By Andrea Díaz, W Radio, March 29, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Salvatore Mancuso has accused one of the most important men in military intelligence in Colombia, General Iván Ramírez Quintero.

W Radio is revealing videos of the testimony of the former paramilitary commander, Salvatore Mancuso, to the Justice and Peace Instruction Branch of the Superior Tribunal for the Judicial District of Barranquilla. In his testimony, he identifies the members of the Colombian military who aided in the organization of the Self-Defense Forces.

Before Magistrate José Haxel de la Pava, Mancuso testified that the paramilitaries are “the legitimate children of the government,” because, with the assistance of politicians and members of the Army, they put together their activities to fight the guerrillas of the FARC.

“That government policy was not made up of rotten apples, but rather it was something implemented by the high command, military as well as political. That’s what led to the organization of the self-defense groups. If illegal actors in the conflict with the guerrillas attack me in this specific case, I’m going to ask for government protection whenever I’m called to appear, as I am a civilian who is complying with the rules and the laws. It’s normal to do what I did, go to the Military Forces to make my complaint about the situation. We were at the Brigade before, and they instructed us that if anything like that happened, we were to go to them and give them the information,” he explained.

The alliance of Castaño and Mancuso with a General of the Colombian Army

“When we went to organize the Northern Bloc of the Self-Defense Forces, there was a meeting with Carlos Castaño, and my man, with General Iván Ramírez Quintero. He was the General at that time; he had been the commander of the 11th Brigade in Montería or of the Battalion, I don’t remember exactly, and at that moment he was commander of the Army’s 1st Division. That was the 1st Division of the Army. It was in charge of all of the Brigades that were in the northern part of Colombia; it was in charge of the 4th Brigade in Antioquia, of the 17th in Urabá, of the 11th Brigade in Córdoba, of the Brigades that were dispersed in the rest of the provinces until you get to Guajira, by way of Atlántico, Magdalena, Cesar,” he said.

According to Mancuso, General Iván Ramírez, who was prosecuted for the taking of the Palace of Justice, and who has submitted to the JEP, gave them privileged Army information so they could carry out joint operations against the FARC guerrillas.

“The commander of that Army Division, who was in charge of the whole northern zone of Colombia, we met with him to organize the Northern Bloc of the Self-Defense Forces. The agreement was made specifically that they would place soldiers as commanders in the areas of operations where the self-defense forces were increasing, so that they would be a support for the self-defense forces. We were an organic part of the government at that time, with the Army as a force that supported our battle against the guerrillas, and it supported our military forces and the military operations that we were organizing: so the way we started, we saw how the groups of self-defense forces were being organized, how they got into it, how they obtained the financing; because if there was no financing, we couldn’t even enter the area. And the Army furnished us with supplies, weapons, information, personnel records, and orders for combat with the guerrillas. A lot of that was photos, lists of who was a collaborator, who was a guerrilla, who was a militiaman, who was part of urban and rural organizations. We got all of that information from the Army, not just the Army, also from the Police. For example, in Montería, with Colonel Raúl Suárez, Police commander in Córdoba, he gave us those lists of those he had done military operations with, we did them jointly, I even took part in an operation, he and I directly, together,” said the former commander of the AUC from a prison in the United States.

According to Mancuso, Colonel Raúl Suárez and another Colonel by the name of Martínez, who were in command in Córdoba, gave the paramilitary commanders like him reports so they knew how many guerrillas had been killed, according to intelligence information from the Army, the Police, the SIJIN[1] and the DAS[2].

