By Julián Ríos Monroy, EL TIEMPO, January 17, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Exactly one year ago, the Director of International Affairs in the Attorney General’s Office, Ana Fabiola Castro, sent a letter in which she pointed out that the United States Department of Justice has confirmed that the former paramilitary chieftain Salvatore Mancuso Gómez, who was serving a sentence for drug trafficking in that country, would be at liberty beginning on March 27, 2020.
Even though the procedures for his return had begun, so that the one-time Commander of the demobilized United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) could continue to discharge what he owes to our justice system, his transfer to this country has not materialized.
And, in fact, the procedure has been postponed to the point that Mancuso remains on North American soil, waiting for a decision on whether he will be transferred to Colombia or to Italy, a country of which he is also a citizen and where, as his defense counsels point out, he has no charges pending.
The mere possibility that the former paramilitary chieftain could reach European territory set off alarms in the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movice), which insisted that Mancuso has only been convicted of 1,500 of the more than 75,000 crimes associated with his leadership of the self-defense forces.
But, ultimately, one of the subjects that is most worrisome to the victims of those events is that the full story that the former commander is familiar with, will not be told.
“There are an awful lot of facts about the paramilitaries still to be discovered and understood. For example, who financed them, who promoted them, and who supported them?”
Bills due and owing
For Gustavo Gallón, Director of the Colombian Jurists Commission (CCJ), “there are an awful lot of facts about the paramilitaries still to be discovered and understood. For example who financed them, who promoted them, and who supported them?”
Even though Gallón admits that there have been advances, partly because of the investigations by the Supreme Court of Justice on the “parapolitica”, he insists that “we are aware that there were sectors that are active in this country today, and that have powerful interests in the economy and in politics, and that very probably were associated” with the armed groups.
On the case of Mancuso, Yessika Hoyos, attorney for the José Alvear Restrepo (Cajar) and a member of Movice, said that the former commander had begun to reveal many of those events before Peace and Justice when his testimony was interrupted.
Among those is the functioning of the Capital Bloc of the AUC, the contribution by land owners in the Caribbean region to the paramilitaries, the scheme behind the cooperatives that were created to divert money meant for health, the relationships with high officials of universities to commit violations of human rights (including murders, threats, forced displacement, and kidnapping) against the student community and members of labor unions, along with innumerable homicides.
Even though the “expara” had furnished some testimony while he was imprisoned in the United States, it’s expected that, when he returns to Colombia, the canary will continue to sing. In fact, under the transitional justice system that the paramilitaries have submitted to, Mancuso would have a period of four years in which to carry out all the legal requirements that will be demanded of him.
According to Mancuso’s lawyer, Jaime Paeres, the former AUC chieftain is willing to comply with that commitment and furnish truth and reparation. Nevertheless, his defense is relying on the hope that the former paramilitary will not be imprisoned when he returns to this country.
Paeres told this newspaper that his client has already served more than 12 years in prison in the United States, and that is more than the eight years contemplated by the Justice and Peace Law as the maximum sentence for those who submitted to that system. However, even though last Friday the attorney requested access for his client to a different court, his request was denied at a hearing before Justice Manuel Bernal Parra.
The principal reason given for refusing the benefit is that Mancuso has an open case for money laundering in the ordinary justice system, a crime that he allegedly committed after his demobilization. That case also involves Enilce López, la “Gata” (the Cat), as well as part of his family and some other people.
A gateway for his entry into the JEP?
In a trial level decision, the JEP denied Mancuso’s request for submission, finding that he had been an organic member of the Self-Defense Forces, a group that was not included in the Court’s jurisdiction. But there is an Article that could change the equation.
The possibility of a “future law that is more favorable”, established in Article 63 of Statute 975 of 2005 (or the Justice and Peace Law), states that “if, after the enactment of this law, laws are adopted that concede to members of illegal armed groups benefits that are more favorable than those established in this law, the persons who have been the subjects of the alternative system, may take advantage of the conditions established in those subsequent laws.”
Of course, that prerogative quarrels with the fundamentals of the Peace Agreement itself. It “provides that it will apply in relation to former FARC combatants and insurgent groups that subsequently enter into agreements with the government,” as Gustavo Gallón explains. His organization has carefully examined the demobilization of the “paras” and, at the time, he vigorously denounced the irregularities of that demobilization.
“Because the negotiations with the paramilitaries were conducted in the dark, we don’t know how far that article will survive an analysis of its validity.”
Nevertheless, Gallón believes that Article 63 “has never been interpreted or applied. Some may say that it was unconstitutional. Its application is something that the judges will have to consider, but, because the negotiations with the paramilitaries were conducted in the dark, we don’t know how far that article will survive an analysis of its validity. But, like it or not, the Article says what it says.”
Along with that, the Director of the CCJ explains that there is another element: the Integrated System of Truth created by the Peace Agreement is based on the rights of the victims. Because of that, “the interpretation of what could be the most favorable for the victims will have to be kept in mind.”
That, however, the JEP will have to define. Gallón does warn that, in case the door to that jurisdiction is opened to the paramilitaries, whether to those whose submission has been accepted or in other areas, the challenge is to guarantee that they have a genuine willingness to tell the truth and comply fully with that commitment. The ground right now is muddy. And meanwhile, Mancuso’s defense insists that he be allowed to enter the special justice system.
The criminal lawyer Pedro Nel Escorcia stated that, because of the line that the JEP has taken in its decisions on the intentions of the former paramilitaries to enter the special jurisdiction, it won’t be easy for them to enter by using that Article.
In spite of that, he stated that after the JEP denies them, their petitions would be dealt with in the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, even though the Congress offered an initiative for the former paramilitaries to be accepted, the administration does not support that idea.
President Iván Duque said in November to the Presidents of the Courts and to the Attorney General’s Office that the “exparas” that were extradited should be punished. “Don’t let them use contrivances so they can come back to this country and get connected to the transitional systems so they don’t have to serve any prison time and can’t be extradited again,” he warned.
What awaits the sexual predator?
In the next few days the former paramilitary chieftain Hernán Giraldo Serna, alias el Patrón (The Boss) will be returning to this country. He has served his sentence in the United States for drug trafficking.
The “expara” – considered one of the worst sexual predators—has been convicted of 851 acts with 3,042 direct victims and 10,741 victims of crimes like forced disappearance (148), murder of a protected person (405) forced displacement (88 cases with 3,288 victims) and illegal recruitment (56), among others. In Peace and Justice he has three warrants for his arrest and pretrial detention, and he also has another two convictions in the ordinary legal system.
His convictions indicate that he may be one of the former paramilitaries who committed the most brutal acts against girls and women. He is charged with sexual assaults, forced pregnancies and abortions, forced prostitution, and sexual slavery, among other crimes.
 “Parapolitica” is the Spanish term commonly used to refer to elected officials and other politicians found to have supported the paramilitaries. When the paramilitaries demobilized under the Justice and Peace Law, their testimony revealed extensive and illegal “parapolitica”.