The war on drugs: Ambushed in Jamundí
Why the massacre of an elite US-trained Colombian police team prompted Congress to freeze drug-war funding.
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The Mi Casita administrators, who lost almost half their private funding after the media reports linked them to Montoya, deny any connection to narcotrafficking. The police investigation has turned up no drugs or evidence that a drug lord had been at the home. The police, says the investigator, may well have been on a wild goose chase set up by the army unit, acting on behalf of Montoya.Skip to next paragraph
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Fifteen soldiers, including rising Army star commander Col. Bayron Carvajal, were soon arrested – and the investigation, say officials in the attorney general's office, is likely to reach higher in the military ranks and will possibly include the police or even politicians.
Colonel Carvajal's younger brother, Juan Carlos, maintains the soldiers' innocence, suggesting instead the police might be the corrupt ones in the story. "Uribe needed to blame someone," says Carvajal, arguing that Colombia's president could not afford to have the DEA's top trained police unit implicated in any scandal – especially not in late May, right before the presidential elections. "My brother and the others are political pawns. They are being made to take the fall," he insists.
In fact, Carvajal's allegations are not considered to be too far a stretch – the Norte del Valle group is known for its connections to the police. Former cartel leaders such as Danilo González, Victor Patiño, and Patiño's half-brother Luís Ocampo were all former policemen – as is Wilber Varela, currently Montoya's biggest internal rival.
But, evidence against the soldiers is mounting. The most damning is a series of electronic text messages allegedly sent between Carvajal – who was not at Jamundí at the time – and his lieutenant on the ground immediately before the massacre. "Everything is set for tonight," reads one message leaked by authorities. "Get ready for the group to come with the chicken so you can get it," reads another, referring to the nickname of the civilian informant who was leading the police that day.
And now, one senior official close to the investigation says investigators have heard a tape recording of Carvajal speaking on the phone with narcotraffickers to arrange payment for his defense lawyers.
"Jamundí is the tip of the iceberg," says Professor Bagley, arguing the massacre is indicative of the serious gap between Plan Colombia's promise to train a modern, professional military and the realities of the day. The events of that May afternoon, he says, should serve as a serious wake-up call: "This is a disaster for [President] Uribe and Plan Colombia."
At Mi Casita, more than three months later, many of the patients remain traumatized by the massacre. One woman yells out "Police, police...open up!" at the slightest provocation. Another bites herself whenever she hears loud bangs. And Morales, the only eyewitness to the killings, hears the voices of the policemen crying out for mercy when he tries to sleep at night. "Was it my fault?" Morales asks, wringing his hands. "I talk to my saints and ask them for forgiveness."
Mr. Berrio, the administrator at Mi Casita tries to calm Morales, "We can't escape this war. And we can't win it either," he consoles the flustered man and himself at once. "But you did the best thing you could. You kept your head down. That's all any of us would have done."
• Coming next: Is Plan Colombia working?
He likes fast cars (but police seized his personal mini racetrack last year, along with 74 ranches and eight houses). He has a flare for the macabre (his men once ambushed a rival group and then piled the corpses in a pyramid on a road). And, he reportedly likes it when people call him "El Señor de la Guerra," or Mr. War.
Heavyset and gruff, Diego Montoya Sánchez is one of the reputed leaders of Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel. He has a $5 million bounty on his head and is on the FBI's "10 most wanted list" for drug trafficking, conspiracy to import with intent to deliver drugs to the US, money laundering, and racketeering.
In the late 1990s, the Norte del Valle cartel – named for a valley in western Colombia – trafficked about half of the cocaine sold in the US. Today, officials estimate that the cartel holds about 30 percent of the market.
For the past two years, the cartel has been riven by a brutal internal power struggle between Mr. Montoya and his rival Wilber Varela, a.k.a. "Jabon" or Soap. Each faction leader has turned to different sides of Colombia's civil war for support: Varela is reportedly allied with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Montoya reportedly has ties to the right-wing paramilitaries.