(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)
The Nuevo Herald last weekend published an article with the declaration of an ex-paramilitary that involves the President of the Republic and his brother Santiago in the massacre of El Aro were 15 campesinos were murdered in 1997.
By Gonzalo Guillén and Gerardo Reyes
Monday, April 28, 2008
The ex-paramilitary Francisco Enrique Villalba Hernández declared to the Colombian Attorney General’s office this past February that President Alvaro Uribe and his brother Santiago participated in planning a massacre in the north of the department of Antioquia, according to a copy of the testimony obtained by the Nuevo Herald. Part of the confession of Villalba, whose credibility Uribe attacked this week, was utilized by the Interamerican Human Rights Court (CIDH) to condemn Colombia for that massacre, which occurred in the village of El Aro in 1997, according to an extensive decision of that tribunal two years ago. Villalba did not involve the ruler or his brother in his testimony before the CIDH, but his narrative was part of the proofs that served the tribunal to conclude that in the slaughter of El Aro agents of the public security forces collaborated with groups of the United Self-defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia—AUC) to murder in cold blood at least fifteen campesinos “in a defenseless position, taking their goods away from others and generating terror and displacement,” according to the 160-page decision. This same decision cites a testimony to the effect that the government of the department of Antioquia, at that time led by the currently president, refused to extend protection to the inhabitants of El Aro, when they learned that the paramilitary attack was imminent. “In the face of this situation, about two months before the occupation, the Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal) asked the government [of Antioquia] for protection, which was not offered,” says the decision of the CIDH.
Until now, some of aspects of the declaration of Villalba to the Colombian prosecutors were only known in an indirect and fragmentary way which where revealed surprisingly by Uribe during a radio interview this week in order to reject what the ex-paramilitary pointed out. But the Nuevo Herald obtained a complete copy of the declearation that, in fact, contains repeated testimonies of Villalba that Uribe, when he was Governor of the department of Antioquia, hobnobbed with the highest leaders of the AUC and gave them carte blanche to carry out the massacre. “[Alvaro Uribe told us] that what had to be done, that we would do it,” declared Villalba in describing a meting in which AUC leaders, military personnel and the brothers Alvaro and Santiago Uribe. Villalba’s 19-page declaration describes, using names and details a close relationship of complicity and camaraderie between military and police authorities with the heads of the death squads.
Villalba reported the death of functionaries of the prosecutor’s office who were investigating the massacre, the murder of human rights activists who were collaborating with the authorities in clearing up the facts, and three attacks, one of them with cyanide that was put in a malt beverage.
The declaration contains at least two inconsistencies: that one of the military officers whom Villalba mentioned as a participant in a meeting at the end of 1997 had died in April of that year and that the date of the massacre was not in November, as he sustained, but in October of that year.
When the paramilitaries arrived at El Aro, a village of some 500 inhabitants in a mountainous area in the north of Antioquia, they brought a list of their victims, Villalba told the newspaper El Colombiano of Medellín. They killed some of them with a shot to the neck while they were face down, in the village plaza. They also killed a fourteen-year-old youth, but in the case Marco Aurelio Areiza Osorio, a 64-year-old shop keeper, the owner of a grocery store, appreciated in the area for his generosity, the paramilitaries
Expressed their cruelty with a frightening coldness. According to the testimonies gathered by Human Rights Watch and Colombian journalists, they ordered the shopkeeper to prepare a soup, and after he served it, they tied him to an orange tree and they pulled out his heart while he was alive; then they took out his eyes and afterwards pulled off his testicles Some children who hid near the plaza saw it all. “He howled with pain and then he squeals like a child,” one of the minors told the reporters Carlos Giraldo and Miguel Garrido, of El Colombiano.
The paramilitaries entered El Aro on Saturday, October 25, one day before municipal elections. The occupation of the village lasted some four days, during which some 120 paramilitaries wearing AUC uniforms murdered campesinos, raped women, sacked businesses and robbed about 900 head of cattle, according to judicial documents. Villalba, 36 years old, confessed that he had participated in this and other massacres by the AUC.
