EL ESPECTADOR, June 4, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The ex-paramilitary Salvatore Mancuso continues to furnish details about the alliance of the AUC with the Armed Forces. He said that the highest officials stigmatized leaders like the journalist Jaime Garzón, that they murdered labor organizers because they were FARC ideologues, and that the paramilitaries were extradited in or order to silence them.
As part of the prosecution against Diego Fernando Murillo, alias Don Berna, at the Justice and Peace Branch of the Medellín Tribunal, the ex-paramilitary Salvatore Mancuso furnished details about the La Terraza gang; information that he learned when he was one of the commanders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Before the justices, Mancuso explained that the Police, the Army, and the now-defunct Administrative Department of Security (DAS) were completely infiltrated by the paramilitaries. He spoke of the “black hand” of the paramilitaries in various murders of prominent individuals, such as the murder of Elsa Alvarado and Mario Calderón, Eduardo Umaña, and Jaime Garzón.
“There was permanent communication with the Army, the Police, and the DAS in order to be able to build a group of paramilitaries. He explained to me that that was very important: You couldn’t create a group of paramilitaries in any region of the country if you didn’t have the support of institutions like the government and the society that made up those regions. We had to have military support at first; without that support it would have been impossible to go in. They gave us the back-up to protect us,” explained Mancuso from a prison in Atlanta (United States), where he’s waiting for the resolution of his extradition to Colombia or to Italy, a country where he also holds citizenship.
The Tribunal in Medellín is monitoring the status of Don Berna, who has been extradited to the United States for drug trafficking, for the crimes of La Terraza, the fearsome criminal gang made up of the AUC, the Medellín cartel, and the Office in Envigado, which still today is committing criminal acts in Antioquia, and which had been led by Don Berna. The hearing was related to the murders and crimes against humanity attributed to that group, such as the slaying of the mythic comedian Jaime Garzón, whose life was silenced on August 13, 1999 in Bogotá. The ex-Director of the DAS, José Miguel Narváez, is serving a sentence of 26 years in prison for ordering the murder in association with La Terraza.
In fact, that was one of the first questions directed to Mancuso, who had been summoned by the petition of Don Berna himself. “How did they reach those decisions to kill Eduardo Umaña, Elsa and Mario, Jaime Garzón, and Jesús María Valle?” asked one of the Justices. Here’s how the ex-paramilitary chieftain responded: “They were, in their great majority, requests that came from the government, and they were in charge of deciding who would best be able to carry out the military action.” According to Mancuso, people like Narváez gave information about people that ought to be “taken out” and, they would even come to the paramilitary territory with a list of people whose murder they had planned.
Kimy Pernía Domicó. This was one of the names brought up by the Justices in the hearing. He was the most important member of the Emberá Katío indigenous community. He disappeared in Córdoba on June 2, 2001 on the orders of Carlos Castaño, another one of the maximum chieftains of the AUC. According to Mancuso, Pernía Domenicó had been stigmatized by the Armed Forces, who said that he was a guerrilla that belonged to the FARC organization in that region. According to Mancuso, the military disagreed with the indigenous leader’s fierce opposition to the Urrá Dam megaproject, which diverted the course of the Sinú River in 1995.
And that’s not all. He also reported that the high officials disliked the collectives of lawyers and human rights defenders. “Narváez came to us with very clear and precise information about the José Alvear Restrepo and several other collectives of attorneys. He said they were the legal arm of the guerrillas. And well, luckily, we had been investigating and we realized that not all of that was true. Commander Castaño began to take precautions about all of those things, most of all about Jaime Garzón and Kimy Pernía Domicó. He saw it as an enormous mistake for the AUC when we were used to execute those actions for the Armed Forces,” he said.
Mancuso insisted that the high commanders of the Armed Forces stayed in contact with him, as well as with Carlos Castaño and Don Berna himself. The ex-paramilitary explained that he could give hundreds of names, but in the prison where he is, he isn’t allowed access to his computer. “I don’t have it at hand. They don’t let me have access here. I have so many names, but they haven’t allowed us to put it all together. That’s why we were extradited, so that we wouldn’t be able to reconstruct all of this stuff,” he explained. In another one of the questions, for example, he confirmed that during 2003 he began and led the process of the demobilization of the AUC during the first administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
“The Attorney General’s Office was part of the executive; the Attorney General is chosen by the President. That’s why any one of the three people on the list of eligibles is an insider and does whatever the President wants. So when one is a judge and is part of an internal armed conflict like this one, and wants to avoid responsibilities, he puts the whole apparatus in the hands of those that can make that happen. That includes putting in place a prosecutor that’s in on it, purchasing witnesses, threats to witnesses, lying witnesses, faking evidence, destruction of evidence. And that’s what you see in this country permanently,” he explained, regarding an alleged strategy by the government to divert criminal prosecution against the Army.
Regarding the murder of the attorney, Eduardo Umaña Mendoza, perpetrated on April 18, 1998 in his office in northwest Bogotá, Salvatore Mancuso insisted that he didn’t know anything about that crime, but that Don Berna most certainly did, given that three hit men from La Terraza killed Umaña Mendoza when the drug trafficker was in charge of that gang. Umaña Mendoza was a well-known defender of human rights; he had founded a number of organizations, and between the ‘70’s and the 90’s, he filed complaints about state crimes in which members of the Armed Forces had participated. “I knew he was a defense lawyer,” was the only thing Mancuso would say.