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September 26, 2000

Carlos Castaño:

"Those who know Castaño know that any statement that places in doubt his claim of a distance from drug trafficking can provoke attacks of rage." -- El Nuevo Herald (9/25)


The Narco News Bulletin

"The Name of Our Country is América"

-- Simón Bolívar

September 26, 2000

¡Ya Basta! -- Enough Already! -- with the media and government complicity in protecting América's most savage War Criminal.

If the mere suggestion that Castaño is a narco provokes this unstable individual into attacks of rage, according to El Nuevo Herald of Miami, this report ought to give him a heart attack.

Here, we document the facts and provide links for our readers to other reports and documents that leave no doubt: Castaño is more than just a narco. Carlos Castaño-Gil is the boss of one of the largest and the most violent drug trafficking organization on earth.

Not since Nicolai Caucescu -- the Romanian dictator who appeared on national television every night (until the popular revolt when, in a poetic turn of media history, he himself was shot to death on Christmas day 1989 on live TV) -- has a war criminal been able to use the media so effectively to postpone judgement for his crimes against humanity.

For years it was an accepted fact -- admitted even by Castaño -- that he and his paramilitary troops in Colombia protected narco-trafficking (not just coca-growers, but traffickers), charged a tax on their illicit income, and used to profits to enrich themselves personally. Indeed, although he claims modest roots, Castaño lives in luxury, sends his kids to private school in England, and is a major landowner throughout Northern Colombia -- land from which he helped displace tens of thousands of peasants.

Lately, Castaño has tried to give himself a public relations make-over, posing as a "drug warrior," railing against the narco-traffickers, while still collecting a percentage on their profits for the protection that he and his armed thugs rent to them.

In this, Castaño's hypocrisy is similar to that of US Colonel James Hiett -- our April 2000 Narco-of-the-Month -- because he peddles in "anti-drugs" and drugs alike, with the support and backing of the US and Colombian governments.

The guerrilla movements that Castaño and governments oppose also collect a percentage on peasant coca growers and some manufacturing labs in the jungle. A difference in their political position, however, is that the FARC, Colombia's largest guerrilla group, calls for legalization of drugs -- the only policy that would remove the profits. Castaño, as a narco-trafficker, knows that legalization would pull the rug out from under him. And so, like the governments that are complicit in the drug trade, advocates drug prohibition: to keep those profits coming in.

Carlos Castaño is a quintessential drug-war hypocrite and, despite all his macho bluster, he is a coward. The Narco News Bulletin steps forward to condemn Castaño and his war crimes -- countless massacres against unarmed civilians, assassination of non-violent social leaders, forced displacement of tens of thousands of Colombian peasants as part of real-estate deals that he and his gang have profited from beyond the dreams of the impoverished farmers and Indians they have terrorized and ruined.

Narco News has not named a Narco-of-the-Month since May. The case is so strong against Carlos Castaño that we hereby designate him Narco-of-the-Months for June, July, August and September of 2000.

Here are the facts about Carlos Castaño Gil, narco-trafficker, narco-war criminal, and narco-hypocrite.

Just like the governments and false "journalists" who protect him.

We say, ¡Ya Basta!

This Narco-Emperor has no clothes.

From somewhere in a country called América,

Al Giordano


The Narco News Bulletin

Send the War Criminal an e-mail: Don't know Spanish? Key words: Narco, Cobarde, Asesino, Criminal de Guerra, Hipócrita.

Carlos Castaño


The Castaño Dossier

"I don't accept that anybody, absolutely nobody, without valid arguments and sustainable facts can accuse me of being tolerant of drug trafficking and much less drug traffickers, simply because I have never been involved with this despicable practice."

-- Carlos Castaño Gil, in a September 2000 email message to El Nuevo Herald

Exhibit A:

Wiretaps: Castaño Collects Commission from the Narco

El Nuevo Herald, September 25, 2000

The Narco News Bulletin has previously criticized the Miami Herald's coverage of Colombia, especially over its apologies for the brutal paramilitary death squads.

We recently received an email from the ex-Herald correspondent in Colombia, Tim Johnson, that said, "I agree with much of what you say."

In general, El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition out of Herald Plaza in Miami, has offered better -- not perfect by any means, but -- more comprehensive coverage of Plan Colombia than its English-language edition.

This week, Herald correspondent Gerardo Reyes, brought to light US government documents and wiretaps that make a liar out of narco-trafficker Carlos Castaño.

The series now underway by Reyes -- who has enjoyed special access to Castaño in the past -- reports the following information. Note how Castaño -- a fugitive from Colombian justice with a million-dollar reward for anyone who delivers him hanging over his head -- knows that he has complete immunity from United States officials.

More from El Nuevo Herald:

In the same (e-mail) message, Castaño said that he is ready to present himself before any judicial institution in the United States "if it knows of any participation of mine in drug trafficking activities."

Castaño admits that the "self-defense" groups receive financial support from drug traffickers that live or have properties in the regions below its military dominance. What he ignored is that the US government has proof of the strict financial control that he maintains over the income of the drug capos.

At least that is what suggests a conversation audiotaped by the Colombian National Police and DEA agents in which a presumed drug trafficker is heard asking another what how to possibly evade that Castaño would know about their drug business because they would have to pay him a percent of the profits.

The conversation was taped in June of last year in an office in Bogotá of the presumed head of the Alejandro Bernal drug traffickers organization, who faces charges of drug trafficking and money laundering in a federal court of Miami.

The network was dismantled last October as a result of a publicized operation known as "Milenio."

The details of the conversation were supplied by DEA agent Paul Craine, in a motion for extradition of Bernal obtained by the Herald. According to what was written by the agent, an unidentified individual that worked for one of the accused drug traffickers in the operation (Ramiro Vanoy) told Bernal that it would not occur to him to tell Castaño the fact that an airplane with cash, the product of cocaine sales in Mexico, landed on a clandestine airfield in Caucacia, State of Antioquia, Colombia. If he knew, said the individual, "they would have to pay Castaño a quota for the use of the airfield, which would raise the costs for Bernal and logically reduce the profits."

