Cover Story | 3/2/2009 12:00:00 AM
Harassment of the Colombian Supreme Court
Spying incidents and aggression against family members of Colombian Supreme Court justices is the latest in the security agency scandal.
One of the justices who put forward his case was Yesid Ramírez. He said that during the first half of last year he received warning calls from people he knew from Huila, the Colombian department from where he hails. They told him that unknown people were asking about him and wanted to know everything about his life: who his friends were, where he had lived, what was his past. What Ramírez did not know was that he was the subject of spying for several months by the DAS. SEMANA today reveals the last of their many reports that they made about him at the DAS.
The document dated July 2, 2008 and called “Final Report M/T 0142,” shows other surveillance reports on the justice. In it, detailed facts about his wife and his children, where they live, what they do, where they go and with whom they associated are included. One of the most striking points is that it mentions as part of the “activities undertaken” by DAS agents, the information search about the relationship between Ramírez and a man named Ascencio Reyes. It could have been considered insignificant if it were not because both Ramírez and Reyes were at the center of a journalistic scandal which attempted to tarnish the image of Supreme Court justices and it was none other than an advisor at the presidential palace who leaked the scandal and its details to the media.
That scandal involved an accusation that justices traveled to Neiva in a chartered plane supposedly paid for by Reyes, a controversial businessman, to investigate a court matter from 2006.
The DAS document revealed in this edition of SEMANA, directed to the operational general director Luz Marina Rodríguez, shows that this scandal was unfounded. This affair poses many questions. Did the former director of the DAS know about the order to spy on Justice Ramírez? If she didn’t know about it, it is a very delicate situation because it would demonstrate that she was not in control of the agency and that officials under her command obeyed someone else’s orders. If, on the other hand, she did know about it and did order the surveillance, the subject is even more serious as she will have to explain why she ordered to spy on a court justice and, perhaps more importantly, who gave her the order to do so.
But Ramírez was not the only justice who felt strange harassment last year. One of the most dramatic cases of hounding is that of the justice María del Rosario González. She is the only woman on the criminal section of the court and her situation came to a point that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the highest human rights authority in the continent, decided last December 22 to authorize precautionary measures as a person protected by that agency.
The first incident happened the last week of September 2007, just when they were making critical judicial decisions about important supporters of Uribe in the Congress involved in the “para-politics” scandal. An anonymous voice made a bomb threat to the high school of Gonzalez’ daughter saying. It turned out to be a false alarm, but the upheaval was great. Later, in January, a day before leaving on a trip outside of Bogotá, the justice herself noticed that the stabilizing bar on her bulletproof SUV was broken, which could have provoked an accident. It was a very rare problem that was also accompanied by strange movements by her guards. Today the case is under investigation.
The latest incident happened to her son last May as he was going, as usual, to a cancer institute. It was six in the morning and on the well-traveled Circunvalar bypass in Bogotá, all of a sudden three men dressed in black appeared in front of his car and placed a tree trunk on the road. He was able to swerve and miss them, making such an effort that he had to be treated at a hospital. “I have spent 36 years in justice and I have never experienced this type of hostility,” the justice says.
The latest movements that raise suspicions in the court happened at the residences of the justices Augusto Ibáñez and Leonidas Bustos. At Ibanez’ home last November 6th, ten armed men arrived and did not steal anything except for the computer. A few days later armed men also arrived in several SUVs at the residential complex in the north of Bogotá and demanded the home of Bustos. They gave them the number of the house, but it was in another part of the complex.
“The purpose was to send a message, to intimidate, to make it clear what they were capable of doing. If that weren’t true, why would so many armed men ransack the house only to take a computer?” asks Ibáñez.
In addition there is the intense following for almost two year by DAS detectives of the head investigator of the para-politics scandal, the auxiliary justice Iván Velásquez. SEMANA has evidence of the registries of the wire tapping by the DAS of more than 1,900 calls that he made which were intercepted by the DAS and the detailed reports of all type of surveillance that they were undertaking both day and night.
Getting to the bottom of things
The justices are not completely sure who could be behind these hostile and repeated acts. But they are sure that never before in their long judicial careers have they felt such harassment. Last year, according to the court, they informed the director of the National Police, General Óscar Naranjo, of the cases. The president of the court, Francisco Ricaurte, during a seminar in Cartagena said, “The court, as it has for more than two decades, has not given in to violent people who want to shut it up and engulf it in flames. Neither will it now facing those who attempt to silence it so that impunity will reign.”
The justices demand that authorities get to the bottom of each of the strange occurrences that have happened between September 2007 and the end of 2008. For them one matter is the surveillance and wire tappings and another is the harassment of family members and a third point is the alleged montages that they were victims of in order to publicly discredit them in order to influence their para-politics decisions.
Since the moment that SEMANA published the accusations about the illegal DAS recordings of the justices, journalists and opposition leaders, José Obdulio Gaviria, a close presidential advisor, in a clear attempt to deflect attention away from the damming acts that have occurred at the DAS, has repeatedly said to the media that this magazine bought information and gives away its sources. But above all Gaviria’s statements have the perverse intention of terrifying sources so that they won’t speak out. With this intention, he called several radio stations and made very striking comments on–air. “I suppose, if my sources are listening to me right now, that they were talking about the revelations and perhaps about their sale.” He was referring to the sources who contributed to the first SEMANA report on wire tappings or people who know what was happening in the DAS.
This new scandal which stains the intelligence agency leaves many questions that need urgent answers. Who was behind the aggression of the justices and their families? Were they seeking aggressions on the justices and their families seeking to terrify them in order to obstruct justice? Did they by chance blackmail the high court with surveillance and illegal wire tappings? Who gave them orders? Finally, is Gaviria’s disinformation strategy a personal or institutional strategy? What is he afraid of?