Daniel Coronell: “The Ghost Helicopter Did Too Belong to the Uribes”

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Do not reality-test the press release:
El Espectador reproduced the press clipping, sent to the Herald by Uribes’s Tony Snow, in rebuttal to the Herald’s reporting. The release announces the sale of the helicopter in question — HK2704X — from Cromos magazine. The Herald had reported that no official record of the tranasaction could be found to confirm this press release.

Immediately after that operation last year, death threats fell down upon Colombia’s Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who had been leading a lone crusade against his country’s bustling $5 billion-a-year cocaine trade. Less than two months later, in the streets of Bogota, two young hit men on a red Yamaha motorcycle pulled up alongside Lara’s white Mercedes-Benz and pumped seven bullets into the 38-year-old minister. The killing electrified Colombia and enraged its government. “We’ve had enough,” said President Belisario Betancur Cuartas, trembling with anger during his elegy to the slain minister. With that, Betancur declared a “war without quarter” on Colombia’s kings of cocaine.Time, February 25, 1985

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence –Donald Rumsfeld

The [registration document], the most appropriate proof of ownership, shows exactly the opposite of what the government is now saying: This helicopter always belonged to Amórtegui, from its importation in 1981 until its registration was cancelled in 1993.” –Daniel Coronell

El helicóptero fantasma: “The ghost helicopter.” Did the helicopter found at the Tranquilandia cocaine factory belong to the Uribe clan? Or did the Uribe clan sell it to whoever was flying in and out of a vast cocaine factory? To whom it says it was indebted?

Neither answer seems like a very happy one.

No one can find the bill of sale.

Al terminar la semana salió a flote otra maniobra para ocultar información en la Presidencia de la República. Están implicados el asesor José Obdulio Gaviria -quien se precia de no tener Procuraduría que lo revise- y el secretario de prensa, César Mauricio Velásquez, empleado de este gobierno desde mucho antes de tener sueldo oficial.

At the end of the week, the fleet sallied forth on another maneuver to conceal information held by the Presidency of Colombia. Implicated are presidential adviser José Obdulio Gaviria — who boast that no prosecutor can touch him — and press secretary César Mauricio Velásquez, an employee of this government long before being signed to the official payroll.

Los dos decidieron guardarse una información determinante que recibieron de Gerardo Reyes, laureado periodista del Nuevo Herald y reconocido internacionalmente por su rigor en la investigación.

The two of them decided to sit on a crucial piece of information they received from Gerardo Reyes, a prize-winning journalist for the Nuevo Herald (Miami) and known internationally for his investigative rigor.

En un correo electrónico, enviado también por fax, Reyes preguntaba la opinión del Presidente sobre la declaración que —en 1984 y bajo juramento— dio la hermana del asesinado ministro de justicia Rodrigo Lara Bonilla.

In an e-mail message that was also sent by fax, Reyes asked the President’s opinion on the statement — given in 1984, under oath — by the sister of slain justice minister Lara Bonilla.

And, if I read this right, the police commander who ran the raid on the cocaine factory at Tranquilandia.

Doña Cecilia Lara Bonilla juró ante la justicia, hace 23 años, cuando pocos se imaginaban que Álvaro Uribe Vélez llegaría a la presidencia, que el ministro Lara consideraba que el narcotráfico había entrado en todos los estamentos del país y citaba, como ejemplo de esa infiltración, el caso de un helicóptero de la familia del ahora Presidente, encontrado en el complejo coquero de Tranquilandia.

Cecilia Lara Bonilla swore to the court, 23 years ago, when few imagined Uribe would someday become President, that Minister Lara believed the narcotraffic was present in every institution in the nation, and cited, as an example of this infilitration, the case of a helicopter belonging to Uribe’s family, discovered at the cocaine complex at Tranquilandia.

La hermana de Lara Bonilla recordó así las palabras del Ministro: “Dijo que lo de Tranquilandia era muy grave y comprometía gente muy importante de la política del país, que el helicóptero que habían cogido en Tranquilandia era del papá de Álvaro Uribe Vélez”.