In the same conversation, Bernal, now prisoner in Bogotá, analyzed the possibility of using the same plane to bring arms to Colombian paramilitary groups from Mexico.

Vanoy is identified by the DEA agent as a "high ranking member of the rightist paramilitary groups of Colombia" together with Nelson Alberto Giraldo Palacios, another of the accused men.

Once again, the US government speaks with a forked tongue. As US DEA officials have already assembled the evidence on Castaño -- and, as this dossier shall report, other US officials have also expressed their awareness of the high-level drug trafficking activities by Castaño and his paramilitary squads -- the Clinton administration's $1.3 billion dollar "Plan Colombia" seeks only to eliminate Castaño's competition, thus giving a narco-monopoly to the War Criminal.

Thus explained exiled Colombian journalist Alfredo Molano to Narco News in a July 31 interview conducted in Barcelona. Molano, Sunday columnist for the daily El Espectador in Bogotá, had to leave his country because the same paramilitary groups made threats against his family in an attempt to silence his Authentic Journalism.

The creation of "paramilitary" forces -- a term for criminal organizations supported by governments to do their dirty work for them -- obeys the strategy of US Pentagon manuals on counter-insurgency and "low intensity warfare" published in Spanish for use in Latin América.

Castaño's whereabouts are known to US and Colombian officials. For a fraction of the price of Plan Colombia, they could apprehend him and bring him to justice for his chain of massacres and atrocities, not to mention being a drug boss. In most of the United States, he would receive the death penalty just for the crimes he has admitted to committing.

But they don't go after Castaño. That's because, as Castaño himself tacitly acknowledges, he acts with their support.

Exhibit B:

Top US Official Knows Castaño is a Narco but Does Nothing

From the US Embassy in Colombia:

"Paramilitary groups also have clear ties to important narcotics traffickers, and obtain much of their funding from traffickers. Carlos Castaño, the paramilitary leader, has been previously identified as a significant narcotics trafficker in his own right."

-- Randy Beers, Assistant Secretary of State, testimony before Congress

Narco News analysis: Beers, another narco-hypocrite in the US government, key operative in Plan Colombia, nonetheless is helping to orchestrate a plan that protects Castaño and, in fact, offers him a greater percentage of illicit drug profits.

Again, the drug war is not about fighting drugs nor drug abuse. Here in our América, it is about imposing continued colonial rule by economic interests from the US, a plan in which Castañó and his paramilitaries are treasonous soldiers against Bolivar's América.

Exhibit C:

Castaño Admitted That He Takes Narco Profits

from REASON magazine * April 2000

The Drug War's Southern Front

Colombia, cocaine, and U.S. foreign policy

By Timothy Pratt

For at least 50 years, those mountains have also been home to right-wing paramilitary forces. The most recent army, founded in the '80s, is Colombians United in Self-Defense (AUC), led by Carlos Castaño, a man in his 30s who permits only photos of his back in the press. The comandante and his troops--who Castaño claims "would die for me"--have a single-minded military mission: to hunt and kill guerrillas and anyone who supports them. In the last several years, their forces have doubled; they now have close to 7,000 men.

Castaño has ordered the massacre of entire towns where, he always insists to journalists afterward, "We had information that there were guerrillas, there was kidnapping, there were combats, they were holing up in people's houses." He avers, "By killing one rebel, we save others whom they were going to kill later." AUC, he insists, is not paramilitary; it's just "self-defense forces." It is financed, he says, by "the people who have no police, no army, no state. They are fishermen, lumbermen, freight companies, businessmen, small cattle ranchers, and large the money from the coca growers."

Regarding the latter, the comandante explains, "Listen, that's the nature of the economy here. The FARC finance themselves with the same money. So I have to take their sources away and finance my troops. [But] the self-defense forces don't produce drugs, or protect laboratories, or export drugs. For a long time now, there's a tendency in Colombia to treat our problems and solutions as if it was all about narcotics and nothing else."

AUC's military stronghold is in northern Colombia; it is staffed, in part, by former officials from the armed forces. At least one of these says he was trained at Georgia's notorious School of the Americas. Human rights organizations in Canada and the United States, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have expressed concern over the links between the Colombian army and AUC. Some Clinton administration officials and members of Congress have urged withholding aid from the armed forces until those links are investigated.

The army has responded to these concerns in recent months by taking human rights courses with U.S. advisers at the Tolemaida military base, south of Bogota. Meanwhile, Castaño's group is trying to distance itself from the army. At its last national convention, held three years ago, a document leaked to the press complained how "participation by members of the Armed Forces in our operations has become a big headache."

In the same meeting, the AUC leadership called for a bigger political presence, given that "the still at the margin of politics and the law, even though many of our collaborators, founders, helpers, backers, and leaders are part of the day-to-day political process."

Exhibit D:

Castaño Seeks Monopoly Control of Cocaine Trade


Colombia's powder keg

Washington's ill-conceived policy could hurt human rights and fuel the drug trade.
- - - - - - - - - - - -

"There are mountains of evidence" of collaboration, says Carlos Salinas, Latin America advocate for Amnesty International. "And it happens to this day," he adds, citing a June incident when FARC guerrillas attacked a region controlled by Carlos Castaño, the notorious leader of a right-wing paramilitary alliance, and the Colombian army airlifted soldiers to the region to combat the guerrillas. Congress' own research service published a report last month noting that such collaboration continues.

"The only people who don't seem to know about it are Colombian and U.S. officials," Amnesty's Salinas says.

