Colombians blast Panama for sheltering ex-spy director

María del Pilar Hurtado

María Hurtado

Public prosecutors in Colombia have strongly criticized the Panamanian government for granting political asylum to one of Colombia’s former spy directors, who is facing charges of spying on opposition figures. María del Pilar Hurtado directed the highly disreputable Administrative Department for Security (DAS) from 2007 to 2008. But on October 31, she apparently left Colombia unobstructed, despite being among the chief subjects of a high-level investigation into political spying by DAS. Hours later, she surfaced in Panama, where she formally requested political asylum. The latter was granted on November 19, causing the amazement of public prosecutors in Bogota, who have accused the Panamanian government of subverting (what little is left of) Colombian justice. Hurtado is among 18 senior officials in the administration of Alvaro Uribe, a close ally of the United States and hardline proponent of Washington’s ‘war on drugs’. Critics of DAS accuse him of authorizing a massive program of political surveillance, which targeted the former Presidents, Supreme Court judges, prominent journalists, union leaders, human rights campaigners, and even European politicians. Since the surveillance scandal erupted, Uribe has been trying to shield senior DAS officials from the investigation by appointing them to government posts abroad. One such case is that of another former DAS director, Jorge Noguera, who was recently appointed Colombia’s Consul in Milan, Italy. A similar attempt to relocate Hurtado to Europe failed, when Switzerland a request by Bogota to accredit her as Colombia’s Ambassador. There is widespread speculation in Colombia that Hurtado’s trip to Panama was authorized by President Uribe himself, and that he has advised other senior DAS officials to head to Panama. There are reports that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has secretly granted political asylum to five more DAS officials involved in the political surveillance investigation, but he has denied the allegations. President Martinelli has defended the asylum given to Hurtado as a move taken in the interests of “regional stability”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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