( Translated by Peter Lenny, a CSN volunteer translator )
Friday, 11 May 2007
Un Pasquín columnist Natalia Springer, Austrian-Colombian specialist consultant in justice and security, has first-hand experience of conflicts in several countries and has worked for international organizations including the UN and NATO. Part of her experience is described in the book Desactivar la guerra; propuestas audaces para construir la paz (Santillana, 2005), longer versions of which have appeared in English (Deactivating War) and German.
In the course of her work in Colombia, Natalia has come to know the parties in conflict there. Two days ago, after several months and numerous obstacles, she interviewed Salvatore Mancuso, leader of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC, Colombian United Self-defense Militia). Her main interest was to talk about the child soldiers recruited by the militias.
However, their wide-ranging, eight-hour conversation yielded abundant material, part of it published here in this special edition, on which Mancuso will elaborate in his statement to the Prosecutor-General next Tuesday.
“We had no hostages; the detainees were mostly eliminated” Mancuso
Less than a week from his questioning by the Prosecutor-General’s Office, Salvatore Mancuso confesses.
Report by Natalia Springer*
Exclusive for Un Pasquín
* International consultant; expert in justice and security.
Salvatore Mancuso, Commander of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and one of the world’s highest-profile culprits of crimes against humanity facing trail, agreed to meet me at Itagüí maximum security prison where he is detained, knowing that our conversation and the information involved could well end up incriminating him.
Mancuso spoke as the political representative of the AUC movement, although independent sources revealed that his team of lawyers had demanded that he cancel the meeting, which he did not confirm. He was speaking, he said, so as to send a message to the more radical factions that are harassing the action of the justice system: they are “ready to tell the whole truth”.
His early declarations during the meeting revealed that the negotiators [both the government and AUC representatives] were completely indifferent to humanitarian considerations.
Mancuso confirmed that the situation of the more than 550 individuals recorded as ‘kidnapped’ by the militias, the ‘disappeared’, the ill and the prisoners of war was never ascertained; nor was there any special handover of child solders recruited by these groups; nor did they address the issue of what treatment their support communities will receive. He also said that regular procedures were not followed, nor was there any prior survey of the situation before the combatants surrendered, nor were parameters established for overseeing the results of the process.
In his own words, “that was never mentioned”. He claims, “We never resorted to kidnapping” and “most of the detainees were eliminated”.
Meanwhile, he also revealed the existence of “plain clothes militia, a kind of support commandos, a ratio of 2 civilians per combatant”, which leaves pending the issue of how they are to be demobilized. He also said that their zones of influence “were left unprotected, although the government’s commitments included ‘re-institutionalizing’ these regions. Today they are under strong pressure from the insurgency”.
On this point, as ascertained by the public prosecutor’s office, the lands in Bolivar that Mancuso handed over to the Justice and Peace Unit (UJP) were considered high risk areas, dotted with mines and controlled by the guerrilla, making them useless for reparation purposes.
In relation to the work of Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, Mancuso stated that they have in fact vetoed him “because he has lied to us throughout the whole process”.
‘Para-politics’. Asked about politicians and businessmen implicated in the formation of the militias, Mancuso replied that “the senators, mayors, governors and representatives who have been summoned by the courts are lying when they claim they were forced to attend these meetings”. He even revealed a long list of politicians from several governments – with names, affiliation and reasons – “many of them still in power all over Colombia”.
[Un Pasquín is withholding those names so as not to hinder the public prosecutor’s investigation].
Mancuso status that “it was they [the politicians] who prompted the meetings and insinuated the content” and that “the agreements were reached to mutual benefit”. “Plans of operation were drawn up jointly and took root, and it was even they who approached us to help them get elected […] We were a model of State”.
“We affected several presidential elections”, he adds, reaffirming that his electoral influence has spanned decades.
“We all paid”. On the relationship between the AUC and Colombian and foreign businessmen, he declared that “all the banana companies paid us (nine cents per box)”, but that was not the only industry implicated. He also stated that, as president of Fenalco, “Sabas Pretelt came to see us on behalf this country’s industrialists”. He also said that “the banks took part in laundering money from the drug traffic”. All the strategic sectors were implicated, “including the transport union”.
On supposed links between the AUC and the armed forces, Mancuso stated that the relationship was not limited solely to passive complicity, nor a simple strategic alliance, “but rather, in some cases, joint operations were undertaken”.
Complete version. Mancuso assured that he will tell everything, in all detail, in the deposition he is to make next Tuesday, in spite of the security problems he says he faces. “They want to silence us”, he said, adding that the AUC commanders have constantly received threats, some in the form of letter-bombs, to prevent them from talking, confessing their crimes and implicating third parties.
Betrayals in a meeting between bitterest enemies
Opinion by Natalia Springer
Exclusive for Un Pasquín
“Remember one thing: I am not a journalist. You know that my area is justice and security and that I work in the human rights field. I have not come for you to tell me secrets nor to spread scandals. My concern is to bring criminals against humanity, like yourself, to justice and ensure that they pay for what they have done. I want it to be quite clear: if you go on refusing to cooperate with justice, I assure you that the next time we meet will be in the International Court”. Those words were the first warning I gave to Salvatore Mancuso at the start of this interview.
For that reason, that morning as we flew through the skies of Antioquia in search of a clearing to land in, I put my life in order, as I always do, and went over the purposes of the meeting.
This interview grew out of the obligation to explore the responsibilities of paramilitary groups in recruiting and using children in the conflict. That exploration forms part of an investigative effort that I direct from abroad for the Maya Nasa Foundation, and is intended to promote a policy that will have a decisive effect on how this phenomenon evolves. The use of children for purposes of war is more alarming today than at the worst moments of the war. The guerrillas have resorted to using children on a massive scale for all kinds of war operations, and it is known that child recruitment to form the new self-defense groups has occurred on a massive scale in regions like Los Montes de María, historically controlled by Mancuso.
However, that was not the only purpose. I also went to ask him what the prosecutors of the Justice and Peace Unit have not been able to. Mancuso has deliberately tried to avoid making a statement and has resorted to all kinds of tricks to delay the hearings and sabotage a legal process that is excessively generous precisely because it is based on cooperation.
My third and final purpose was to learn the real status of these negotiations. Exactly what has been negotiated; what they have been promised and why; whether the negotiations are ongoing; and what the undertakings and rules of play were in arranging those meetings. However, I was also clear that – very much despite my strong opposition to the way this process has been handled – I had not gone there to discredit the Peace Commission nor the government representatives.
That meeting was just the most recent episode in a long and difficult personal history. More than 15 years ago I understood that I could not shut my eyes and pretend that nothing was going on in Colombia. It happened precisely during a trip through the Chocó: I knew then that I would devote my life to serving those who suffer most. On that conviction I have served in several countries for all these years. The costs of that decision are many. In particular, advocating for a transparent peace process with justice, truth and reparation in Colombia has greatly affected my personal safety. The threats from all the stakeholders are constant, and for just over a year now not a week has gone by without my getting one or two letters with strongly worded messages and explicit threats.
I have never kept silent. On the contrary, I am just increasingly convinced that justice is the only path to peace in Colombia. Nor have I followed the recommendations not to return to Colombia. I was born free. I am a free woman and will die that way.
Those were exactly the purposes of the visit and that was my state of mind when I arrived at the Itagüi maximum security prison accompanied by an assistant to meet Salvatore Mancuso, also accompanied by one of his advisors and a relative, in the intimacy of his prison cell, last Tuesday, 7 May, 2007.
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