SEMANA, August 20, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSM Volunteer Translator)

Ariel Ávila, Director of the El Poder (Power) program, was talking with Juan Diego Restrepo, Director of the Verdad Abierta site and with Gerardo Vega, Director of the Forging Futures Foundation, about Mancuso’s complicated return to Colombia.

Salvatore Mancuso was one of the most important paramilitary chiefs in the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in Spanish). His complicated return to Colombia has worn calluses on public opinion. The Colombian government has made a series of errors in requesting United States authorities to send him back. For José Manuel Vivanco, Americas Director of Human Rights Watch, they are errors a first year law student would not have made. He even demonstrated the terrible negligence of Colombian authorities.

As might be expected, once the details of the errors made by the Colombian authorities were figured out, suspicions began to arise. Many people wondered if mistakes of this kind were really unintentional. Anyway, the debate is intense. But almost all of the analysts and experts agree that, while Mancuso has had a lot to say, he has much more to tell, above all, in the area of the “para-economy”.

Ariel Ávila, Director of the El Poder program, was talking with Juan Diego Restrepo, Director of the Verdad Abierta site and with Gerardo Vega, one of the most important specialists in the area of land restitution, and who is also the Director of the Forging Futures Foundation.

In the interview, Ariel Ávila asked both guests: What do you think about those supposed errors made by the Colombian government in requesting Mancuso’s return? Were there errors? Or are there some who would prefer that Mancuso not return to Colombia?

In the interview, Juan Diego Restrepo pointed out that, “it’s evident that Mancuso still has some truths to reveal, truths that have to do with political and economic power” in this country. For the Director of Verdad Abierta, “it’s very suspicious that the Uribe government had extradited him and now a government of the same party is making these mistakes, making sure that Mancuso would not be on the witness stand.” In addition, he states that this does indeed arouse suspicion in the minds of many analysts and human rights and victims’ organizations. They have said that they are counting on the testimony of the former paramilitary boss to help disclose the truth about events that the country still needs to learn about.

For Gerardo Vega, “the government at that time extradited Mancuso to keep him quiet.” He pointed out that “Medellín was the place where all of the paramilitary commanders were gathered together, so as to send them to Bogotá and then extradite them.” According to the Attorney, “today history is being repeated. They don’t want him to come back because they want to keep him quiet.”

On the other hand, he mentioned that the victims’ main concern is that, “we need the truth, reparations, and the return of our land.” He stressed that that last theme, “has not gotten going. Right now there are 72 companies that have been convicted by land restitution judges and Justices, and at the same time we see mining companies and banks that were helping the paramilitary groups,” by kicking the campesinos off their land. Besides that, he said that the participation of the paramilitary groups commanded by Salvatore Mancuso had their impact “in the northern part of Urabá in Antioquia, from Arboletes upwards where they were always close to the banana companies, the palm oil growers, and the cattle ranchers.”

Does Mancuso have more to tell? What is the missing piece to the puzzle, so that Colombia will know the truth?

The Director of Verdad Abierta pointed out that in January of this year, he had a meeting with Salvatore Mancuso’s attorney. He told Verdad Abierta “that his client was wanted for some 75,000 crimes of every kind.” For him, “there is a very common practice among bandits and that’s to keep to themselves certain information that can be used later for purposes that are legal, political, or for extortion.” That’s nothing new for Restrepo, “Mancuso is a white collar criminal, a paramilitary from a good family, but he’s still a bandit,” who had tremendous influence “in the Chocó and Antioquia parts of Urabá.”

In conclusion, he reminded us that Mancuso “was the commander of the Northern Bloc, which operated all across Catatumbo, where they grow oil palms,” emphasizing that there are “patterns where you can establish the relationships with the business owners who worked with the paramilitary groups at that time, strengthening the agricultural-industrial businesses, always based on plundering people’s land.”

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