What is the GAULA?

Wesley Tomaselli 2013

When Basque photojournalist Borja Lázaro Herrero went missing in Colombia’s Guajira province in early January, it was Colombia’s GAULA who investigated.

GAULA (Grupos de Acción Unificada por la Libertad Personal) is Colombia’s elite anti-kidnapping unit, a special division of Colombia’s military born in 1996 in response to a rising wave of kidnapping and extortion events throughout the 1980s, 90s and into the 2000s.

According to Dialogo Americas, GAULA has started training other countries in Latin America against kidnapping and extortion, especially in Central America and Mexico.

From Dialogo Americas…

GAULA officers have spent more than five years training Honduran security forces in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. GAULA officers are helping Honduras develop a professional anti-kidnapping unit and an anti-extortion team, according to Guatibonza. The Colombian military has plans to engage in anti-extortion training programs in 2014 with Guatemala and Mexico.

In early September 2013, Colombian Marines trained members of the Honduray Navy in maritime interdiction of drug traffickers. The training took place on board the ARC Caldas, a Colombian missile frigate, in Puerto Cortes on the Northwest coast of Honduras.

In addition to those training efforts, the Colombian Air Force and the Honduran Air Force have an agreement to exchange intelligence and participate in joint training programs, said Gen. René Osorio Canales, the leader of the Honduran Armed Forces. The Colombian Air Force has agreements with Mexico, Brazil Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Peru to cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.

“We welcome the recent visit of Colombian Defense Minister Pinzón as part of his Central American tour,” Osorio said. “”The idea is that Honduras can join its friends in the region against the common enemy and we appreciate Colombia´s help in this.”

Colombia’s interest in exporting GAULA’s expertise outside of Colombia reflects the fact that the ugliness connected to illicit drug-trafficking has quieted down some in Colombia. But it’s not gone from the region.

photo credit: Vanguardia

The sergeant in his labyrinth: José Guarnizo’s story

January 8th, 2013 MEDELLÍN (Colombia Reports) – The Odyssean story of Sergeant Jose Guarnizo, a former hostage now condemned for participation in a massacre, has shed light on the extraordinary complexity of Colombia’s half-century armed conflict.

Guarnizo fell into the hands of the country’s largest guerrilla group, FARC, in July 1997 in the northern Antioquia department. Along with a handful of high-ranking officials, the sergeant was taken captive, and remained a hostage for six years until May 2003 when he was rescued by security forces. The rescue, however, did not run smoothly, and ended in the deaths of other hostages, including former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverry and the then-governor of Antioquia, Guillermo Gaviria.

Then, two years after his release, Guarnizo was convicted for his role in a 1992 massacre of seven farmers in the central Meta Department. The courts sentenced him to over 33 years in prison.

But three years later, in 2008, a local court in the Meta Department acquitted him on the grounds that it was impossible for Guarnizo to have been in the town during the time of the murders.

Liberation was fleeting for the sergeant — just before courts entered recess in December 2011, the sentence was reinstated.

“They have not issued the arrest warrant, but they left me with a sentence of 34 years for the process that I had won in the first instance,” Guarnizo told the Associated Press.

Much like the Sergeant’s story, Colombia’s half century of armed conflict between leftist guerillas, illegal paramilitary groups and the Colombian state is like a labyrinth.

Where it will end is hard to see.