Update: The edited podcast is posted along with a full transcript of Edward Fox of ColombiaReports.com's interview.
The guest for this episode of "This Week in WikiLeaks" was Edward Fox, who is with Colombia Reports. He has been editing and organizing releases of the US State Embassy cables that deal with Colombia. On the show, we will talk about how the cables are impacting Colombia, what has been revealed and discuss some specific revelations concerning FARC, the US-based Drummond Coal corporation, the DAS wiretap scandal and, finally, the revelation that the US has been using drones in Colombia since 2006.
Following the interview with Fox, the show wrapped with a brief look at the cables from Israel that are being released and what they are revealing. WL Central has covered what they show about Israeli officials’ views on Hamas in Gaza. There is much more to hone in on, as another aspect of the cables that deserves attention is fear and trepidation on Iran. The cables also appear to affirm some aspects of Al Jazeera English’s “Palestine Papers,” which gave the impression that the Palestinian Authority can be very deferential toward Israel and often take action that pretty much betrays the people of Palestine’s interests or well-being.
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Or, you can go to this page and click on episode on Colombia that appears in the CMN News list (it is likely the most recent one). Or, you can search for the episode on iTunes. Search for "CMN News" and it will appear to download.
Now, a few plugs: WL Central continues to do excellent coverage of all the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. If you haven't been keeping up on what is happening, check the front page for updates on various countries. The updates on Bahrain and Syria are particularly superb.
If you don't know already, The Nation's Greg Mitchell has a book out on Bradley Manning titled Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences. It can be purchased in e-book form here or in print form here. (The host of this podcast helped Mitchell with a section of the book.) He continues to keep up on the latest WikiLeaks news and views over at TheNation.com.
You can follow me on Twitter @kgosztola.
Transcript of Edward Fox's Interview
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, Host: Hello, Edward. Welcome to the show. And Edward is with Colombia Reports and he has been editing and organizing the releases of the State Embassy cables on the website—talking about them, helping to make sure there’s a context to the cables. So, I would like to begin the interview, Edward, could you talk about Colombia Reports began covering these Colombian cables?
EDWARD FOX, COLOMBIAREPORTS.COM: Really, we’ve been relying on other people’s coverage because obviously, when the original cache was released, they made international newspapers. WikiLeaks wasn’t publishing as newspapers were reporting on certain cables. So, we started out with that but then in February two major Colombian news sources were given a set of cable, with one in particular El Espectador was given 16,000 cables written specifically to Colombia. We’ve been relying mainly on their reporting of it but also if and when we can use the WikiLeaks. Because, with El Espectador, they tend to at times to try to make stories out that isn’t necessarily a story so we have to sift through what was released into public domain at the time four years ago for example and determine what exactly are revelations and what aren’t.
GOSZTOLA: So far, in your coverage, what are some of the revelations that have stuck out to you? What do you feel is having the most impact in Colombia at this point?
FOX: Within Colombian politics itself, they’ve been keeping very quiet about certain revelations that have come out the main reason being accepted in the context a lot of the revelations relate to investigations that have been ongoing for close to three years now. Specifically, the one to do with the Colombian Intelligence Agency, the DAS, which had investigations against it since 2008 into the wiretapping that it’s alleged to have carried out under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe. So, there’s been some very interesting stuff that’s come out with regards to who ordered the wiretapping. But, a lot of it so far has been really – because it’s against the former government and too many people who have been accused of ordering the wiretap are now no longer in Colombia. And, the former government is very much being sort of marginalized. And the current government of Juan Manuel Santos is really making an effort to make a break from the past basically. So they are not speaking out too much on stuff that has come out from WikiLeaks. In fact, I believe in February the interior justice minister said they’re not worried about any revelations that come out through WikiLeaks and since then they’ve kept very quiet.