Lara Bonilla’s sister recalled the Minister’s words thus: “He said that the Tranquilandia case was very serious and compromised a lot of important political figures, that the helicopter seized in the raid belonged to the father of Álvaro Uribe Vélez.”

El presidente Uribe no respondió al testimonio. José Obdulio, primo de uno de los dueños de Tranquilandia, le recomendó quedarse callado.

President Uribe did not comment on this testimony. José Obdulio — a cousin of one of the owners of Tranquilandia, recommended he remain silent on the issue.

Is that true? What owner are we talking about?

Writing in Semana yesterday, María Isabel Rueda confirms it and explains why she never brought the point up before, until a Radio W interview last week.

Nunca, hasta el viernes de la semana pasada en La W Radio, me había referido al asesor presisdencial José Obdulio Gaviria como el “primo hermano de Pablo Escobar”.

Never, before last Thursday on La W Radio, had I ever referred to presidential advisor Obdulio Gaviria as “Pablo Escobar’s first cousin.”

Él no tiene la culpa de eso. Nadie tiene la culpa de ser hijo de quien es, hermano, padre, primo. No creo que sea una condición para condenar a alguien. Ni siquiera uno tiene la culpa de que se le ‘maluquié’ el cónyuge, al que sí se escoge.

This is not his fault. No one can be blamed for who they are related to. I do not believe this is sufficient reason to condemn someone. …

Es la lotería de la vida.

It is the luck of the draw.

Life is a crap-shoot.

Short answer: Yes, it is true, according to Semana.

Álvaro “I was never personally close with Escobar” Uribe’s adviser is Pablo Escobar’s first cousin.

But of course, in Colombia, water is thicker than blood, and nepotism is not a part of the political culture of the latifúndio, so that probably means nothing.

Coronell continues:

Tampoco le dijeron nada al Zar anticorrupción, Rodrigo Lara Restrepo, hijo del ministro asesinado por la mafia. Lara no conoció las partes del expediente que había mandado Reyes un mes antes. Vino a enterase de su alcance cuando las publicó el Herald. Dos días después renunció a su cargo por “razones personales”.

They also said nothing to the anticorruption czar, Rodrigo Lara Restrepo, son of the cabinet minister assassinated by the mafia. Lara was not informed of all the contents document that Reyes had sent a month earlier. He learned of it when it was published in the Herald.

I though I heard him say on the radio that Reyes contacted him prior to publication. Radio W. Let me check.

Two days later he resigned his post, citing personal reasons.

La reacción presidencial sólo se produjo cuando todo esto había pasado. El secretario de prensa, en una carta al director del periódico de Miami, aseguró que cuando el helicóptero fue incautado en Tranquilandia ya no pertenecía a la empresa Aerofoto Amórtegui, de la que fue socio el padre del Presidente. Para confirmar sus palabras, anexó un aviso pagado, publicado en la revista Cromos del 22 de mayo de 1984.

The president only reacted after all of this had occurred. His press secretary, in a letter to the publisher of the newspaper in Miami, stated the helicopter apprehended in Tranquilandia no longer belonged to Amórtegui Aerial Photography, in which Uribe’s father was a partner. To confirm this statement, he attached a paid advertisment published in Cromos magazine on May 22, 1984.

¿Por qué el Presidente, que otras veces ha puesto a sus subalternos a certificar su inocencia, no acudió a un documento oficial sino a un simple anuncio comprado?

Why did the president, who on other occasions has sent his subordinates out to certify his innocence, not resort to an official document rather than a paid advertisement?

The Colombian government is now saying, if I read its press release correctly, that those, or some, official records do, or may, or will or may still be found to, exist to attest to the transaction. But is not producing them yet.