“We executed military actions with Lino Ramón Arias Patemina; we passed review every day. In the El Cortijo sector, Colonel Raúl Suárez visited me. Every morning he came  for a cup of coffee over at the house, almost every morning, and to check the list that he had given us to find out if we had carried out the different actions against the guerrillas.  On a day that a person listed to be killed didn’t appear on the list of kills, he would ask if we had waked up sick, or what happened, he was from Huila and he used to say ‘you woke up sick, what’s wrong with you, I don’t see anything here, what were you doing last night’, and I worked with him, he had even given us part of the group that operated with the self-defense forces; Agent Ortíz was part of that group and we called him ‘horse’. He was our connection with the SIJIN and with the Police, with all of the agents of the Police and the DAS, so that it would be possible to do the operations without any kind of snag, so there wouldn’t be any mix-up with the Armed Forces. Where there was a checkpoint, or a CAI[3], they would keep it open so that we could go through without any kind of problem. We worked hand and hand with the government,” Mancuso said.

When the Magistrate at the Justice and Peace Branch of the Barranquilla Tribunal, José Haxel de la Pava, asked him about the source of financing for the paramilitary groups, Salvatore Mancuso, who is trying to turn over his testimony to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP),  said that the Armed Forces helped them to impose charges on the landowners that were in their zones of activity.

“And how did you collect the funds? Major ‘Fratini’ collected two thousand pesos (a little over 1990 USD $1,000) per hectare annually, and we used that to finance those groups . . . Carlos Castaño and General Iván Ramírez were in those meetings and also the Governor of Córdoba Province, Carlos Aldana,” stated the former paramilitary commander.

On January 27 and 29, 2021, Mancuso confirmed his version about the alliance of various members of the Armed Forces with civilians like himself who were given the power to fight the guerrillas from the shadows.

“When the guerrillas were in their big heyday in Córdoba, the cattle ranchers, I remember that we charged them. I went with my father and some cattle ranchers to the Brigade in Córdoba and we were also called to the Police commander in Córdoba, and we had different meetings where we were urging and proposing to the cattle ranchers that they should build these networks of people to cooperate in communication and civilian groups to confront the guerrillas, groups of self-defense forces. That’s what they suggested. Even the Mobile Brigade was there.”

He added that that policy of the government was written in the Army manuals during the war against the FARC: “they were instructing, and it’s obligatory for the Army officers to comply with the regulation requiring them to recruit civilians, civilian leaders, campesinos, in order to carry out all of the goals that the self-defense forces were establishing.”

According to his story, there was no limit to the strategy of empowering civilians in partnership with the military, serving as an armed branch to overcome the FARC.

“I didn’t realize what was happening at that time, nor did I know then that it was a government policy. I found that out later under different circumstances. I talked with the Major and with different members of the military and . . . in the reconstruction of all of these things, we realized that it was a policy of the government in these circumstances (.  . .  ) they wanted us to keep on recruiting civilian personnel, to collaborate with the Army, to look around, and if we gave information as I gave information, that’s the way we have to fight the guerrillas. We organized some special groups, and they have a special group that they are going to organize. It’s made up of guerrillas that were captured or had deserted and were working with them, as informants, with professional soldiers that took them away from where they were and left them as civilians in special groups.”

The former paramilitary commander assured that members of the Army gave them incentives to furnish information about people that were collaborating with the guerrillas, and thus facilitate the killing, or “downing” them, thus avoiding prosecution or retribution.

“In that meeting (he said) look, you don’t have to worry, just give us the names, and those people won’t be prosecuted. We just send a special group that will “down” them. That’s the way these situations are handled. Because if we were to put them in jail, there would be revenge against whoever gave the information and they would start taking revenge on you ( . . . )

So then this is how we are going to fight, that’s the way we need to form groups in different regions, and we’re going to divide the Province of Córdoba into quarters. We divided Córdoba into quarters and in every quarter, in each particular zone, we created a group. As a result of the situation, they made me the commander of the area of Tierra Alta, and that’s how they created a number of other Army organizations, with civilians so that the groups would confront the guerrillas in defense of the government and of democracy as they told us when we were organizing them, and that’s how there was a government policy, as you can see now in a number of court decisions,” he said.

[1] Colombia’s National Police

[2] Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security. It was abolished in 2011.

[3] A Police post

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