerdadAbierta.com.
The December 1997 report, titled, “Mapiripán and Miraflores: Increased Signs of Army Facilitation of Paramilitaries,” attributes the confession to “Clodomiro Agami,” an alias strikingly similar to the one said to have been used by Carranza. Earlier this year, detained former paramilitary chief Freddy Rendón Herrera (“El Alemán”), told prosecutors from Colombia’s Justice and Peace tribunal that Carranza was a longtime paramilitary supporter and one of the co-founders, in 1997, of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), under the alias “Clodomiro Agámez.”
Paramilitary gunmen murdered 12 people and displaced hundreds more during the three-day operation in Miraflores, which targeted presumed supporters of a leftist guerrilla group. The massacre was part of a coordinated AUC military offensive to project power outside of traditional strongholds and take control of the country's lucrative narcotics business.
“Clodomiro” said that members of the Colombian Army “had been fully aware in advance of his plans and activities in Miraflores,” according to the cable, and that the Army “was so infiltrated by paramilitaries and their supporters that he and his colleagues felt no concern about ever being arrested.” “Clodomiro” and his forces “were always warned in advance of any possibility of capture.” The Embassy identifies “Agami” as “the head of the ‘Llanos Orientales’ [Eastern Plains] paramilitaries.”
The 77-year-old Carranza is currently under investigation by the Colombian prosecutor’s office on allegations that he organized and financed paramilitary groups in the Llanos Orientales responsible for numerous massacres and assassinations over several decades. The probe was spurred by the confessions of “El Alemán” and at least half a dozen former commanders of the AUC, who have implicated Carranza in decades of paramilitary violence.
The other declassified documents published today also portray Carranza as a behind-the-scenes paramilitary financier and organizer with ties to narcotics trafficking and the Colombian security forces.
Did Víctor Carranza organize the 1997 Miraflores massacre with Army support? Declassified U.S. documents shed light on the paramilitary ties of Colombia's notorious "Emerald Czar."
By Michael Evans
As the final chapter unfolds in the life of the man known as the "Emerald Czar," Víctor Carranza Niño once again finds himself facing an investigation of his long-alleged ties to paramilitary death squads responsible numerous assassinations and horrific massacres over several decades. The 77-year-old mining magnate beat similar charges ten years ago, but since then a clearer picture of his illegal activities has emerged, both from the confessions of former militia chiefs and now in a collection of declassified U.S. documents published today by the National Security Archive.
One of these documents provides intriguing new details about Carranza's possible involvement in the October 1997 Miraflores massacre. Twelve campesinos were killed and hundreds more displaced during the operation, part of a coordinated offensive by the newly-formed United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) to challenge the FARC guerrillas and other groups for control of the lucrative coca business. A connection between Carranza and the assaultin Miraflores would support the charges that he formed and led the notorious "Carranceros" paramilitary group, later known as the "Autodefensas de Meta y Vichada."
Past efforts to investigate the man who controls roughly one third of the global emerald market have ultimately failed either for lack of evidence, lack of political will or judicial corruption. Asked why Carranza had so far been able to elude justice, one source told the Embassy in 1996 that in one case "no witness would come forward," and that in the second "all of the witnesses died."
But the Fiscal General's Anti-terrorism Unit has now opened a new probe into the allegations following the testimony of more than half a dozen former members of the AUC. In recent years, many of the group's top leaders and operatives have accused Carranza of sponsoring and organizing paramilitary death squads responsible for countless assassinations and massacres.
The near-consensus view of these former paramilitary leaders that Carranza was a top AUC capo is corroborated by the observations of U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials, who have characterized him as both a "big-time narco" and one of the "best known" paramilitary leaders in Colombia. Now, the testimony of one former AUC chief may just be the key to unlocking the secrets of a recently declassified U.S. diplomatic cable and the massacre at Miraflores.