Another chilling specter haunting military-centric aid proposals is that paramilitary groups have proven ties to the drug trade. The Drug Enforcement Administration last winter identified Castaño himself as a trafficker. Castaño has even admitted he has accepted money from coca growers, although he insists he is not a drug trafficker. "It's the money that finances the FARC," he told a reporter for the Colombian daily El Espectador. "I have to take that money from the FARC and finance myself."

That's why winning the war against the guerrillas -- whether on the battlefield or at the negotiating table -- will do little to stem the flow of drugs into the United States. The drug trade is notoriously resilient. The guerrillas are just the traffickers' "defenders of the moment," as the Center for International Policy's Isacson puts it. Get rid of the guerrillas tomorrow, and the drug lords will simply create their own private armies, as they did in the 1980s. Or maybe they'll offer Castaño the job.

Exhibit E:

Castaño Plotted Massacre of Unarmed Civilians

from the Public i

Pentagon Trained Troops Led by Officer Accused In Colombian Massacre

By Frank Smyth and Maud S. Beelman

From: The Public i, March 31, 2000

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
The Center for Public Integrity

[see: for maps and
letters to Senator Leahy]

(Washington, 30 March) Pentagon officials, under pressure to
investigate alleged links between elite U.S. military trainers and
Colombian forces implicated in a 1997 civilian massacre, have
confirmed that they trained soldiers commanded by the officer
accused of masterminding the attack.

With a $1.6 billion counternarcotics aid package for Colombia
making its way through the U.S. Congress, there is increased
scrutiny over whether U.S. military assistance has been or could
be turned against Colombian civilians in that country's decades-
long civil war.

In November 1997, Congress enacted the "Leahy amendment,"
prohibiting assistance to any foreign military unit if there is "credible
evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human

Four months earlier, 49 residents of Mapiripán, a village in the coca-
growing region of southeastern Colombia, were killed over a five-
day period by suspected paramilitary forces allegedly operating
under the direction of Colombian Army Col. Lino Sánchez and
Carlos Castaño, leader of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary
forces. Colombian prosecutors have formally accused Sánchez
and Castaño of being the "intellectual authors" of the massacre.

Sánchez and two other Colombian army officers are in prison,
awaiting trial on charges in connection with the massacre.
Castaño, Colombia's most notorious rightist paramilitary leader
accused of numerous civilian atrocities and drug trafficking,
remains at large.

A Pentagon official, speaking on condition that he not be identified,
confirmed that Sánchez was commander of the 2nd Mobile
Brigade, which received training by U.S. Special Forces at a river
base about 80 kilometers from Mapiripán. The Defense Department
has said it is investigating further to determine whether Sánchez
himself was trained by U.S. Special Forces.

The Bogotá daily El Espectador reported on Feb. 27 that Sánchez's
2nd Mobile Brigade received U.S. Special Forces training in June
1997 while he was planning the Mapiripán massacre. The
newspaper said the goal of the attack was to turn over control of
the guerrilla-held Mapiripán, in a region that produces about 30
percent of the world's coca, to paramilitary forces, which have
ties to the Colombian army.

'Teach Guerillas a Lesson'

A report by Colombia's Counternarcotics Police Intelligence Office,
cited by the newspaper, said Sánchez first engineered a plan on
June 21 to introduce paramilitary forces into the region, using U.S.
spraying of coca crops as a cover, in order to "teach the guerrillas
a lesson."

The El Espectador investigation was based on a review of 4,500
pages of Colombian government documents on the Mapiripán
massacre by reporter Ignacio Gómez, who is also a member of the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. It has
prompted inquiries on Capitol Hill, where Congress is debating an
aid package that would train and equip Colombian army
counternarcotics battalions and provide money for more than 60
helicopters for army and police forces.

Human rights groups are worried that the military aid might be used
against Colombian civilians. Robert E. White, former U.S.
ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay and president of the
Center for International Policy, warned in a Feb. 8 commentary in
The Washington Post that the aid package "puts us in league with a
Colombian military that has longstanding ties to the drug-dealing,
barbaric paramilitaries that commit more than 75 percent of the
human rights violations" in Colombia.

...The Castaño paramilitaries were joined by others, and the force
totaled about 100 men by the time it reached Mapiripán, about a
two-hour drive to the northeast. El Espectador, citing the
prosecutor's report, said two paramilitary soldiers also crossed the
Guaviare River in stolen boats past a Colombian marine infantry
base checkpoint attached to the Barrancón facility. U.S. Navy
Seabees built the marine base in 1994, and the U.S. Navy
continues to train Colombian forces there. The boats then met up
with the rest of the paramilitary force across the river from
Mapiripán. At no time did Colombian civilian or military authorities
challenge the paramilitary forces, the newspaper said, even
though such groups are illegal in Colombia.

At dawn on July 15, 1997, the paramilitary forces surrounded
Mapiripán, and their siege of terror and torture lasted until July 20,
when the International Committee of the Red Cross dispatched a
plane to the village.

Today, Mapiripán is a virtual ghost town.

Exhibit F:

US DEA Sought Deal With Narco Castaño

from The Irish Times

Published on Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Clinton's 'Plan Colombia': Disturbing Questions Concerning The Real US Agenda

Narco News Solidarity Statement: Ana Carrigan is one of the only foreign journalists that courageously reports authentic truth of what is happening in Colombia. We always look forward to her reports.

by Ana Carrigan

Serious allegations have emerged that agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have offered to subsidise the "paramilitary" leader, Carlos Castaño, in return for his support in combating the traffickers.

Speaking on national television from his northern fiefdom, Castaño said he did not know whether a request for his help reflected US policy or came from agents acting on their own initiative. A DEA informant, who says he acted as translator at meetings between DEA agents, traffickers and members of Castaño's paramilitaries, claims it was agreed that US officials should meet Castaño to conclude a deal.