La respuesta es sencilla. El folio de matrícula aeronáutica, el documento apropiado para certificar la propiedad de una aeronave, demuestra exactamente lo contrario de lo que hoy dice el gobierno: “ese helicóptero siempre perteneció a Aerofoto Amórtegui, desde su importación en 1981 hasta cuando su matrícula fue cancelada en 1993”. (Ver semana.com)

The answer is simple. The [registration document], the most appropriate proof of ownership, shows exactly the opposite of what the government is now saying: This helicopter always belonged to Amórtegui, from its importation in 1981 until its registration was cancelled in 1993.” (See Semana.com)

Is that true? I wish the reference was a little more precise. Where is the news story on this point? There is quite a bit of back story on that, I gather. Let me come back to that.

A la oficina de registro aeronáutico jamás llegó una escritura que oficializara el traspaso del helicóptero a otra compañía o persona. Sólo una declaración firmada en una notaría de Envigado por Pedro Fidel Agudelo -hombre de cuestionada reputación- en la que aseguraba que el hermano del Presidente, Jaime Uribe Vélez, le había entregado el helicóptero como pago de una deuda de 25 millones de pesos (unos 300.000 dólares de la época).

The civil aviation registry never received a deed officializing the transfer of ownership. There is only a declaration signed by Pedro Fidel Agudelo — a man of questionable reputation — in a notary’s office in Envigado, stating that the president’s brother had delivered the helicopter in payment of a 25 million-peso debt (about $300,000 at the time.)

Según el papel, eso sucedió un mes antes de la operación Tranquilandia. El mismo papel prometía legalizar el traspaso cuando terminara la sucesión de Alberto Uribe Sierra. Pero esa legalización jamás se cumplió.

According to this paper, this happened a month before the Tranquilandia operation. The same paper promised to legalize the transfer when probate closed on the estate of Uribe’s father. But this legalization of the sale never occurred.

Álvaro Uribe Vélez y sus hermanos, como herederos de Uribe Sierra, eran los legítimos dueños de la mitad del helicóptero incautado en Tranquilandia en marzo de 1984.

Álvaro Uribe and his brothers, as heirs to Uribe Sierra, were the legitimate owners of half the helicopter seized in Tranquilandia in March 198.

Esa es la verdad que han buscado ocultar o distraer por años y cuyo fantasma seguirá saliendo, sin importar los intentos de José Obdulio y compañía.

This is the truth they have been trying to hide or distract us from for years, whose ghost continues to appear, regardless of the efforts by Obdulio & Co.

The Ghost of Narcotransactions Past. Very Dickensian.

What about this Obdulio person again?

Rueda, again, with overtones of apologia pro journalism suo:

Entiendo que J.O. Gaviria no es empleado del gobierno sino que recibe un sueldo del Pnud (ONU). En tal situación, emprende una campaña por Internet para enlodar una gestión de la Empresa de Teléfonos de Bogotá que pretendía hacer un negocio que a Gaviria no le gustaba. ¿Podría la Procuraduría haberlo sancionado por esa actuación? No, porque J.O., increíblemente, no es empleado del Estado colombiano, a pesar de ser el principal asesor del presidente Uribe.

It is my understanding that J.O. Gaviria is not an employee of the Colombian government, but gets a salary from the United Nations Development Program. In that capacity, he is using an Internet campaign to muddy the reputation of the Bogotá Telephone Company, which intended to do a deal Gaviria did not like. Could the prosecutor sanction him for this activity? No, because J.O., incredibly, is not an employee of the Colombian state, despite being a principal adviser to President Uribe.

Governance arbitrage as a method of avoiding public accountability?

Internet ratfink campaigns involving telecom deals?

Tell me more about that!

Those sorts of cases are becoming a hobby of mine.

Luego viene el incidente de la Comisión Asesora de Relaciones Exteriores, que es el equivalente al consejo de los sabios en una comunidad indígena. Se reunieron todos los ex presidentes colombianos vivos con carácter urgente para apoyar al presidente Uribe en las difíciles situaciones políticas con Venezuela y Nicaragua. Por lo menos uno de ellos, el ex presidente Andrés Pastrana, dijo que no podía reunirse en ese salón con el primo hermano de su secuestrador (J.O.) y además abogado de Pablo Escobar.

