Cinep.org   January 28, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The testimony of Benito Osorio before the JEP[1] reiterated the importance of participation by civilian third parties to obtain the whole truth and complete justice in Colombia’s armed conflict. In 2020, Cinep/PPP furnished the JEP with a complete report that describes the way that, in Urabá and Bajo Atrato, the pretext of the war against the insurgency served the “paras” and business owners to take land away from the campesinos, and so implement their agro-industrial economic projects.

Interview with Julián Salazar, researcher for Cinep’s Territory Management Line in the Pacific at Cinep/PPP, which accompanies communities and claimants.

The former governor of Córdoba Department, Benito Osorio Villadiego, is one of those who appeared before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created by the Peace Agreement. One of the seven macrocases going forward since the JEP began to function in 2017 is the one that prioritizes the territorial situation in Urabá, Bajo Atrato, and Darién in Antioquia and Chocó: macrocase 04, to which Benito Osorio was linked at his attorneys’ request.

After his testimony in August of last year, the former governor accused business owners and members of the Armed Forces of having relationships with paramilitary groups, including José Felix Lafaurie and Retired General Rito Alejo Del Río. Noticias Caracol disclosed his testimony last week, generating controversy and a response by the former commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia , Salvatore Mancuso, endorsing the statements by the former governor against Lafaurie, the president of Fedegán.[2]

According to Osorio, Lafaurie gave Mancuso the names of the people that would be choosing the new Attorney General of Colombia, so that the paramilitary chieftain could pressure them to favor the appointment of Mario Iguarán, who was finally chosen for the office. Osorio is facing a sentence of 19 years in prison for the theft of land in Córdoba, and thanks to this testimony, and to “his compliance with his commitments to the Special Jurisdiction”, he obtained temporary release from the JEP’s Branch for Deciding Legal Situations last week.

The JEP emphasized that Osorio Villadiego had revealed the names of several individuals, officials, and authorities that had aided, sponsored, or participated in land theft activities in the area of Tulapas, where the Castaño family had turned over the control of the territory to the “Elmer Cardenas” Bloc. He told about the disposition of the properties to business owners for their agricultural and forestry exploitation.

With regard to the relationships with the private citizen actors, the “paras”, and their land theft in Urabá and Bajo Atrato, CINEP/PPP and the victims furnished the JEP and the Truth Commission this report: Violence, Racism, and Social/Environmental Conflicts:Theft of Land in the Community Council of the La Larga and Tumaradó Rivers.[3]

In the report, Cinep documented that of the 107,000 hectares that make up the Council, 49% of the Community makes effective use of 0.1 – 20 hectares, while the nonresident third parties in the territory make use of from 9 – 10 thousand hectares. Besides that, 95% of the productive land that is legally titled in the territory is in the hands of business owners and paramilitaries, while members of the communities have only 5% at their disposal.

This research was undertaken by Cinep’s Territory Management Line in the Pacific, which for 20 years has accompanied the Community Council of the La Larga and Tumaradó Rivers. They have achieved JEP accreditation of the 48 communities and 5,803 individuals that make up the Council as collective victims. Julián Salazar, attorney investigator for the Line, commented in this interview about the principal findings and projections from this investigation, and his opinions about Benito Osorio’s testimony.

According to your investigation, who were the plunderers of land in the Bajo Atrato and Urabá?

Julián Salazar: It was the expansion of the paramilitary phenomenon from the end of the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s; you could see it from the Córdobes part of Urabá and down as far as northern Urabá, and then down further and south in the Antioquia part of Urabá. Specifically, that expansion was done on the pretext of combating the insurgency, especially in the Antioquia part of Urabá and Bajo Atrato in Chocó. That pretext only served to implement the agro-industrial economics characterized by the planting of oil palms, and for the arrival of the big businesses that had their eye on the area. Paramilitary expansion as an economic key was principally engineered under a macro-criminal project by the Castaño family and their different fronts that were present in the area, especially the banana front, and also the Alex Hurtado front, headed by “H.H.”. There was also some presence in Belén de Bajira and Riosucio of the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc.

In our investigations, we were able to determine that the paramilitaries arrived to displace the campesino and ethnic populations, using threats, intimidations, and murders, so that later on brokers and other individuals arrived to buy the land from the people who, because of their condition of vulnerability and displacement, had to sell at low prices.

In the expansion of this paramilitary project, they knit together relationships with different private as well as public institutions. So when they started broadening this project in Córdoba, they built relationships with the Livestock Fund in Córdoba. For example, in the case of Tulapas they coordinated with the Castaño family so that once they had forced the displacement, the properties passed into their hands and later on they sold them at a much higher price.