"They [the DEA agents] were supposed to bring US Army officials, even people from the Department of State, and a series of politicians [to meet Castaño]," he said. "They spoke of 10 or 12." The story may be a fantasy, as the Clinton administration claims, but it would not be the first time US intelligence agencies have had dealings with Carlos Castaño. In 1993, while working for the Cali Cartel, he collaborated with the CIA and the Colombian police to bring down the fugitive drug baron, Pablo Escobar.

Paramilitaries have been endemic to Colombia since President Betancur began peace talks in 1983. When Betancur opened a door to the guerrillas, the army sought allies for a dirty war to derail the talks. They turned for help to the Medellin cartel.

Escobar and his partners provided the money and the generals contracted crack Israeli and British mercenaries to come to Colombia to run a death squad school. Carlos Castaño was the school's star pupil.

He has never been out of a job: hit man for Escobar; drug trafficker; death squad leader contracted by the army to cover their tracks while they eliminated the Unión Patriótica party in the late 1980s; founder of a paramilitary group in the 1990s which he used to murder his way to control a neo-feudal empire stretching across half of northern Colombia. Castaño's criminal career neatly encapsulates Colombia's institutional collapse.

Today Castaño is in a process of metamorphosis, from psychopathic gangster to political icon. In the last two years he has unified the disparate, autonomous, regional paramilitaries into a national force of some 10,000 men in uniform. Under his leadership, this army provides the muscle for a shadowy, fascist political movement, whose civilian leadership is invisible though its goals are not: first, to close down the peace talks between the government and FARC; then, to provide a launching pad for a military-civilian "national unity government".

Castaño now controls territory and population in the Middle Magdalena valley, right up to the strategic oil refinery river port of Barrancabermeja. Since April, he has mobilised "popular protests" against the establishment of a neutral zone where talks with ELN leaders could begin. The talks have been blocked for months. Last month, when the Swiss government invited the Colombian government to come to Geneva with the ELN leaders and a civic society delegation to start peace talks in neutral territory, some of Castaño' s friends came too.

His paramilitaries almost wrecked the conference through a savage onslaught on ELN villages timed to coincide with the talks. After the conference, two men cornered the sound engineer in a hotel elevator and made off with the only official recordings of the two-day peace meetings. Castaño's CIA contacts are back in business. Such fears may be paranoid or they may not. But one thing is clear: in the midst of chaos, Castaño is the only political actor who is consistently gaining gound. He now has a large, rapidly growing following in among the middle class in Colombia. Castano personifies what happens to societies in failed states.

Exhibit G:

Castaño Uses Drug War to Steal Peasant Lands

From the Geopolitical Drug Dispatch

(see our related report on how governments censored this respected global think tank)

Also see the full original report by the late Observatory:

Territory Under Control by the Paramilitary Groups

While all eyes are on the regions held by the FARC, extreme-right paramilitary groups are extending their influence throughout the country with the complicity of the administration, the financial support of drug traffickers and logistical support from some military officers - a situation that is regularly condemned by human rights organizations.

What is called "paramilitarism" in Colombia is organized in a very structured way around two families, one headed by the Castaño family and the other by the two Carranza brothers. The Castaños - including Carlos who is today the leader of the Self-Defense of Urabá and Córdoba (ACCU) group - were ad hoc allies of the Cali cartel within the Persecuted by Pablo Escobar Group (PEPES), which was really responsible for Escobar's defeat and death.

They control that part of the Urabá region that stretches through the Choco and Antioquia departments from the Panamanian border to their shores on the Caribbean and the Pacific.

It also includes the departments of Córdoba, Sucre and part of César. Now, with the support of Medellín traffickers who escaped their conflict with Pablo Escobar, the Castaños are running that city's biggest criminal gangs and the kidnapping racket. They are also taking advantage of the eclipse of the Cali cartel, whose leaders are now in jail, to expand their influence into the north of the department, of which Cali is the capital. The emerald-mining Carranza family controls Meta, Vichada, Boyacá, the Magdalena Medio area in Santander department, and the southern parts of Bolívar and Sucre. The two groups have only one shared objective: fighting the FARC. The Carranzas, relying on what looks very much like a private army, are intent mainly on protecting their mining and farming empire, keeping up a façade of legality that enables them to monopolize the emerald trade. Nevertheless, the conjunction of these two forces forms a belt of political and administrative control that reaches from the Amazonia region (on the frontiers with Venezuela and Brazil) to the Atlantic coast. It is a traditional drug- and arms-smuggling area through which runs a projected inter-ocean canal allegedly to replace the Panama canal. Moreover, this strategic belt has enabled the Castaño and Carranza groups to seize between 3 to 3.5 million ha of land, specialists say, by means of assassinations and massacres. This represents about a third of the country's best agricultural land and their strong-arm methods have been described as "counter-land reform".

For the Castaño brothers, this expansion of influence goes beyond economic and military control to embrace an extreme-right anti-insurrectional political goal. They have the support of political circles in Colombia but until now they have apparently been ignored by the American authorities. It seems to be the case that in the ZEOPs the main U.S. aim is the fight against drugs, whereas in Urubá its economic interests make fighting the guerrillas the top priority. Urubá is an oil-producing area where American and British companies are active and it also has large gas reserves. It is noteworthy that for several years the expansion of the paramilitary groups, which have close ties with the drug trade, has very closely paralleled that of the oil drilling and production areas, in Urabá as in the rest of Colombia.

For example, British Petroleum (BP) was accused in October 1996 of bankrolling "death squads" with the support of the military. The oil company allegedly paid $1.5 per barrel in exchange for military protection for its premises. According to Ian Stewart, BP's spokesperson, the Colombian military thus received $5.4 million in "war taxes" during the last three years.

