By DARCY CROWE WSJ 14 sep 2011
BOGOTÁ–Jorge Noguera, who served as chief of Colombia’s domestic spy agency under former President Álvaro Uribe, was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in jail for conspiring with right-wing death squads that killed union leaders and activists.
Mr. Noguera’s sentence represents a blow to Mr. Uribe, who has seen some of his closest aides charged with wrongdoings that range from the misuse of public funds to illegally wiretapping scores of opposition leaders, journalists and Supreme Court judges.
Mr. Noguera, who has denied the charges in the past, didn’t talk to the press after the sentencing. He served as head of the domestic intelligence agency, known as DAS, from 2002 to 2005, and was one of the first close collaborators of Mr. Uribe to face criminal charges.
Colombia’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Mr. Noguera had collaborated with right-wing paramilitary groups during that time, allowing them access to the DAS and even handing them a list of union leaders and leftist activists who were later murdered.
Allegations that the spy agency was infiltrated by the paramilitaries forced Mr. Noguera to resign in 2005. Mr. Uribe, however, continued to defend him. On Wednesday, the former president said in a post on Twitter that “I have trusted him, if he has committed crimes it pains me and I ask forgiveness from the citizenry.”
Mr. Uribe has continued to vigorously defend other close aides who face charges for different cases. Last month, the former president gave his voluntary testimony to a congressional committee in Bogotá probing his role in a wiretapping scandal also involving DAS.
That scandal has landed one of Mr. Uribe’s closest associates in jail as he awaits trial. Another top aide fled to Panama before being formally charged for illegally spying on opponents.
The DAS case also has brought into question the billions of dollars in aid from Washington that were funneled into Colombia during Mr. Uribe’s eight years in power, part of the U.S. anti-drug effort in the region.
As the allegations against the DAS began to surface, the U.S. embassy here moved in 2009 to “sever ties with all those elements of DAS that are allegedly engaged in illegal activities,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last month.
In his testimony to Congress last month, Mr. Uribe again fiercely denied any involvement in the wiretapping case. But his former chief of staff, Bernardo Moreno, was arrested in July for meeting with intelligence officers to discuss information they had gathered on the government’s opponents. Mr. Moreno has said he is innocent.
A top intelligence official, María del Pilar Hurtado, fled to Panama before being charged for her alleged involvement in the domestic spying scandal. Mr. Uribe has defended her decision, saying she was unlikely to receive a fair trial in Colombia.
Another close aide, former Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias, an Uribe protege widely known as “Uribito,” or “Mini Uribe,” is in jail awaiting trial on charges of diverting state subsidies designed for small farmers to rich families and prominent supporters, including a former Miss Colombia beauty queen who doesn’t own any farmland. Mr. Arias vehemently denies the charges.
When Mr. Uribe took office in 2002, massive highway kidnappings by communist guerrillas and massacres by right-wing death squads were common. He negotiated a peace deal with paramilitary leaders, many of whom were later extradited to the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges, and drove the guerrillas back into the jungles along the country’s periphery.
The improved security and Mr. Uribe’s investor-friendly policies led to an investment boom in Colombia.
Mr. Uribe’s critics say his tough approach to fighting guerrillas fomented major human rights violations. But Mr. Uribe has defended his record, pointing out that during his time in office, murders of human-rights workers, union leaders and reporters were drastically reduced.
“I will not stop facing the country to tell what we did and achieved in my administration,” Mr. Uribe said in a recent interview. “My legacy is not in danger.”
Write to Darcy Crowe at email@example.com