Earlier this year, imprisoned paramilitary boss Freddy Rendón Herrera ("El Alemán") told prosecutors that the secretive Carranza had used the distinctive alias "Clodomiro Agámez" in his dealings with the AUC. The nom de guerre is strikingly similar to one used by a paramilitary leader who "freely admitted" that "he and men under his command" organized the killings at Miraflores, according to a declassified U.S. diplomatic cable. The December 1997 report, titled, "Mapiripán and Miraflores: Increased Signs of Army Facilitation of Paramilitaries," attributes the confession to "Clodomiro Agami," who is identified as "the head of the 'Llanos Orientales' paramilitaries." "Clodomiro" reportedly said that members of the Colombian Army "had been fully aware in advance of his plans and activities in Miraflores and had facilitated the operation from beginning to end." The Army, he said, "was so infiltrated by paramilitaries and their supporters that he and his colleagues felt no concern about ever being arrested" and "were always warned in advance of any possibility of capture."
While this slight variation in name may raise doubts that the two are one in the same, the characterization of "Clodomiro" in the Embassy cable as a paramilitary leader in that region with ties to members of the security forces is consistent with every other known declassified diplomatic or intelligence record concerning Carranza's alleged ties to paramilitary groups.
One document characterizes Carranza as exactly the kind of paramilitary operator likely to hide behind a false name. An intelligence brief prepared in 1998 for Gen. Charles Wilhelm, the top U.S. military official in Latin America, said that the secretive Carranza was "content to operate behind the scenes" while other AUC chiefs like Carlos Castaño played "a higher-profile public role." Carranza was actually "more powerful" than Castaño, according to the official who briefed Wilhelm, "because he is a billionaire; is twice Castano's age; controls more people under arms; and won a bloody war in the late 1980s against [Medellín Cartel] druglord Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha."
Another record points to evidence that Carranza's group sought Army support for its activities, in one case to help cover up a massacre only months prior to, and not far from, Miraflores. The U.S. military attaché reported that a Colombian Army official had been approached by a "paramilitary agent" from the "Victor Carranza group" requesting military support to "legalize" murders resulting from a paramilitary "cleansing" operation in Tomachipán, presumably by classifying them as guerrillas killed in action.
It was Carranza's involvement with narcotraffickers like Medellín Cartel kingpin Rodríguez Gacha ("El Mexicano") that first drew the interest of U.S. officials in the 1980s. The two had "corrupted the local military," according to a confidential U.S. Embassy source, and were buying up land in the remote Llanos Orientales ("Eastern Plains") as part of a strategy that included "exerting control over the region's politics and subjugating campesino organizations to narco security needs." Along with ranchers and members of the local security forces, Carranza and Rodríguez Gacha assembled "self-defense" militia groups to wipe out the political opposition, protect their enterprises from guerrilla harassment and to destroy whatever got in their way.
Many of the reported murders were politically motivated. Embassy reports from the late 1980s connect Carranza and his henchmen to a series of gruesome mass murders. In one, the Embassy forwards information indicating that the "Emerald Czar" had backed "a group of assassins" responsible for the murder of 38 suspected guerrillas in the April 1988 Mejor Esquinas massacre. Carranza was also "a prime suspect for organizing and financing the rampage which took the lives of 41 inhabitants of Segovia, Antioquia, a leftist stronghold, on November 11, 1988." Soon thereafter, Colombian authorities discovered a paramilitary training camp along with the bodies of 40 suspected members of the leftist Patriotic Union (UP) political party on a ranch formerly owned by Carranza. An Embassy report on the matter identified Carranza "a Rodriguez Gacha associate" who was "suspected of organizing and financing several major massacres." Weeks later, Semana published the so-called "Paramilitary Dossier,"  based on confidential Colombian government sources, providing extensive details about Carranza's ties to death squads and narcotraffickers.