Three months after what happened in El Aro, he gave himself up to the judicial authorities because he was tired of so many deaths and attacks were planned with which he was not in agreement, he said. Today he is completing a sentence of 33 years in prison in the penitentiary of La Picota in Bogotá. According to his declarations to the police, the Army and the AUC planned the occupation of El Aro to punish the guerrilla fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and rescue some eight cattlemen and shopkeepers whom the rebels had kidnapped. Villalba asserted as fact that three days before the incursion into El Aro there was a meeting at the farm of a landowner—whom he did not identify—in the municipality of La Caucana, in the northeast of Antioquia. In this meeting, in addition to the military heads of the IV Brigade and of the police, leaders of the AUC and the Uribe brothers attended, he added. “Santiago Uribe and Alvaro Uribe, who was then governor, were also present,” said the witness. To the question whether he had previously met the Uribes, Villlba answered that in the case of Alvaro no, but that Santiago “was always known in the organization because he still has a self-defense bloc in Santa Rosa de Osos.”
Villalba affirmed that he became aware of who Uribe was when the then governor introduced himself in the same farm to congratulate them for the success of the operation. “I learned he was Alvaro Uribe because he introduced himself, he spoke with us, and he said that the operation had been a success, that the kidnapped people had come out safe and sound.” Said Villalba. “He arrived with a bodyguard, whose surname was Serna,” he added.
The eight kidnapped persons were liberated. This week Uribe affirmed that he had never been in La Caucana. Villalba declared to the prosecutors that years later he saw Serna again, but this time as a guard of the National Penal System (INPEC) in the La Picota jail in Bogotá. Serna saw him and greeted him, he added.
In the meeting before the massacre the heads of the AUC Carlos Castaño, who was then the top leader of the organization, and was murdered; Salvatore Mancuso, second in command, and otheir whom he identified with the aliases “Noventa,” “Cobra,” Black Ricardo and Junior, were present. There was also a man present whom he identified, wavering, as José Ardila, from the campesino self-defense organizations that were legalized by the government and known as Convivir [live together]. Referring to the whereabouts of Ardila, Villalba said, “[Ardila] was testifying against Uribe, they took him out of the prison,he was condemned to 60 years in prison and they disappeared him, I don’t know where he is.”
Mancuso was condemned to 40 years in prison by the Colombian justice system for the massacres of El Aro and La Granja. In this last one, five persons were tortured and murdered on July 11, 1996, According to the witness, Alvaro uribe “was invited by Carlos Castaño” to the meeting before the massacre and later introduced to those present by Mancuso. In this meeting, Uribe spoke publicly, said Villalba. “Alvaro Uribe gave his recommendations, that the kidnapped be brought out safe and sound that we should do what had to be done,” said the witness. About the farm where the meetings were held, the ex-paramilitary said that “on the left hand there are some corrals and a horse ring, that farm did not have a name, but it still exists, we arrived the day before [the meeting], me and my 21 men.”
Villalba testified before Carlos A. Camargo Hernández, the ninth specialized prosecutor of the National prosecutors Unit for Human Rights and International Humanitarian law that the gathering “was during the day, it began about 10 in the morning and ended [at] 3 in the afternoon, after they had lunch and everything.” According to the witness, Mancuso and Castaño arrived “in a gray helicopter, a small one, [that] landed right in the farm,” and that in the area “we were about 100 men [of the death squads] between those from the town and the 22 that I had.”
When the prosecutor asked him if the death squads received help from the public security forces, Villalba decalred, “Yes, doctor, from the IV Brigade [of the Army]. I say that because before the massacre there was a meeting, they had withdrawn the troops from the checkpoints [military control points in the area], suspended the troop checkpoints in the road.” Villalba said to the prosecutor that before his declarations of February of this year, he had delivered to the justice system details of this and other massacres to functionaries of the Technical Investigations Corps (CTI) of the Attorney General in Medellín.
