Las2orillas, February 22, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This paramilitary attack, in which they killed 49 campesinos, was Otoniel’s laboratory of war. The government was convicted, but General Uscategui was the only government agent who paid a price.
For nearly ten years, between 1997 and 2006, the central square in La Chapa, in Hato Corozal in Casanare Department, was turned into the principal training base for the Centaurs Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia in the Eastern Plains. Not a leaf fluttered without their authorization, and their orders were enforced with blood and fire. The arrival of the AUC in the Plains was their answer to the historic presence of the FARC in the area and to their outrageous conduct in the decade of the ‘70’s.
Starting in the ‘80’s, the region began to fill up with coca laboratories, especially in Bajo Ariari, and with marijuana crops in places like Vista Hermosa, as Natalia Romero, a reporter for EL ESPECTADOR, has documented very well. To this cocktail of interests, was added the appearance of the emerald miners who, with the direct support of the Medellín Cartel, dedicated themselves to the purchase of land. At the end of the ‘80’s the Carranceros appeared, another paramilitary group, financed by Victor Carranza. To add to this territorial power, the founder of the AUC, Vicente Castaño, made a proposal from Córdoba to expand his forces to the rich land in the Plains. To do exactly that, he formed the Centaurs Bloc.
The ones Castaño called to organize it were Daniel Rendón, alias Don Mario, and Darío Antonio Úsuga, alias Otoniel. They divided the organization in two: the Northern Axis would be run by the one—his alias at that time was Mauricio—and the Southern Axis would be headed by Don Mario. The arrival of Miguel Arroyave, the king of cocaine processing, would give the Bloc still more power. By 2002 they already had 4,000 men, and they also had fierce internal divisions, to the point that one remnant of each Bloc would end up in places like Soacha, and they would call themselves the Capital Bloc.
The arrival of the Centaurs in Meta could not have been bloodier. And its first thrust toward the imposition of horror was the massacre at Mapiripán, and it happened in Otoniel’s domain: Forty-nine innocent campesinos were slaughtered. That attack, in which even Mancuso took part from the Coast, turned into a laboratory for war for the AUC. They were able to link together the paramilitaries, the politicians, and the Armed Forces.
On July 12, 1997, two gigantic airplanes, one Douglas and one Antonov, landed in San José de Guaviare, full of gunfighters from the AUC. A day later, two battalions of counter-guerrillas poured out of the Mobile Brigade, plus a group of Marines, and then the Army’s School for Special Forces. A Sergeant showed them the way to Mapiripán, and by road (La Trocha) (The Cattle Trail) another group traveled in trucks and all-terrain vehicles. They hollered that they were the “Campesino Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá”, and they arrived at the region to stay, while the curious locals came up to look at them. The guerrillas had left the area some time ago for an internal meeting. A day later the horror let loose. For five days, and with the evident support of the Army, they took over the town and did whatever they wanted.
According to testimony by Alex Arango, who commanded the AUC’s Meta Front, he himself went to the Battalion and, making a list like the one for the market, he asked the Army for rifles and even Kevlar vests. When the paramilitaries arrived at Mapiripán, they came in with 20 trucks that were waved through all of the Army checkpoints. How could they have done this without the Army’s support? The evaluation could not be any worse. The only members of the Army charged with crimes were six soldiers and one general, Jaime Uscátegui, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his connection with the operation. In January of 2020, he requested admission to the JEP, but the Special Jurisdiction for Peace has refused him on two occasions. Because of reductions and other deals, the General now has to serve 37 years in prison. The government was convicted in the massacre by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.
Mapiripán marked a tipping point for Otoniel in his command, as he later became the big boss of the Clan del Golfo. In 2006, the older of the Castaño brothers, Vicente, decided to gain access to the Ralito peace process in the administration of Álvaro Uribe, and then continue with the war and the drug trafficking business. The same thing happened with his lieutenants, Don Mario and Otoniel. After Castaño was murdered, a year later, there came the inevitable rupture. Don Mario was left with the greater part of the armed men that did not demobilize, and Otoniel dedicated himself to assembling his own army, with an armed remnant of the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc that was operating in Urabá and Chocó. The Clan del Golfo grew out of that.
At first they called themselves Los Urabeños; they were eighty men commanded by Don Mario, who controlled the routes to the Pacific. In addition, it was crucial to the development of the Clan del Golfo that the workmen who knew the hiding places for the casks full of dollars did not demobilize. They had the capital to expand the activities and recruit more men, until they turned into the most powerful illegal army that had ever fought in the country. But not only was Otoniel the witness of the Colombian Army’s support of the paramilitary groups in that part of the country, but also to their financing by business owners, and to their support by politicians and local governments in protecting them.
Otoniel knows a great deal about the legal efforts, by civilians and the military, who combined with the illegals of the AUC. He can furnish valuable names of those responsible and who are in impunity; the Attorney General’s Office could use his testimony to investigate them and they could also be summoned by the JEP.
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