Subsequent Embassy reports record the bloodbath that ensued after "El Mexicano" tried to "take over the emerald trafficking business" from his former partner. The "Emerald Wars" had "spawned armed groups every bit as ruthless and sophisticated as those funded by narcotics traffickers," according to one Embassy cable, and involved "many of the same people." Other cables [19891220; 19891221; 19891227] describe the "bloody feud" between the Carranza and Rodríguez Gacha groups over both emerald and drug turf that ended when the infamous Medellín Cartel chief was gunned down by police in December 1989.
The killing sparked rumors that Carranza had collaborated with the police manhunt and that he had essentially switched sides in the narcotics underworld and teamed up with the rival Cali Cartel and the Colombian government in an all-out war against his former associates in Medellín. Lending weight to this theory is a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) document indicating that Colombian police wanted the "Emerald Czar" to aid in the hunt for fugitive Medellín Cartel boss Pablo Escobar after his escape from confinement in 1992. The cable, uncovered by journalist Mark Bowden for his book, Killing Pablo, said that the Colombian National Police (CNP) was "attempting to make contact with emerald dealer Victor Carranza in the hope of gaining intelligence on Escobar's location."
By 1990, Carranza had emerged as "the most prominent member of Colombia's extremely violent narco/emerald mafia," according to an Embassy document. The following year, the Embassy cited indications that "big-time narco" Carranza might "take advantage of the void" left after the surrender of Ariel Otero's paramilitary group in the Magdalena Medio. U.S. Ambassador Morris Busby said there was "reason to believe" that Carranza had allied himself with Iván Roberto Duque, former head of the ACDEGAM paramilitary group.
Efforts to hold Carranza accountable for the killings perpetrated by his groups went nowhere, and he figures prominently in a 1990 cable lamenting a number of "setbacks" for the Colombian justice system that year. The "notorious" Carranza, who the Embassy says is "the most prominent member of Colombia's extremely violent narco/emerald mafia," was arrested but then freed six hours later "after a court verified that there were no pending criminal charges against him." Carranza had been "formally 'cleared'" of the murder charges despite the fact that the victims "were found in a mass grave on property formerly owned by the emerald dealer."
One of the "best known" paras in Colombia
By the time that the country's disparate paramilitary groups came together to form the AUC in 1997, Carranza had emerged as one of the two "best known" paramilitary leaders in Colombia, along with Carlos Castaño. In a detailed response to questions from the State Department on "paramilitary activity in Colombia," the Embassy lists "Victor Carranza's Organization" as including Carranza, "'Guillermo Torres,' alias 'Sestan' or 'Don Guillermo,' and 'Carlos Castillo.'" The group's "areas of operation" included "Puerto Lopez, Puerto Gaitan, El Porvenir, Rio Tillava, El Dorado, Cumaral (Ariari), Villavicencio, Acacias, and Guamal (Meta Department), and Medina and Paratebueno in Cundinamarca Department." Carranza's organization was also cooperating with the remnants of the Rodríguez Gacha's former organization, according to the cable.
U.S. intelligence agencies also placed Don Víctor at the top of the paramilitary hierarchy. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in one of its first comprehensive reports on the newly-formed AUC, said that Carranza and Castaño had found a way to work together:
A graphic on page 17 of the CIA report identifies the "Operating Areas of Major Colombian Paramilitary Groups" as of May 1997, including what Agency analysts labeled "Victor Carranza's organization," which operated in southern Boyacá and north-central Meta departments.
"Closely watched in Washington"
The Embassy welcomed Carranza's arrest during the First World Emerald Congress Expo in Bogotá citing it as evidence that Colombia "may be crossing a watershed on the nettlesome issue of the military-paramilitary nexus." A U.S. military report said the arrest was "further evidence of [Colombia's] apparent determination to combat the paramilitaries." The "longtime paramilitary chieftan" was "expected to exert his considerable power and influence in an attempt to avoid incarceration," according to the U.S. Southern Command. "Multinational oil company executives had also expressed concern about the expansion of Carranza's paramilitary forces," according to a report from the State Department's intelligence bureau, and "international business interests" were "increasingly concerned about the chilling effect the paramilitaries' activities have on investment."