GOSZTOLA: So, really trying to move forward and put the past behind them. Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on here. A few weeks ago I saw Colombia Reports ran a story about US drones being used in the country since 2006. We know that there are US military or some type of security forces on the ground. It seems like there’s a range—maybe some CIA, maybe some FBI. Who knows. Would you like to talk about what’s your finding in the cables on those forces?
FOX: The revelation that the US has been using drones since 2006—I myself personally am not all that surprised by that because you have to set in the context that US military involvement in Colombia has been pretty heavy for the past decade. I think the US government has spent close to 8 billion dollars. And given that drone technology over the past decade has really taken off, you have to think it’s not that surprising that they’ve employed it in Colombia to tackle drug trafficking and guerrilla forces in the country.
The main thing though that I think is most interesting about this particular release, which wasn’t elaborated in the cable, is who was controlling these drones. Is it US forces on the ground within Colombia itself? Or did they leave it in the hands of Colombia forces? But, unfortunately, to date we’ve had no further information released through WikiLeaks cables on this matter. There’s only been the one cable mentioning the fact that the US had been using drones since 2006.
GOSZTOLA: Is there anything that you would care to add? I’m going to read a quote. This actually ran on ColombiaReports.com coming from Julian Assange in a video interview that he did—Colombia Reports cited a video interview that he did with a Colombia weekly Semana. And he said, “What it's about is that there are several powerful companies and lobbies in Washington such as Lockheed Martin, say Raytheon, Northrop Grumman; military intelligence contractors who lobby Congress and their contacts within the Pentagon and the CIA to engage in special programs in Colombia with provisos written to make sure that the money actually cycles back to the United States." And he talks about money being transferred from US taxpayers, etc. What can you say about what you are finding in the cables on US weapons manufacturers?
FOX: To date, very little has been released on it. I have to say Julian Assange’s comments seem to be in reference that could be coming up in a WikiLeaks cable release or he’s positing his own opinion regarding the matter because to date we’ve had nothing related to that specifically that implicates any defense companies in the lobbying of Congress. But, again, in my own personal opinion and for that of Colombia Reports, setting it in the context of the military and the US, it’s very unsurprising. You have to think that since 2008, even earlier in fact, US private companies have been carrying out fumigation operations against coca plantations. And one would imagine there’s a strong impetus there from private companies who are flying out these planes and, for example, the people who manufacture the pesticides they use. So the fact that there’s a vested interest for private companies, multinationals, is unsurprising. As to lobbying in Congress, it’s again very, very likely. But, to date, we need more information through the WikiLeaks cables to corroborate this.
GOSZTOLA: And there was also a revelation about Drummond Coal, the US-based corporation, and possible instance where they killed some trade unionists. Is there anything you can say on that story? And then maybe broadly you can speak to the dynamics in that country that a person who would be a part of a trade union would face? Perhaps, from coverage you can sort of bring out what it’s like for a trade unionist.
FOX: Trade unionist, to give a very basic understanding, trade unionists in Colombia have typically been persecuted—membership within Colombia is very low, labor rights activists are constantly under threat. So, to give a very basic understanding. With regards to Drummond in particular, prior to the WikiLeaks cable release regarding their possible links with paramilitaries, last year in testimony given by former leaders of the paramilitary organization, the AUC, they said that Drummond had in a personal meeting congratulated them on the killing of two unionist leaders in 2001. So, the actual point of their being a link between Drummond and paramilitaries has been eluded to in the public domain for the last first two years. I think the first case against Drummond was filed in 2009. However, in the WikiLeaks cable release, the interesting thing is the US had an apparent concern over the links between the two groups but yet it seemed to do nothing beyond this. They stuck very much to rhetoric and especially now and it’s part of the case that has been filed against Drummond. Former president Alvaro Uribe has been asked to come and testify and the US government has, while not explicitly said they’ve granted him immunity, has done pretty much everything to grant him immunity by saying that the judge of the courts in Birmingham, Alabama, which is where Drummond Coal company is from, should explore every other legal avenue to obtain information regarding Drummond’s link to paramilitaries before they bring Uribe in to testify. So, I find that very interesting. Despite the US and its professed concern over the matter, they as a government have done very little to help proceedings at the moment it seems.
