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Colombia’s spreading scandal

The United States has long considered Colombia its strongest ally in Latin America. Over the last eight years it has provided the Colombian government with nearly $6 billion as part of Plan Colombia, an ambitious anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency program that has often been held up as a model of cooperation.

But recent reports in the Washington Post suggest that U.S. assistance intended to combat drugs and terrorism was diverted to Colombian intelligence officials, who used it instead to spy on judges, journalists, politicians and union leaders.

The Post also reported that the United States was aware of the spying, including illicit wiretapping. Whether that is true is unclear. State Department officials say no one at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota knew about the wiretaps. And President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office last year after the spying controversy erupted, has also denied that the United States had any role in the growing scandal.

That will do little to quell questions about U.S. involvement, given Plan Colombia’s troubled past. A United Nations human rights investigator concluded last year that a large number of Colombian military units were involved in shooting innocent young men and falsely identifying them as rebels in an effort to boost body counts. The extrajudicial killings were alleged to have been carried out by army units that had been vetted by the U.S. State Department and cleared to receive U.S. funding.

And last year, then-U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield announced that all assistance to Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security was being suspended indefinitely following disclosures in the Colombian media that indicated widespread spying abuses. Since then, Colombian authorities have arrested 28 officials, including former President Alvaro Uribe’s chief of staff, in connection with the scandal.

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Colombia’s government has vowed to dismantle the intelligence agency, and the Santos administration and attorney general have been courageous in investigating the scandal. Now it’s up to the United States to move quickly to determine how much aid was provided to the agency and what it was used for. The U.S. must show the same resolve as Colombia has in ferreting out the truth.


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