He also testified about the participation of the Uribe brothers, of which there were recordings on magnetic tape, he indicated. But “the recordings ended up in the hands of Mancuso,” explained Villalba, and the functionaries of the CTI were murdered in September of 1999. “They killed them in Medellín, the guys of the group from La Terraza killed them, and the told me to shut up,” he said. La Terraza is an enormous agency of murderers on salary in Medellín that has operated under the direction of powerful drug traffickers and paramilitaries. Villalba said that he also spoke a number of times about the meeting in which the Uribe Vélez brothers participated with the director of the CTI in Medellín,” a man with eyeglasses, young, and Y told him about [the meeting] in La Caucana aqnd he didn’t say anything, he remained slient.”
The witness affirmed that he also spoke on these topics with María Teresa Gallo, a prosecutor specialized in terrorism and human rights. “She promised me a lot of things, like a change of identity, to take me out of jail and send me to another country,” he said.
In January of 2007, Villalba [was] moved to Medellín to testify against the military officer Juan Manuel Grajales for his role in another massacre committed by paramilitaries en November 0f 1997 in La Balsita, in the municipality of Dabeiba, Antioquia. In that case 15 persons were murdered, and he affirmed that among the people responsible “there was also the brother of Alvaro Uribe, Santiago who loaned about 20 “kids” (assasins) for that.” Villlb has a second sentence of 37 years in prison for the massacre of La Balsita. The kids” that the brother of President Uribe would have loaned belonged to the paramilitary group “The Twelve Apostles,” which, according to various judicial stories was commanded directly by Santiago Uribe.
Villalba ffirmed that on February 13, 1998, he decided to voluntarily turn himself in to the prosecutors, as active military, narco-traffickers and paramilitaries were planning various crimes which he did not agree with. The plans were carried out. According to the witness, this group murdered the journalist and humorist Jaime Garzón, the lawyer Jaime Umaña and the human rights defender Jesús María Valle Jaramillo. Valle had warned since 1996 that narco-traffickers, military and death squads were getting ready to commit the massacre of El Aro. In reply, Uribe, who is currently president and was then governor of Antioquia, publicly accused Valle of being an enemy of the armed forces and the army tried him for libel. Later he was murdered in Medellín. Valle, says Villalba, “was killed by the La Terraza gang and they told me to keep my mouth shut[…]they had him killed because of the investigation he was doing of the massacre of El Aro. He was one of the people who helped me because he learned when I gave myself up that they were going to kill me so I wouldn’t say anything.”
The prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation of Valle had to leave the country, he said. In addition to President Uribe and his brother Santiago, in the judicial files appear the figures of the ex-general Carlos Alberto Ospina—commander of the armed forces during uribe’s first government—who at the time of the events was the commander of the Fourth Brigade of the Army, based in Medellín and general of the army Alfonso Manosalva Flórez, who according to witnesses like Villalba and Mancuso, gave the list of persons who were to be killed in la Granja and El Aro to the death squads.
President Uribe pointed out as one of the inconsistencies of Villalba’s testimony the assertion that Manosalva was present in a meeting in November of 1997 with paramilitary leaders when he had died in April of that year.
Villalba related that he has been the subject of three attacks. The first occurred in the jail of the city of Palmira after having spoken with the prosecutor Gallo. “A guy from the self-defense forces, Edison Parra [condemned for homicide in El Llano] stabbed me in the left side, at the level of my chest.” Two months later, “in the same place they made another attempt on my life with cyanide in a Pony Malta [a brand of malt beverage]. Edwin Tirado, also of the AUC, who know is in the jail of Montería, an ex-worker for Mancuso, did it to me.” “The attempts on my life he attributed to Mancuso, in those days I was testifying agains the public security forces,” he added.
—Ider Parra Lodoño
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621
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