In the case of the Community Council of the La Larga and Tumaradó Rivers, Cinep has found a characterization of plunderers in its longstanding studies in the area, and that includes the Bananero Bloc and Helmer Cardénas, as well as brokers and business owners that bought the land. Among those we identified Juan Guillermo González, José Vicente Cantero, Ángel Adriano Pino, Francisco Castaño, and Wilmer Dorancé Romero, who asked to be admitted to the JEP, but was not included because he didn’t carry out the commitments to tell the whole truth and make reparations to the victims.

Sister Teresa Gómez should also be mentioned. With her cooperative Asoprobeba she seized campesino lands where they had been trying to carry out a kind of agrarian mini-reform, and she made them into a series of giant oil palm plantations and cattle ranches. Those are the main plunderers that we have identified in La Largo and Tumaradó.

In the case of Benito Osorio’s sworn statements, they demonstrate the relationships, the connivance, and collusion that were stitched together between the paramilitaries, the Córdoba Livestock Fund, and other political elites in the area.

How did you reach those conclusions?

We have used different sources to compare reports: some primary sources, interviews and dialogs with people in the communities, the ones that had suffered the scourge of violence and displacement and have first-hand information. And we have also compared that with secondary sources. There are judicial findings by the Special Jurisdiction for Justice and Peace, which has been in charge of analyzing the entire paramilitary phenomenon in Colombia. It was created by Statute 975 of  


There is a series of pronouncements and decisions that, in a certain way, have allowed some clarification of the paramilitary phenomenon in the area. In spite of the fact that there are some huge vectors of impunity, these decisions have contributed a lot of judicial fact-finding. And there is also a lot of academic production on the subject. Organizations have worked to produce reports and documents about the phenomenon of displacement and land theft in Urabá, and the ones we have been able to obtain establish the relationships and connections between the paramilitary groups and the economic and political agents in land theft. So there is an ecosystem of information and sources that we have been able to compare and analyze.

What information has Cinep/PPP furnished to the JEP and the CEV about land theft in Urabá and Bajo Atrato?

J.S.: In September of 2020, we presented the report Violence, Racism, and Socio-Environmental Conflicts. Land Theft in the Community Council of the La Larga and Tumaradó Rivers. We proposed to demonstrate the dynamics of violence in this Community Council, trace the genealogy of the violence in its interior after the FARC had left, passing to the paramilitary presence, until the armed conflict was reconfigured after the signing of the Agreement.

But, in addition, we focused the lens on how the violence, the eviction, and displacement allowed the entry of agro-industrial economic projects that expanded the agricultural frontier, and how those projects made changes in land use, and how they all had a series of environmental impacts. So what we showed was that cattle ranching projects, growing bananas and oil palms, and the exploitation of lumber had generated a complete change in the ecosystems of the Council, and that those impacts had produced a violation of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights.

In this report we tell the JEP and CEV that, in the armed conflict, not only were civil and political rights violated, not only were there homicides, displacements, and massacres, but that we should also be looking at other rights that were violated. For example, there was a violation of the right to access to water, to the work being done in the communities, to the culture, and to the environment, and we really have to call attention to that, so that the Special Jurisdiction starts to consider that in its legal analysis of the various cases.

We also, as legal representatives, have provided feedback to the JEP, especially as to what is addressed in the presentation of observations of the various voluntary testimonies, especially those made by members of the FARC and the Armed Forces who are appearing before the JEP. There we have tried to systematize the testimonies, and we have presented a series of observations designed to show that there are matters that still need to be explained, and about which the truth ought to be known.

What do we still need to know about the land theft in this macrocase?

J.S.: The transitional mechanisms in effect—I’m referring to Statute 975 and Statute 1448—are still behind schedule in uncovering the comprehensive and complete truth with respect to the participation by economic actors and civilian third parties in the framework of the armed conflict, even though we have to recognize the progress, especially in the Justice and Peace process, where they have furnished a way to show the different interactions among the economic actors and the groups that took part in the conflict.

Nevertheless, there is still a gap of impunity with respect to the connection, the connivance, and collusion that existed between the paramilitary groups and the economic powers, whether they are natural persons or legal entities, and even with the political powers in the area.

In the recent testimony by Benito Osorio, making a voluntary statement, he names the president of Fedegán and other personages who he says supported the paramilitaries in order to obtain public positions and to be among the political elites in Córdoba and Urabá.

So what is not yet clarified is what the relationships were, their motivation, what was the purpose of generating these relationships, and we have to establish how this macro-criminal pattern of forced displacement and the subsequent evictions, so that these businesses could move in and use the stolen land.

Besides that, we need to explain in what ways the paramilitaries supported those people, whether logistically or financially, especially in helping the political elites obtain public office. It’s a subject that needs more work, but what we can conclude is that the paramilitary groups not only provided security, but also built symbiotic relationships in which they merged the interests of both parties. They are armed actors with political, military, and economic interests, and that has confirmed that those economic interests led them to create the relationships that contributed to the armed conflict.