Such fears prompted a high-level meeting with Colombian prosecutors specifically on the Carranza matter in which the Embassy's chief of mission, Oliver P. Garza, expressed "concern" about the case against the "accused paramilitary chieftan." Garza said that the case was "being closely watched in Washington" and expressed concern about reports that Carranza was "bragging" that he would be out of jail soon. The official told Garza that the Fiscalía was "quite confident that it had a solid case" but "offered no details." An official from the office prosecuting Carranza later reassured Embassy staff that the "case was solid and that there was 'no way' Carranza was getting out of jail." Four years later, the "Emerald Czar" walked out of prison a free man, released on a technicality after the judge failed to meet a filing deadline. Shortly thereafter, the judge on the case was herself convicted of "corrupt practice" and sentenced to 46 months in prison.
Although he spent several years in detention, Carranza has never been convicted for his ties to paramilitarism. Will yet another probe into Carranza's alleged paramilitary ties succeed where previous investigations have not? Will the statements of demobilized paramilitary chiefs be enough to finally convict Carranza for good? With so much evidence at hand, the answers to these questions may simply depend on whether the Colombian government and justice system have the courage and the resources to pursue the case, protect witnesses, prosecutors and judges from intimidation, and overcome the "considerable resources" that Carranza can bring to bear in his defense.
1987 April 7
According to press reports, FARC guerrillas kidnapped three detectives from the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and four civilians from Víctor Carranza's "Gaviotas" ranch in Puerto Gaitán, Meta Department. According to the report, "The detectives were at the ranch… to provide security for the owner who had received a number of threats and has been extorted several times."
1987 April 21
The El Tiempo newspaper has reported the discovery of the body of one of the seven people kidnapped earlier in the month at Carranza's "Gaviotas" ranch. The report adds that, "The kidnappers were trying to seize Victor Carranza, a rancher, but when he was not at the ranch, they seized 7 of his employees and bodyguards."
1989 April 3
In this overview of Colombian paramilitary violence, the Embassy says that Carranza was "apparently" behind one of the bloodiest massacres in Colombian history: the April 1988 murder of 38 ELN guerrillas in Mejor Esquina, Córdoba department. The cable lists Carranza under the subject line, "Communist Haters":
The Embassy report appears to have been prompted by the January 1989 murder of 12 judicial officials in the La Rochela massacre. Paramilitary groups "suddenly became more than a human rights problem," the Embassy said, "they became another enemy of the state, along with the narcos and the guerrillas."
The cable says that in "towns like Saiza, Cordoba, self defense groups came into being with the cooperation of individual members of the local military (and outside the law)." The townspeople "supplied intelligence on guerrilla movements in the area and in turn received some training and a few old firearms from the local military commander," according to the Embassy report.
The cable also discusses "The Emerald Wars" in southern Boyacá, where "violence has spawned armed groups every bit as ruthless and sophisticated as those funded by narcotics traffickers. In fact, it looks like many of the same people are involved." The Embassy adds that the "La Rochela massacre appears to have been part of this," in that the judges killed that day "were investigating murders of emerald traffickers."
The Embassy says that "the military is likely to remain a part of the problem" in areas "like Monteria and the mid Magdalena River area (from roughly Aguachica in southern Cesar department to Puerto Boyaca and Puerto Salgar in western Boyaca and Cundinamarca departments)," "until local commanders have both the wherewithal to carry out their duties and the certainty that cooperation with extra legal groups will result in punishment."
1989 April 13
This cable discusses a DAS raid of "a ranch near Puerto Lopez in Meta department" where they found "a recently abandoned training camp for 40 assassins along with mass graves containing an undetermined number of bodies… Some of the bodies are thought to be those of Patriotic Union (UP) activists who have disappeared and of assassin trainees who broke the rules."