Next comes the incident with the Advisory Commission on Foreign Relations, which is the equivalent of the council of the elders in Indian tribes. All the living former presidents of Colombia met on an urgent basis to support Uribe in politically difficult situations with Venezuela and Nicaragua. At least one of them, Pastrana, said he could not sit in the same room with the cousin of his kidnapper, who was furthermore Escobar’s attorney.

His attorney? Yikes! Is that true?

Lo de abogado yo no lo sabía. Hasta ahora pensaba, y sigo pensando, que la tragedia de J.O. es la de haber nacido primo hermano de Pablo Escobar. Pero entonces uno entrelaza el cuento del hermano de Escobar, alias ‘Osito’, de que J.O. iba a la Catedral a pedir dinero regalado… ¿no sería que iba era a cobrar honorarios profesionales?

That about his being Escobar’s attorney I did not know. Until know, I thought, and continue to think, that the tragedy of J.O. is his having been born Escobar’s cousin. …

The poor man.

His life is a tragedy.

Y regresamos al incómodo incidente que llevó al zar anti corrupción, Rodrigo Lara, a salirse del gobierno.

And that brings us to the awkward incident that led to the resignation from the government of the corruption czar.

Pienso, por lo que le escuché, que él no cree ni por un instante que el presidente Uribe o su padre hubieran tenido que ver en nada en la conspiración que llevó al ministro de Justicia Rodrigo Lara a su tumba. Pero sus fantasmas en relación con su muerte lo obligaron a renunciar a su cargo, advirtiendo que reconoce en el actual gobierno una entereza para combatir el crimen organizado, bien sea guerrilla, paras, delincuencia común, corrupción.

I believe, from what I have heard, that he does not believe for a minute that Uribe or his father had anything to do with the conspiracy that carried Rodrigo Lara to his grave.

Why? What have you heard?

But the ghosts related to his father’s death forced him to resign, while saying that he acknowledges in the current government a commitment to combating organized crime, whether guerrilla, common crime, corruption.

Pablo Escobar mandó a asesinar a Rodrigo Lara. Su primo hermano trabaja en Palacio y no se le pasó por la mente advertirle al hijo de Lara que venía una versión del Miami Herald con un cuento jarto del padre del Presidente, ya aclarado por enésima vez, pero que ante el hecho de que era contado por su tía, lo dejaba en una difícil encrucijada.

Escobar had Rodrigo Lara killed. His first cousin works in the presidential palace and it never occurred to him to tell Lara’s sun that the Miami Herald was going to tell a story … about the President’s father, now explained for the umpteenth time, but which, given the fact of what his aunt said, left him with a difficult dilemma. 

Me da lástima J.O. porque no es justo que en cualquier lugar del mundo lleve el Inri de ser el primo del genocida Pablo Escobar.

I feel sorry for J.O., because it is not fair that he has to bear the cross of being the cousin of the genocidal Pablo Escobar wherever he goes.

Presumably, lawyering for the man was a matter of free choice, was it not? Unless you are a very strict Calvinist theologian, of course.

Pero, entre todas las personas que hay en Colombia para ejercer el mismo papel, ¿no habrá una que meta en menos líos al presidente Uribe a la hora de enfrentar tantos interrogantes acerca de su pasado?

But of all the people in Colombia who could play the same role, was there not somone who would cause less controversy for President Uribe at a time when he confronts hard questions about his past?

Me parece que a José Obdulio Gaviria le llegó la hora de retirarse del gobierno, por el bien del Presidente.

It seems to me the time has come for Obdulio to retire from the government, for the President’s sake.

Taking advice from Pablo Escobar’s lawyer on how to run the country was pretty much okay — until now. A public relations nightmare, maybe, but oh, well.

This reminds me of the desperate belief of the American ambassador in Peru, as he recounted in a memoir afterwards, that if Fujimori could only sever ties with Montesinos, everything would be peachy keen.

The notion that proving that the Uribe family sold its helicopter to a narcotrafficker, to whom it claims it was indebed, will clear it of suspicion that it had ties to narcotraffickers seems pretty dubious on the face of it.

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