The Alliance of a New Cartel with the Paramilitary Groups

In 1994 the Cali cartel put its weight behind the Liberal Party's presidential candidate, Ernesto Samper, providing financial backing for his campaign. The arrangement meant a tacit alliance between the criminal organization and the faction Samper is leading within the Liberal Party, implying in particular that, following "arranged" arrests, the cartel's leaders would enjoy the benefit of the significantly reduced sentences awarded to those who collaborate with the authorities. But two years later, whatever the content of those agreements may have been, they no longer have much practical use for either side because a powerful new coalition now has effective control of half the country: the alliance between the cartel from the north of the Valle department (whose capital is Cali) and the paramilitary group led by Carlos Castaño. The new Colombian godfather of godfathers, Orlando Henao, a former police officer, assisted by his brother Arcángel, heads a formidable army of killers and declared a merciless war on the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers when they gave themselves up. Even though Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela's collaboration with the courts has been minimal, Orlando Henao has unleashed reprisals to punish them for what he sees as a betrayal. William, Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela's elder son, was seriously wounded in April 1996 in an attack that cost six of his friends and bodyguards their lives. Alarmed by this burst of hostility, Miguel Rodríguez sent an open letter from his prison cell to President Samper demanding protection for members of his family. Meanwhile the Cali cartel, or what is left of it, has its back to the wall, and the north Valle cartel is taking over its routes and markets.

This takeover has been made much easier by the ties forged between Hernao and the extreme-right drug and paramilitary group ACCU led by Carlos Castaño. Thanks to this alliance, the group's military influence, which already extended all over north-western Colombia has spread right along the Pacific coast, from Panama to the border with Ecuador. As a result the cocaine and marijuana export routes leaving the Pacific (the maritime route), the Caribbean (with a strong trend toward air and sea transit through Cuba) and Ecuador (the air and sea route) for the United States and Europe are meeting ever fewer obstacles. The paramilitary and drug traffickers receive weapons via the same routes (with a marked increase in this type of contraband from Ecuador), in the opposite direction.

Exhibit H:

Castaño's Televised Admission that He Is a Narco

Translation from Television Interview with Castaño by Claudia Gurasatti of RCN TV in Colombia conducted last Spring

Note: This and other texts below are excerpted and translated from the version that appears on Castaño's own Spanish-language web site. There are numerous elipses in that version and we suspect that it may itself be excerpted:

Interviewer: Señor Carlos Castaño, in our 7 p.m. broadcast we featured an interview with Baruk Vega, who at this moment is free on bail in the United States, investigated for making deals between Colombian drug traffickers and North American authorities. He publicly admitted that your delegates of the Autodefensas (paramilitaries) have had conversations with US DEA agents. Why are the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) interested in getting close to US authorities?

Castaño: This kind of situation creates confusion. First I must make clear to the country that I have not supplied you with this information and I suppose that it comes from Baruk Vega's declarations, a supposed link between DEA agents and some drug traffickers that some important newspapers in this country have published. First, I have never had contact with members of the US Department of State or any other US agency, whether the CIA, FBI, DEA or any other. I have never spoken with them.

Simply, on one ocassion a rancher arrived with information in which he told me that he had a drug trafficker friend that was talking with some DEA agents that sent a message through him saying there had been a possibility to stop drug trafficking in Colombia. I listened attentively and saw that I could play an important role in this situation.

Interviewer: We are speaking of Nicolás Bergonzoli?

Castaño: We are speaking of Nicolás Bergonzoli.

Interviewer: Is he very close to you and the Autodefensas?

Castaño: He is a rancher who has plantations in Autodefensa regions and for that he has to contribute economically to the Autodefensas to enjoy the security that we provide. This man, it seems he had some connections with drug trafficking in the past, wanted to fix his problem. He spoke with the men of the DEA. I recieved the call that they made to me and it is that the United States has opened the door for Colombian narcos to submit themselves to North American justice and that, in any case, they needed an important force in Colombia to help in this so that these people would go their way.

I have been an enemy of drug trafficking. I always have said that drug trafficking is what sustains the political conflict in Colombia. What I have been involved in, and I said, caramba!, if there is the possibility to end drug trafficking without a bomb, without assassinating a Colombian, and the drug traffickers opt to submit themselves to North American justice, whether there is impunity or not, this is a question of US Justice. Drug trafficking essentially damages North Americans because that is where the drugs go.

It was then I gave a kind of ultimatum to the drug traffickers and told them, men, you are contributing to the guerrilla. Sooner or later the Autodefensas will get to you. In this order I gave, that caused some drug traffickers, through someone I don't know, as I don't know any of them, are alleged, simply...

Interviewer (interrupting): But what is your role in the mediation of this delivery by drug traffickers to US authorities?

Castaño: My role was not as mediator. My role was to make the drug traffickers understand that sooner or later, US support against subversion and the anti-subversive fight of the Autodefensas inevitably will get them. That puts us in a very complex situation. I have understood that the drug traffickers would go there, but they would go only if they receive less than five years in prison. I say this from the reports of Mr. Baruk Vega who was the supposed intermediary. I don't have any proof that this is the policy of the DEA as an institution, nor of the US government as a State, or whether, to the contrary, they were some isolated DEA agents. This shouldn't create confusion for the Colombian people because it is more speculative than real.

Interviewer: Even if they had more than 10 meetings in Central America and Caribbean islands with DEA agents like Larry Castillo, David Tinsley, Billy Gómez and Arthur Ventura?

Castaño: Well, I know what the Colombian newspapers and media have published... that there had been meetings between drug traffickers and DEA agents... It's public knowledge that there are some in the US who are disposed to do it. Now, my call is, if there is sensibility on the part of the US and Colombian governments and if the narcos want to go in a parade to the United States to turn themselves in, they will be received there. The problem of the narcos and the US government is what to do with them.

Why, then, would they abort a project that is so noble? I think that it's not about there being impunity nor that someone is tossing a life raft to the drug traffickers. No. I am friendly to the idea that if the violence can be stopped and that it doesn't lead to impunity this method is welcome.