"The ranch reportedly belonged to Victor Carranza (a Rodriguez Gacha associate), suspected of organizing and financing several major massacres."
1989 April 21
An unidentified source with "knowledge of the region" told the Embassy that narcotraffickers were "buying up Meta's lands" as part of a strategy that included "exerting control over the region's politics and subjugating campesino organizations to narco security needs." The traffickers have also "corrupted the local military." The "main purchasers" of land were Carranza and infamous Medellín Cartel chief Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha.
1989 May 8
An investigation of Colombian paramilitary groups by Semana magazine based on Colombian government sources says that Carranza conspired with narcotraffickers Pablo Escobar, Jorge Ochoa, and Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha in recruiting paramilitary soldiers for special training by Israeli mercenaries.
1989 July 6
A high-ranking official from the Patriotic Union (UP) political party has accused "well-known narco and emerald trafficker Victor Carranza" of orchestrating a bombing in which he was injured.
1989 July 8
This Embassy cable describes the killing of four during an Army raid of an apartment in Bogotá "leased by associates of Victor Carranza," described as "a top emerald dealer linked to [emerald trafficker Gilberto] Molina and to the Cali Cartel." Survivors of the attack tell authorities that they feared the military assault force was sent by Medellín Cartel kingpin Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, who was "trying to take over the emerald trafficking business from Molina's 'heir,' Victor Carranza."
The strange circumstances surrounding the raid "illustrate how difficult it is to ascribe motives to violent groups" in Colombia, according to the Embassy. The U.S. had "indications" that Rodríguez Gacha was "seeking to dominate the emerald mines." Carranza, according to the report, "is identified with the emerald business but also with narcotics trafficking and right wing death squads." The Embassy cites the recent discovery of a mass grave on one of Carranza's ranches, and says that he "may be an ally of the Cali capos."
1989 December 20
Fifteen prison inmates associated with Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha "killed 5 followers of Victor Carranza, RG's rival for control of the western Boyaca emerald mines," according to this "Unclassified" Embassy cable. "RG followers believe that the Carranza group collaborated with authorities in hunting down Rodriguez Gacha," according to the cable.
1989 December 21
Eight bodies found scattered around Bogotá "may have been members of the Rodriguez Gacha gang," according to Colombian police, who added that his death "may have emboldened a rival gang, possibly that of emerald trafficker Victor Carranza." The Embassy says it is "more likely… that the victims were members of the Victor Carranza group and were killed in revenge for the death of Rodriguez Gacha." Members of Rodríguez Gacha's gang "believe that members of the Carranza group provided police with information leading up to RG's death."
1989 December 27
The killings of four Rodríguez Gacha associates in Bogotá have raised speculation about a war within the Medellín Cartel in the wake of the capo's death. "Other police sources, however, reiterated their belief that the killings are part of a vendetta by narco-emerald trafficker Victor Carranza, a Rodriguez Gacha rival."
1989 December 27
Colonel José Leonidas Camelo of the Bogotá police told the Embassy that rioters at La Picota prison "probably believed that the Medellin Cartel and the group led by emerald trafficker Victor Carranza are out to kill them."
1990 September 26
Amid several "setbacks" for the Colombian justice system, the Embassy reports that "Victor Carranza, the most prominent member of Colombia's extremely violent narco/emerald mafia" was arrested but then freed six hours later "after a court verified that there were no pending criminal charges against him." The "notorious 'emerald boss'" was "engaged in a bloody feud with the late drug kingpin Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha over the latter's attempts to enter the emerald trade." Carranza had been "formally 'cleared'" of charges that he organized the massacre of 40 people in Meta department, despite the fact that the victims "were found in a mass grave on property formerly owned by the emerald dealer."
1991 September 17
In a conversation with a U.S. Embassy official, Patriotic Union international affairs director Oscar Gonzalez speculated that the murders of a UP activist Carlos Julian Vélez and his family were perpetrated by "paramilitaries associated with narco-tainted emerald baron Victor Carranza."