GOSZTOLA: What can you tell our listeners about these right wing paramilitaries in Colombia for those who are unaware? It seems that from these cables, and you can further illuminate, from what I’ve seen these right wing paramilitaries have some pretty unsavory connections to the Colombian government and what happens on a day-to-day basis. Do you think that’s correct?
FOX: Oh, absolutely. Now not so much but historically within the last decade yes. To give a very brief history ---
The paramilitaries or right wing organizations grew in Colombia during the late, really [inaudible] in the late 1980s, mid 90s born out of the big landowners wanted to protect their land from guerrillas. And gradually these right wing militias grew into the umbrella paramilitary organization, the AUC, which then only then became classified as a terrorist organization by the US in 2002 despite the atrocities it had committed since its inception in 1997. Then, enter the demobilization process in 2003, which culminated in the forming of the Justice and Peace Law by the Colombian government which sought to, through the demobilization process, grant benefits to former AUC leaders in the hope that they would give testimony regarding the crimes that they had committed and some form of compensation to the families of the victims. However, through this testimony, a lot has since come out with former AUC leaders saying that they were in fact supporting politicians at the time with them having an influence on a number of elections for congressmen and members of the previous government under Alvaro Uribe. And that’s grown into a scandal, which has now become known as a parapolitics scandal.
With regards to WikiLeaks on the matter, it’s been very helpful to highlight the breakdown of the demobilization process, which is widely regarded now as a failure within Colombia. Because, what it failed to do was really dismantle the organization and bring in mid-level leaders, low-level fighters. It really only focused on the main commanders at AUC. So what happened was a lot of these people either never entered into the demobilization process and instead carried it on forming new groups known as neo-paramilitaries now, which the government currently refers to them as “BACRIMs” cause they don’t want to give them the paramilitary title, or people entered the demobilization process, realized they wouldn’t be granted the benefits that their higher level commanders were being given, and so re-armed and joined these neo-paramilitary groups.
So, that’s been great that WikiLeaks in that respect that WikiLeaks has shown how the people in the Colombia government, the Organization of the American States (the OAS), and even the US government could see, in 2006, that the process was not working and the Colombian government and the police were failing to stop the rise of these neo-paramilitary organizations. To return, to the parapolitics scandal itself –
What’s been most interesting in that—this is an aside really from the WikiLeaks cables—is that now we have in Colombia a lot of politicians being investigated, a lot of indeed being sentenced for their ties to paramilitary organizations. But, they’ve only been sentenced for minimal periods, between five to I believe the longest sentence recently was seven years, which I believe was handed down to Alvaro Uribe’s cousin, who was a former congressman, Mario Uribe. Now, not only has the demobilization process been a failure in handing down long sentences to paramilitaries who committed crimes against humanity and what not, it’s also been a failure in the sense that now these politicians who had ties are being given low sentences—There’s a high possibility that these politicians are being given preferential treatment within the Colombian prison system, with the case of one former politicians who was sentenced for parapolitics who it was discovered that he was having parties within his prison cell and it really shows that, while at face value the Colombian government seems to be doing what it should be doing which is investigating these ties and sentencing the people who are guilty, they’re really not handing down sentences that go hand in hand with the crimes that were committed.
For example, personal interest on this is if the paramilitary organizations were guilty of crimes against humanity, then is there a link therefore that would make politicians complicit in these crimes against humanity? And if the Colombian government is unwilling to investigate politicians for crimes against humanity, the Supreme Court in fact said in February that they will not do so. Then, does this open up an avenue for the International Criminal Court to become involved in the process.
