Colombian warlord betrayed by his laptop

 

Files found in the laptop computer of a right-wing Colombian warlord show how he kept up his life of extortion and murder even while negotiating peace with the government.

The computer, seized by investigators, contains details of 558 murders ordered by northern Colombian paramilitary chief Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40, who is now in custody.

It is a trove of evidence showing long-suspected links between paramilitaries and authorities reaching as high as Congress. And it casts doubt on the process by which more than 30,000 paramilitaries, including Jorge 40, have turned in their guns over the last three years in exchange for reduced jail terms and other benefits.

The paramilitary demobilsation is hailed as a main achievement by President Alvaro Uribe, re-elected in May for his US-backed efforts at ending this Andean country's 4-decade-old guerrilla war.

But the computer files show how Jorge 40 tricked the government into believing he was dismantling his empire while in fact trying to expand it, according to police reports leaked to the media in recent weeks.

They include details of cocaine smuggling routes as well as names of "friendly" police and allies in the Senate and lower house of Congress.

"This is the first hard evidence of something we all knew about but found hard to prove," said political commentator Ricardo Avila.

"The big question is if Jorge 40 is going to tell everything when he appears before a judge. If he doesn't, he might lose his demobilsation benefits. If he does, his words would have enormous political implications," Mr Avila said.

At least 10 per cent of all local government, health and public service contracts in the northern provinces of Atlantico, Magdalena and Bolivar wwere corrupted by Jorge 40.

The files include the date and place of 558 murders, most of which have not been investigated.

The victims, believed to have been buried in secret mass graves, include merchants who were late in making extortion payments, union members and people suspected of sympathising with Marxist insurgents.

The computer held e-mails from Jorge 40 ordering his men to recruit peasants to act as paramilitaries during demobilsation ceremonies, a trick that allowed him to keep his real fighters active while appearing to comply the peace deal.

"Prepare them for the demobilsation day, so they can at least march and sing the [United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia] hymn," one e-mail says.

Jorge 40 demobilised in March along with 2,500 of his supposed troops. Authorities say the computer was seized from his top lieutenant.

Human rights groups criticize the demobilsation as too soft on the paramilitaries, who have massacred thousands in the name of fighting left-wing guerrillas.

"This information shows how little the demobilsation has impacted paramilitary power structures.

Jorge 40 was apparently able to keep his extortion and corruption machine active throughout the process," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"The system that was set up for the demobilsation was very superficial," he added. "Now we are seeing the consequences."