1991 October 31
Following the murder of three UP political activists in Meta department, U.S. Ambassador Morris Busby reports that "paramilitaries associated with narco-tainted emerald baron Victor Carranza … seem prime suspects in the latest murders." Busby adds that Mesetas Mayor Miguel Antonio Rubio was "apparently not exaggerating" when he "spoke of a campaign of extermination against UP officials" in Meta.
1991 December 23
The Embassy reports on the "internal blood feud" resulting from the surrender of the Magdalena Medio paramilitary group, led by Ariel Otero. The Colombian government "is concerned that big-time narcos, including Victor Carranza and Leonidas Vargas, may move into the void left by Otero's organization." One source indicated that "there is reason to believe" that Carranza had allied with Iván Roberto Duque, "former head of the paramilitary groups' parent organization, the Ranchers and Farmers Association of the Magdalena Medio (ACDEGAM)."
1993 February 22
In a broad analysis of Colombian violence, the Embassy says that, given the number guerrilla kidnap attempts against them, "It's no coincidence that the Ochoas, Escobar, Vargas and Carranza all have turned to paramilitary groups in self defense and used them to retaliate against their enemies, with bloody results."
1996 September 20
An "expert on paramilitary groups" whose "views bear consideration" and whose assessment the Embassy takes "very seriously" said that Carranza is a "major paramilitary leader" who controls two different groups: "1) Los Dorados, active in southern Casanare, Meta, Vichada; and 2) Los Masetos…, active in Puerto Boyaca, Magdalena Medio, Cesar." Carranza is "buying up land in 11 departments," according to the paramilitary expert, and "has an alliance with the Castanos' organization."
The source says that "Carranza's operations are related to the economics of narcotrafficking but not to narcotrafficking itself." Carranza uses his legitimate export activities "to launder dollars" by "over-invoicing" emerald sales "to justify income from narcotrafficking." Carranza, according to the source, also helps narcotraffickers who "run into liquidity problems" by buying up their land "for half the value."
Asked why the government had not yet captured Carranza, the source replied that in one case "no witness would come forward," and in the second "all of the witnesses died."
The paramilitary expert characterized Puerto Boyacá "as a center of paramilitary organization," adding that the infamous 1987 murders of 19 traveling salesmen in that region "were carried out by paramilitary groups supported by Pablo Escobar, Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha and Victor Carranza," with the "absolute knowledge of the armed organs of the state."
1996 November 18
In a wide-ranging discussion of paramilitary groups in Colombia, the Embassy notes that, "A recent magazine article linked emerald magnate and suspected paramilitary chief Victor Carranza to the November 1995 murder of Conservative Party patriarch Alvaro Gomez Hurtado." Carranza "has vehemently denied the charge," the Embassy says, "noting that he was a political supporter of Gomez."
An Embassy source also "indicated that General Ivan Ramirez, commander of the Army's First Division … has direct links with paramilitaries operating in the Guajira Peninsula and Cesar Department." The Embassy identifies "Giovanni Mancuso" as "one of the heads of the paramilitaries" in that region - perhaps a reference to the well-known former AUC paramilitary chief, Salvatore Mancuso.
1997 March 19
A Colombian "violentologist" considered "an expert on Colombia's long-running internal conflict" tells the Embassy that "suspected paramilitary patron Victor Carranza has reportedly been establishing greater influence" in Casanare department, a resource-rich region then hotly-contested by guerrilla groups, narcotraffickers and paramilitary groups. Carranza, he said, had "learned a lesson from the situation in Uraba: avoid big massacres that generate bad publicity." Instead, Carranza would "kill one or two people at a time over a period of weeks," so that the deaths were "only reported by the local, rather than national, press, and no one pays attention."