GOSZTOLA: It does appear that at this current juncture Colombia is having to deal with accusations that it does not uphold human rights. I saw a story on your website drawing attention to that and dealing with coalitions not really feeling they are upholding their human rights as they should. Now before I have you go I want to have you address—Obviously this is a major organization inside Colombia, the FARC, and for most people who just follow Colombia in passing it seems that if they know anything they know of the FARC being present in Colombia. So, just to hint to that you may have to de-mystify the organization a little bit, as there is a stereotype for it but then also talk about what you are finding in the cables as you report on these for Colombia Reports.
FOX: Sure, first I will give a very basic rundown of who the FARC are and where they stand now within the Colombian conflict. And then I will speak about, there’s a release this week regarding the FARC and their presence in Ecuador and possible financing of the Ecuadorean election in 2006. So, firstly, the FARC is historically a left-wing Marxist guerrilla organization. It began in 1964, I believe, out of political marginalization. They reached their peak in numbers, or not necessarily their peak, certainly a decade ago during peace talks with the government of Andres Pastrana. They were at close to I think 20,000 fighters. Comparative to now, they have been weakened a lot. They are down to 7,000 or 8,000 in guerilla fighters. And, at the moment, they’re still in combat against the security forces in Colombia but dialogue this year, more so certainly than under the former administration has been focused more and possible peace talks between the government and FARC. So, while this should be taken with a grain of salt because this has been spoken about in the past and peace talks have failed, there certainly a different foundation than what has been for the last 8 years of the Uribe administration. There’s more potential for some form of peace negotiations between Santos and the FARC.
However, this week it was revealed through WikiLeaks from cables that were sent from Quito in Ecuador that the FARC, who have historically used Ecuador as a base for re-arming and so on and so forth, they may have possibly funded the presidential campaign of President of Ecuador Rafael Correa. However, to throw in a caveat for that, the WikiLeaks cable itself said this source who gave their information it’s very tenuous and I think you have to set it in the context of left-wing states in South America, particularly those Venezuela and Ecuador bordering Colombia. Colombia who’s historically had close ties with the United States. There’s always the possibility that they will be falsely accused of ties to a left-wing guerrilla organization purely through political ideology and accusations by Colombia and the US. Personally, I don’t know the veracity of those comments. I certainly can’t speak to regarding the FARC financing of the Ecuadorean president. However, the prosecutor general’s office in Ecuador said that it’s going to investigate the matter and guess we’ll have to wait and see what will come out of it.
GOSZTOLA: Now, you mention Venezuela so I do know that there’s been some stuff to come out and it appears that Colombia has --- That between Colombia and the US there has been some work to take on the rising influence of Venezuela in the region. Is there anything you would like to say on that before I would let you go?
FOX: Only that through WikiLeaks it’s been shown—Everyone knows that during the Uribe presidency ties, diplomatic ties with Venezuela were particularly strained. And Uribe was very weary of Chavez’s influence in region. Probably the most interesting thing to come out through the cables is that the Colombian security forces have been doing clandestine operations in Venezuela as the FARC have influence there or apparently used to have encampments there. Santos said this week they no longer exist there. However, it would be a lot more interesting had the Colombian government carried out operations there without the Venezuelan government’s knowledge. But in the cables it does note that Colombian forces were in fact working in collaboration with Venezuelan police and the Venezuelan army. But, generally the dialogue that has been coming out through the WikiLeaks cables is that Uribe was very, very weary of Chavez to the extent that he even requested anti-aircraft missiles from the US for fear of a Venezuelan air force attack against Colombia. But there is a definite of sensationalism in that.
GOSZTOLA: I want to thank you for coming on the show. You’re doing some great work. It’s really necessary as I’ve seen—I’ve heard from some individuals: This is a deluge of data we have being released here. If somebody’s not contextualizing it or doing some kind of reporting on what this means, then the public of this entire world can’t really understand what this information means and most likely they’re just going to ignore it. So, you’re part of a group of journalists that is doing some very valuable work through your organization Colombia Reports. So, thank you.
FOX: Thank you very much.