Interviewer: Baruk Vega spoke of a memorandum that US authorities knew about in which you asked them for military aid and advisors for the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. In exchange you would collaborate with this, with the delivery of these drug traffickers to North American justice...

Castaño: First, I am not delivering the drug traffickers. My war is against the subversives. To the extent that the drug traffickers continue supporting the guerrilla the confrontation will have to be brought to them. I think that they must opt for this process of submitting themselves.

With respect to the memo, I don't know about it. It would be wrong for me to ask for support of the US government when Robert Helmart, when doctor Madeleine Albright, are always saying that the Autodefensas are financed with drug trafficking. It can not be denied that the Colombian conflict is economic, that it has stopped being political, that it is sustained with an illicit economy. End the illicit economy of drug trafficking and the political conflict ends. Thus, I repeat: I think that, to the contrary, the attitude of some North Americans is as hostile toward me as it is toward the guerrilla.

Interviewer: Fighting against drug trafficking also could be a double-edged sword for you because in the end you have been very clear and have also recognized that the fight of the Autodefensas, your growth, has been sustained with illicit money. In part, it's not convenient to you that drug trafficking ends.

Castaño: It's important to the entire country that drug trafficking is stopped, for all Colombians. I believe that it is very important to advance the fight against drug trafficking, to advance against all forms of financing for this conflict, thus, I repeat, to stop drug trafficking is to end the conflict. It's not that it's convenient to me. What's good for me is what's good for the country. I am really a defender in the Autodefensas because we have a country in conflict. Without drug trafficking, we would return to social normality in this country.

Interviewer: Are you in the position to tell the country how much money comes to you for the entire chain of drug trafficking to the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia?

Castaño: It's very difficult to measure, but I will give you statistics that in La Gabarra and in San Lucas there are 600 million in taxes collected from the coca growers and those two fronts collect the financing there. They have to finance the entire North Bloc of the AUC. This doesn't make me a drug trafficker, not in any way, I am a good and interesting example for the country....

Interviewer: Plan Colombia has begun. It's going to bring money for military aid to eradicate the crops. How do you receive it?

Castaño: With Satisfaction.

Exhibit I:

Castaño, War Criminal, Praises Clinton and the US

August 2000

Castaño Interview with Colprensa

Q. What's your opinion of the visit of Bill Clinton? Are you afraid of the decided support of the United States in the anti-drug fight, knowing that you admit to be financed by taxes upon drug traffickers? Is there anything good for the country about the Clinton visit?

Castaño: Good international relations are of enormous importance for the current development of nations and that a leader of a powerful and democratic nation visits us is, without a doubt, praiseworthy, especially being Bill Clinton who in his years of governing has been a defender of democratic ideals.

Exhibit J:

Castaño: Still a Narco

From a September 2000 Castaño speech:

Nobody doubts that the illegal economy is the most common lubricant material in irregular wars. We have never denied that our Fronts are financed from the dominant economy in each region, and, as a consequence, in coca-growing zones that have clamored for our presence and forces, those who sustain the Autodefensa groups economically are the inhabitants of those regions, some of them connected with the chain of production of illegal drugs.

Exhibit K:

Journalists' "Objectivity" Plus Egos Created this Monster

From "A journalist's mission in Colombia: Reporting atrocities is not enough" on

Note by CNN: Maria Cristina Caballero is an investigative editor for the Colombian weekly newspaper, Semana. Currently on leave, she is Mason fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and is writing a book about the civil war in Colombia. In 1999, she was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists with an International Press Freedom Award. A slightly different version of this article appeared in the May/June 2000 issue of the Columbia (University) Journalism Review...

By Maria Cristina Caballero
Special to

...The so-called "paramilitary" forces -- private armies that oppose the guerrillas, mostly by terrorizing villages that allegedly aid them -- have between 5,000 and 7,000 troops. The paramilitaries also are financed by "taxes" on and protection of drug growers.

Narco-terrorism, of course, has been a problem for two decades in Colombia. And when terror has not been enough, there is always cash -- government officials at all levels have been implicated in bribery scandals.

In such a troubled country, the role of the journalist has always been open to debate. Do we simply report the atrocities, or try to find ways to stop them? Just reporting what goes on in my country is perilous enough -- 50 journalists have been killed trying to do their jobs in the past decade, five in 1999.

Yet, as bad as things are for Colombians in general and journalists in particular, there are some signs of change. Representatives of the FARC recently went to Europe to talk with officials and private entrepreneurs about alternative economic models. The FARC's political leader, known as "Tirofijo," or "sure shot," met with Colombian business leaders. The leader of the paramilitaries, Carlos Castaño, recently showed his face, for the first time ever, during a television interview. Millions of Colombians have demonstrated in the streets, asking for peace.

What lies behind this new openness? Perhaps a good part of it is the result of stories by journalists who have been trying to report on ways to solve our country's problems. At the leading daily newspaper, El Tiempo, a special reporting group, the Peace Unit, was created a year ago. Media for Peace, a new network of journalists, has influenced reporters to write more balanced accounts.

Of course, trying to actively point to solutions to problems is a dangerous role for journalists -- in March my colleague (and former boss) Francisco Santos, editor in chief of El Tiempo, had to flee Bogotá for Miami. Many others have been forced to flee -- I was one of 13 journalists who left last year after receiving death threats.

A journalist's responsibility

Still, despite all the risks, I strongly believe that journalists have a duty not only to expose injustices but also to try to improve the situation of their countries. "The Social Responsibility of the Journalist" was the title of my thesis when I graduated from Javeriana University in Bogotá in 1984; carrying out that mission has been my goal ever since.

As a journalist, I must try to find out, from all the factions, what their perspectives are, no matter how dangerous that is for me personally. So I have interviewed not only the leader of the paramilitary forces, but also the military leader of the FARC.