1997 April 11
In a detailed response to questions from the State Department on "paramilitary activity in Colombia," the Embassy lists "Victor Carranza's Organization" as including Carranza, "'Guillermo Torres,' alias 'Sestan' or 'Don Guillermo,' and 'Carlos Castillo.'" Carranza's "areas of operation" included "Puerto Lopez, Puerto Gaitan, El Porvenir, Rio Tillava, El Dorado, Cumaral (Ariari), Villavicencio, Acacias, and Guamal (Meta Department), and Medina and Paratebueno in Cundinamarca Department." The Embassy identifies Carranza as one of the two "best known" paramilitary leaders in Colombia. Carranza's organization also reportedly cooperates with the remnants of the Rodríguez Gacha paramilitary group.
1997 April 23
"Clodomrio Agamez" is listed in this cable as one of seven paramilitary signers of a communiqué announcing the formation of the AUC, representing "the Eastern Plains paramilitaries."
1997 June 13
This CIA analysis says:
A graphic on page 17 of the report identifies the "Operating Areas of Major Colombian Paramilitary Groups" as of May 1997, including "Victor Carranza's organization," which it places in southern Boyacá and north-central Meta departments.
1997 November 6
In a draft of the State Department's 1997 human rights report for Colombia, the Embassy says (p. 21) that certain "presumed paramilitary leaders, such as emerald magnate Victor Carranza, walked the streets of Bogota, unindicted and unhindered." Carranza was arrested before the final version of the report was published in March 1998.
1997 December 4
This cable highlights Embassy concerns about "possible official complicity" in the recent Mapiripán and Miraflores masacres based on information from a paramilitary leader using a phonetically similar nom de guerre as one that has been attributed to Carranza. According to the report, paramilitary "Clodomiro Agami," identified as "the head of the 'Llanos Orientales' paramilitaries," had "freely admitted that he and under his command were responsible for the October 18-20 killings in Miraflores." Agami reportedly said "that his forces perpetrated the October Miraflores killings, with Army foreknowledge and facilitation" and that "elements of the Colombian Army had been fully aware in advance of his plans and activities in Miraflores and had facilitated the operation 'from beginning to end.'" The paramilitaries had infiltrated police and army to such an extent that Agami "felt no concern about ever being arrested; he claimed that they were always warned in advance of any possibility of capture."
The cable also reveals that, just days before the killings, Colombia's top-ranking civilian and military officials downplayed warnings that the AUC would strike in Miraflores. An unknown source told the Embassy on October 10, 1997-a little more than a week before the massacre-"that Miraflores was on the short list for AUC expansion into the area, and that, as in the case of Mapiripan, the paramilitaries would fly in because 'it was safer that way.'"
Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri told Ambassador Frechette that the warning "was apocryphal and produced to deceive the American Embassy." Armed Forces commander Gen. José Manuel Bonett also minimized the likelihood that paramilitaries would strike in Miraflores, since they would need to fly in supplies and reinforcements, "something which the 'armed forces would not [repeat] would not permit.'" The Embassy observed that, "Only five days later, however, on October 18, the paramilitaries did arrive in Miraflores, by air," the Embassy reports. "And, after killing at least six people, they subsequently flew out."
1998 February 26
This is a relatively positive review of Colombian military and law enforcement operations aimed at paramilitary groups in early 1998. In the Embassy's view, the reports of anti-AUC activities, "together with the arrest of Victor Carranza," suggested "that we may be crossing a watershed on the nettlesome issue of the military-paramilitary nexus."
1998 February 26
Like the Embassy cable of the same day, this intelligence report from the Pentagon's regional command for Central and South America says that Carranza's arrest "is further evidence of [Colombia's] apparent determination to combat the paramilitaries." The SOUTHCOM report calls Carranza a "longtime paramilitary chieftan" who was "expected to exert his considerable power and influence in an attempt to avoid incarceration."
1998 March ca.
A human rights report intended for the commander of U.S. Southern Command cites the arrest of "prominent PM [paramilitary] leader Victor Carranza."