And, additionally, these economic actors benefited from the armed conflict, because that’s how they were able to buy the land of the displaced campesinos at very low prices.

It also has to be said that, with the institutional arrangements and with the passage by Congress of the Peace Agreement, all of these civilian third parties are not obliged to seek admission to the JEP, but rather, they testify voluntarily if they wish to do so. In this case there are two third parties who could provide information: one is Benito Molina, who has been admitted to the JEP, and the other is Benito Osorio Villadiego, who particularly wanted to tell about the connections between the paramilitaries and the economic actors, but, sadly, he was very mature, and he died when he was just beginning to tell what he knew.

This may be a very important lesson for the JEP, especially because of its delay in starting to hear this testimony, and in people beginning to testify voluntarily. This gentleman had already expressed his willingness to testify, but the Jurisdiction, because of its delays, and after this man’s death, is left half-way, and now has to rely on Benito Molina’s testimony.

Osorio’s information, and the subsequent letter from Mancuso, refresh the debate about permitting the paramilitaries’ admission to the JEP: Is it worth the trouble for the Jurisdiction to admit them?

J.S.: It’s evident that this debate about the paramilitaries being admitted will have to be resolved by the JEP, and they have been resolving it and settling it, although there are still some doubts about the solution. You have to understand that the JEP has a legal structure that has some jurisdictions and some regulations that you have to be familiar with; included in the regulations is the personal jurisdiction factor. That factor has been clear in that there are some appearances that are obligatory, and some others that are voluntary.

Those that are obligatory are the former members of the FARC-EP and the members and former members of the Armed Forces; appearances that are voluntary are the civilian third parties and agents of the government who are not members of the Armed Forces. There is a gate that the Peace Agreement left open, and it’s that other organized armed groups that signed the Peace Agreement can also be admitted to the Jurisdiction, but that has not yet taken place.

With respect to civilian third parties, they are people that are not part of illegal armed groups, but have contributed directly or indirectly to the crimes that were committed in the framework of the armed conflict, especially those who financed some part of the conflict.

Here the JEP has been very emphatic in stating the general rule that it does not have jurisdiction to examine conduct committed by paramilitaries, and you can bring up other arguments such as that in essence, the Peace Agreement never contemplated including the paramilitaries, and also that the paramilitaries had their own judges in the special jurisdiction for Peace and Justice. Because of that, the JEP has no reason to investigate the conduct of the paramilitaries.

But, like every general rule, it has its exception. The Appellate Branch has established two general rules to determine whether the JEP has jurisdiction to admit paramilitaries in its analysis: whether the paramilitaries have played different roles within the structure, and whether they have participated as combatants and as civilian third parties, especially as financers with a very close connection to the armed conflict, even though that relationship is very vague; and the other rule is that, effectively, the party that is asking to be admitted to the JEP has to make a contribution of the whole truth that is beyond what has already been established in the ordinary justice system.

That means there has to be a very clear threshold that has already been found in the ordinary justice system; if the would-be party is not disposed to make a contribution that is beyond their contribution to truth in the ordinary justice system, there really is no possibility that he can be admitted to the JEP. That is because there is a particular interest that the victims receive the whole truth, justice, and reparation.

That is what the Appeals Branch has denominated as a truth test, even though there still are not clear rules, and one might think that this test could be settled with other methods that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace has, such as a clear, concrete, and programmed commitment. That is a tool possessed by the JEP so that third parties can tell what they are ready to tell, what they are ready to repair, and what guarantees of no repetition they can furnish.

This is the debate that’s going on in the JEP, and that started when Salvatore Mancuso asked to be admitted, saying that before he was a combatant, he had been financing the paramilitary organizations. Nevertheless, the Justices decided at that time that he had not been able to prove that he was a civilian third party, and so they rejected his request for admission.

However, it’s important to say that there was a dissenting opinion by two Justices. The two said that there was not yet enough information to conclude that Mancuso had participated as a civilian third party. They held that there ought to have been a dialog with Mancuso to determine whether he would be able to obtain more information. So there are still gaps that need to be filled in.

In conclusion, it’s relevant to consider the principle of the wholeness of the Integrated System of Truth, Reparation, and No Repetition. (SIVJRNR in Spanish) That’s to say that they should consider what the paramilitaries had to offer in the listening proceedings that the Truth Commission had conducted, and they could put together their findings, so that the JEP would have a more complete story about the whole phenomenon.

[1] Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a court created by the Peace Agreement

[2] Fedegán is Colombia’s National Cattle Ranchers’ Association.

[3] The Community Council of the La Larga and Tumaradó Rivers refers to a territory of 48 Afro-Colombian communities and campesino families and encompasses the municipalities of Rio Sucio in Chocó, and Turbo in Antioquia.

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