My first interview with Castaño, in 1997, is seared in my mind because that meeting led to an unprecedented report, "Peace on the Table," that shows there is hope to find a way out of the daily horror.

By coincidence, on the very same day I went back to my job as editor of investigations at the weekly magazine Cambio 16 -- having just finished a Nieman fellowship at Harvard, where I had organized a big conference on violence in Colombia -- we received the first reports of a terrible massacre in a town called Mapiripán.

Right-wing paramilitaries over the course of five days had terrorized the inhabitants, cutting some of them into pieces. "I will go," I said. Some of my colleagues tried to dissuade me, saying it was too dangerous. Getting from Bogotá, where I lived, to Mapiripán would be a difficult journey, and who knew what I would find there? But I decided to go.

What I found there sickened me -- decapitated bodies left to rot in the cemetery, and blood still visible in the dusty streets. Many of the men had been tortured until they died. The bodies that weren't dumped at the cemetery were thrown in the river.

Mapiripán was a ghost town, with the inhabitants initially afraid to talk with anyone. Some days later, though, I had enough interviews to file my story.

But I was left with a nagging question: Why? Why were Colombians doing this to one another? As I was leaving Mapiripán, a very old man without shoes ran to me and said, "Wait!"

"All of my sons are dead," he told me. "Three of them joined the guerrillas and two joined the paramilitaries .... Perhaps they killed each other." With tears in his eyes, he said, "Please help us .... Guerrillas and paramilitaries are killing all our children .... All our future."

All I could say was, "I will try."

Narco News Publisher's Note: We sympathize and agree with most of what Maria Cristina Caballero writes above; the importance that journalists go beyond merely recording the horrors of our daily world and that we seek to help solve them.

But in the next passage of Cabellero's report, we see two journalistic vices colliding to make for an unintended atrocity: the myth of "objectivity" in journalism held by Caballero and too many others now crashes into the reality of protagonism by journalists who lack analysis and moral compass.

A journalist who tries to bring fascists to a peace table is naive and has failed to undertake any serious analysis of what is fascism. A journalist who to tries to be "objective" or "fair" with war criminals becomes their publicist, manipulated by them. And a journalist who convinces herself that the dishonest words of a fascist war criminal and narco-trafficker like Castaño, as told to her, have somehow moved the peace process forward has created more violence and misery that existed before her 1997 interview with Castaño.

It has also provided the opportunity for Castaño to give himself a public relations makeover that defies logic: High level narco and drug warrior! Assassin in favor of rule of law! Murderer of unarmed civilians who praises Clinton as a "democratic" leader! Patriot who welcomes foreign intervention on his land? Castaño is a sick and confused thug who has already proven himself dishonest and unworthy of any benefit of the doubt for anything he says.

We acknowledge that we go against the grain with this judgement; Caballero is the toast of the "official" international journalism club. But in our analysis, it was precisely Caballero who opened the floodgates to so much truly rotten coverage of Castaño by Larry Rohter of the New York Times and others, for which those journalists will be judged very harshly by history. And yet in the short term, some are awarded for it. Such is the state of what passes as modern journalism.

We do see Caballero as more sincere than Rohter (who doesn't know how to write a story without checking in with Senator Jesse Helms' staff to receive the party line -- more on that NYT-Helms axis in a future report) and hope that she, at least, will do some serious soul searching on these two ethical dilemmas: the intellectual dishonesty of "objectivity" and the danger of journalistic protagonism, especially when it looses any compass of what is evil in this world.

Read the following excerpt from Caballero's article and watch how objectivity and protagonism by a journalist created a Frankenstein monster named Castaño:

That promise to the old man led me to pursue the interview with Castaño, the notorious paramilitary leader. Castaño has been indicted several times on charges he masterminded assassinations of politicians and human rights workers and ordered the massacres of villages by his troops.

Over six months I cultivated contacts. In December 1997 I was finally able to meet with Castaño himself. At the time Colombia's government had prohibited any contact with Castaño and was offering the equivalent of U.S.$1 million as a reward for his capture.
I flew to the northern part of the country and then rode in three different cars, apparently without any fixed route, until the driver received a radio signal authorizing our approach. We followed very precarious roads and passed over improvised "bridges" built with only two tree trunks.

Hours later, while surrounded by mountains and streams and gripped by the overpowering mid-day heat, we observed a short, athletic man dressed in a camouflage uniform leading, with a quick step and an inscrutable glance, the 300-odd armed-to-the-teeth soldiers of his personal guard.

"Welcome. I am Carlos Castaño," he said with an energetic voice, shaking my hand firmly and smiling mysteriously.

Our interview lasted almost five hours, with no breaks. During the interview Castaño denied being a monster and rejected allegations that he had committed massacres. "I have performed selective murders, which is very different," he insisted.

Castaño also told me that he had been fighting since the age of 16, when he swore vengeance against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- the FARC -- who had kidnapped and killed his father. To my surprise, he said that he was tired of the violence and ready to sit at the negotiation table.

I asked Castaño if he did not see himself in the faces of the orphans of his victims, if he did not think that those children were swearing to themselves that they would exact revenge against the paramilitary leader for having killed their parents. Stammering a little, Castaño confessed that this had been precisely the topic of a disagreement with his brother Fidel, the first known leader of the paramilitary forces.

Castaño said that he had just annihilated the brother of one of the commanders of the FARC when, upon entering the house, they found five children aged 3, 4, 5, 15 and 17. Fidel told his brother that they would have to kill the 15- and 17-year-olds because they were in a position to start doing just what Fidel and Carlos had done.

Nevertheless, Carlos Castaño realized that the same thing could be said of the 5-, 4- and 3-year-olds. "I just couldn't do it," Castaño said. "Of course I saw myself in their faces. There is a great internal contradiction."