1998 March 6
In a meeting with an official from the Colombian prosecutor's office (Fiscalía), the U.S. Embassy's chief of mission, Oliver P. Garza-at the time, the top U.S. official in Colombia-expressed "concern" about the case against "accused paramilitary chieftan Victor Carranza," adding that the case was "being closely watched in Washington." Garza had heard reports that Carranza was "bragging" that he would be out of jail "in no time" because the government's case was weak. The official said the Fiscalía was "quite confident that it had a solid case" but "offered no details." Another Fiscalía official told an Embassy official that the "case was solid and that there was 'no way' Carranza was getting out of jail."
1998 March 10
A report from a U.S. Embassy fact-finding trip to Meta department in Colombia's Eastern Plains identifies Carranza as "[t]he long-time leader of the Meta paramilitaries" and "a one-time ally of Pablo Escboar." Carranza had fought and defeated Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha ("El Mexicano") "and won," according to the Embassy, and had "fought his way to the top of Colombia's secretive, and violent, emerald industry."
During the trip, an unidentified source told an Embassy official that Carranza "owns the best hotels and a fleet of 200 brand-new taxis" in Villavicencio, the department capital, and "is thus able to keep tabs on out-of-town visitors." The source said, "'It would take an Army' to dislodge Carranza from his heavily armed and fortified compound in Puerto Lopez." Days later, Carranza was arrested during a visit to Bogotá to attend the World Emerald Expo.
1998 March 25
In a briefing for the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Charles Wilhelm, an unidentified U.S. Embassy staffer "remarked that Carranza is considered more powerful than [Carlos] Castano because he is a billionaire; is twice Castano's age; controls more people under arms; and won a bloody war in the late 1980s against druglord Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha. The staffer said that, "Carranza has been content to operate behind the scenes, allowing Castano to play a higher-profile public role."
1998 April 7
A report from the State Department's intelligence arm mentions the recent arrest of Carranza, who the report says "has been involved in illegal financial activity, including drug trafficking." The report adds that "international business interests" were "increasingly concerned about the chilling effect the paramilitaries' activities have on investment" and notes that Carranza's arrest came "on the final day of a government-sponsored international congress aimed at improving the image of Colombia's lucrative emerald trade." According to the report, "Multinational oil company executives had also expressed concern about the expansion of Carranza's paramilitary forces."
1998 June 5
The DIA's review of internal Colombian Army reports on the July 1997 Mapiripán massacre says that a Colombian Army official was approached by a "paramilitary agent" from the "'Victor Carranza' group" requesting military support to "'legalize' the deaths" for a 1997 paramilitary "cleansing" operation in Guaviare department (site of the October 1997 Miraflores massacre).
1998 July 28
The Embassy lists "Clodomiro Agames" of the "Autodefensas del Llano" as one of the signers of the AUC's Nudo de Paramillo accords.
1998 October 26
The Embassy's draft of the 1998 human rights report on Colombia cites the February arrest of Carranza, adding that, "Despite his efforts to subvert the workings of the judiciary through bribery and political influence, Carranza remained in jail at year's end."
1999 February 5
Updating its draft of the 1998 human rights report for Colombia, the Embassy suggests the inclusion of a line noting that, "Nineteen paramilitary followers of Victor Carranza escaped from Bogota's maximum security prison on May 21." In another section, the Embassy calls Carranza "the biggest paramilitary in detention," adding that he was "confined to a small holding cell."
26 February 1999
From final report:
This classified slideshow presentation from U.S. Southern Command identifies Carranza as a "Co-founder" of the AUC with a "second grade education."
2000 February 23
The State Department noted the exoneration of Carranza in 1999 as an introduction to a paragraph in its 1999 human rights report on Colombia decrying the fact that "known paramilitary leaders largely remained beyond the reach of the law."
2002 January 4
The Embassy reports that Carranza has been freed after nearly four years in jail "because the judge hearing his case had not issued a ruling within the legally mandated time limit."