EL ESPECTADOR, February 27, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The two old enemies, the former paramilitary chieftain and the former leader of the FARC, had a telephone conversation in which Mancuso asks Timochenko to talk with the Truth Commission to set up a scenario in which the two of them could tell what they know about the government’s collaboration with the paramilitaries. Rodrigo Londoño revealed the conversation.
This Saturday the two principal actors in the Colombian armed conflict who remain alive had a conversation about their responsibility to the truth and their commitment to the victims. It was Rodrigo Londoño, known as “Timochenko”, who was the most recent top commander of the now-defunct FARC, and Salvatore Mancuso, the former commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
In a phone call that was revealed by the current Commons Party, Londoño and Mancuso had a 12-minute conversation. Londoño is in a session of the political party that he heads right now, and Mancuso is about to return to Colombia after serving a sentence in the United States for drug trafficking. “Salvatore, it’s a pleasure to meet you”; that’s how the former guerrilla started a conversation that in other times could have seemed unbelievable. Even though it’s not the first time that the two have talked on the telephone—they had done that last July through a peace advocate, Álvaro Leyva—this is indeed the first time that the conversation was done publicly, since it had been taped in its entirety.
“We all have some small part of the truth to tell about what happened to us in this conflict, and we need that truth, that part that you have, and we need the JEP to listen; we need to have the Truth Commission listen also, because that way is the only way that we can put together the monster that was the war in Colombia: through the part that each one of us has in this puzzle,” Londoño told Mancuso. This was not before expressing his concern about the fact that his life is at risk: “The surest thing is that they are going to try to silence you, they will try to kill you and we need to prevent that,” he told the former paramilitary chieftain.
In this phone call, Mancuso explicitly asked Rodrigo Londoño if he could arrange an opportunity in which the two of them would be able to tell the Truth Commission some facts about the war. “I appeal to your good will and I authorize you, as far as it concerns me, to make every effort to do this so that together we can tell the Commission the truth about these things.”
It’s the case that, according to the conversation, it’s evident that there are government actors involved in the conflict who have not yet told their stories, and that Mancuso in particular is planning to talk about those responsibilities that up to now have not been explained. “they want to put me in a prison in Colombia so they can torture me, kill me, and so silence me for good: unfortunately, the things I have to say have been and will continue to be extremely uncomfortable, they involve the responsibility of the government and of nationally known individuals,” asserted the former chieftain.
“The government cannot, as in my case, recruit me, arm me, train me, participate jointly with us in many of those activities, and then have the same government be the one that judges me,” complained Mancuso.
Londoño defended the transitional justice system agreed upon in Havana, and insisted that that was exactly why they had established that the government could not be both judge and party, as it was also an actor in the war.
Whether Mancuso could be allowed to submit to the JEP was also discussed during the conversation. He has been seeking that for several months. “I think it’s necessary for the JEP to permit all of the actors in the conflict to submit to the special jurisdiction for peace, so that we all tell everything we know in a public manner, to reconstruct the truth (…) so that we admit the truth without trying to evade responsibility, as has happened with the Colombian government and so many people. This way we can avoid continuing to suffer the rigors of the war and of the violence,” said the former paramilitary chieftain. However, up to now the JEP has kept the door closed to former paramilitaries, not allowing them to appear there, because that armed group had already had a system designed just for them in the Justice and Peace law.
Londoño received Mancuso’s petition in good spirits and he promised to bring it to fruition. “We will make the maximum possible effort to see that this truth, this part of the puzzle, can be made known to the Colombian people, to the victims, to show us the way to a true reconciliation, so that we can build the Colombia in peace that we want to see,” he said. “It’s our duty, a moral duty, an ethical duty, and a duty to the victims; that is the road and I am delighted, Salvatore, to know that we are in agreement, and that we will join forces to keep advancing in this commitment. It won’t be easy, but we are here,” added Rodrigo Londoño.
“My hope is to be able at any time, face- to-face, to reach out and give you an embrace of reconciliation and commitment to peace in Colombia,” the former guerrilla chief concluded the call.
This conversation was made known just days after the President of the Truth Commission, Fr. Francisco de Roux, publicly invited Salvatore Mancuso to come to the Commission to tell the stories that he has not yet told. “I want to tell Mancuso publicly, as President of the Truth Commission, let’s talk whenever you want, wherever you want, at whatever time. I will go anywhere, we really want to get started with this. But don’t tell me to talk through a third person; what you have to say is extremely important to us. We are looking for responsible people who have the courage to tell the truth; we shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. The truth must generate hope, and along with that, I don’t invite hate, or accusations; we have to understand that this cannot keep on happening,” said Fr. de Roux in an interview with the journalist María Jimena Duzán.
In that same interview, Fr. de Roux had welcomed the telephone call that Mancuso had with the Truth Commission team in October 2020, when he admitted the murder of the indigenous leader Kimy Pernía and related how his body had been thrown into a river in Callejas, in Tierralta (Córdoba Province). That preliminary encounter with the Truth Commission, that explicit invitation by Fr. de Roux, and this recent call with Rodrigo Londoño, make it appear that Salvatore Mancuso’s explanation of a good part of the truth in the war, which up to now had remained in the shadows, is imminent.