This was the first time that Castaño talked so openly about himself and his own conflicts. Castaño also said that he had realized that if this vicious cycle of war continues, in 20 years his own children would be killing off the children of the current FARC commanders. He repeated that this was why he wanted to start peace talks as soon as possible. "This war cannot go any longer."

After that interview, which made national and international headlines, I asked Castaño to prepare a document explaining what he wanted to achieve with his movement and proposing the key reforms the country needed for peace. To my surprise, he agreed.

He even told me later that he would like to present that document personally at a meeting of representatives of the forces in conflict, a meeting I was in theory hoping to organize in a neutral country with the support of some academic and international organizations.

When Castaño told me that he was willing to present a structured peace proposal, I immediately contacted the International Red Cross. We also contacted the National Commission of Conciliation, a group of key representatives from different institutions looking for ways to achieve peace. We agreed to at least try to ask all of the forces in conflict for a similar document. All of them said yes.

This 60-page report, distributed in May 1998 with an edition of Cambio 16, was titled "Peace on the Table." For the same edition I wrote a cover story titled: "So, Why Are They Fighting?"

Their proposals, their dreams for the country were astonishingly similar. In their separate wish lists, all of the players -- the assorted leftist groups, the right-wing paramilitaries, the government -- spoke of land reform, of opening the political landscape for new movements, of investing more in education and health, and of Colombians gaining greater benefits from the country's natural resources. Even the right-wing paramilitaries questioned the value of an unfettered free market. The similarities of the agendas raised an obvious question: Why, if they agree on so much, are they putting a bloody and fiery end to each other?

The document is still on the table. The Colombian peace process is complex and turning out to be a long one, affected by many interests and factors such as a presidential election, and now by U.S. plans to dramatically increase military aid, which would potentially also generate risks for Colombia.

But what I have learned personally is that journalism in countries like mine can go far beyond reporting and writing. It is about more than getting scoops. It is about trying to help create an environment in which peace is possible.

Exhibit K:

The Big Lie Repeated Again and Again and Again

The Dark Side of the Nuevo Herald Series on Castaño

Even as the Herald prints the evidence that Castaño is a narco-trafficker and war criminal, they repeat his own megalomaniacal version of his life story as fact.

We suppose that, again, this is owed to the factors of false "objectivity" (the idea that "fairness" means one must say good and bad about everything, including about evil) and protagonism (in this case, the more banal version in which Gerardo Reyes of El Nuevo Herald wishes to hang on to Castaño as a source).

In the September 24, 2000 Part I story in Sunday's El Nuevo Herald, Gerardo Reyes repeats the glorified version of paramilitary boss Carlos Castaño's perpetuated myth: that his terrorism is vengeance for the death of his father, and his financial gain is unrelated.

Much of this first story seeks to justify Castaño's "planting of terror in towns where they suspect that subversives live."

"This just represents my tragedy but it proves my dignity and commitment to Colombia," Castaño writes El Nuevo Herald via e-mail from his heavily armed mansion.

The boss of the Autodefensas Unidas Campesinas (AUC), or United Farmer Self-Defenders, with its "more than 30 airplanes including 11 Cessnas, four cargo planes and surveillance helicopters," says Reyes of El Nuevo Herald, "left school when (the guerrillas) killed his father… His peaceful life of farmers had ended."

More quotes from that Herald story:

"According to sources, the Castaño method consists in eliminating the guerrilla from the map and once the zone is 'pacified,' selling the plantations to drug traffickers at prices ten times higher than those they paid for them."

"Castaño, who acknowledges that his family has some 1,500 hectares of land in the region, categorically denied this version."

Narco News Fact-Check: Castaño has admitted to controlling 3.5 million hectares.

"Carlos has two children, a girl of 14 and a boy, 9, who study in England and visit during vacations, he said. His routine begins at 4 a.m. when he connects to the internet with a satellite phone to read the most important newspapers and dozens of email messages."

Send the War Criminal an e-mail: Don't know Spanish? Key words: Narco, Cobarde, Asesino, Criminal de Guerra, Pendejo.

"Later he listens to radio news for an hour, after which he puts himself in front of the microphone of a clandestine radio station to speak to all the fronts of his organization… At 11 a.m. he begins a marathon of meetings with subordinates and sympathizers and, at 7:30 p.m. he goes to bed, but first after "having spoken with God."

"He is a compulsive reader and listens for hours to well-prepared advisors that teach him the subjects he didn't learn in school. He likes the books of Orianna Fallaci and the poetry of Mario Benedetti."

Narco News Commentary: We have read and studied Orianna Falacci; the greatest authentic journalist of the 20th century, who never feigned "objectivity" and always analyzed her stories in the context of what she called "the struggle between power and anti-power." She has never left any doubt as to which side she is on. We wished her a happy 70th birthday recently.

So here is Castaño, seeking Power, and crushing the forces of anti-power, as re-invented by techniques of Madison Avenue and political consulting: He speaks to God every night (but apparently does little listening). He reads poetry (but kills innocent children). The perfect sicko personality for the media to glorify.

We can't tell who is more cynical and dangerous to society: Castaño the narco-war criminal? Or the official journalists who repeat this garbage and treat him with kid gloves, in hopes of getting another interview? It is they, and not Castaño by himself, who make it possible for governments to lend covert support to this war criminal.

As we said when we opened the envelope and declared Carlos Castaño Narco-of-the-Month, Castaño is a coward. He seeks out only those journalists whom he knows will play the game according to his rules.

But Castaño has now gone too far in his manipulation of the media. His recent denial of being a narco-trafficker when so many times in the past he has admitted it has revealed his own single biggest fear: that US public opinion will turn on him so as to force the US politicians to offer his head in order to protect theirs.

This is only our first report on this Narco and War Criminal named Carlos Castaño. We welcome more links and files for this dossier from our readers. And we call on Authentic Journalists throughout América to begin, today, to hold Castaño responsible for his crimes, and to call a narco a narco.

The Big Lie Stops Here