EL ESPECTADOR, February 24, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

EL ESPECTADOR has had access to the dossier that the former chief of the Clan del Golfo sent to the JEP and to the Truth Commission. In it, he condensed everything he is disposed to tell about what he experienced during the war. He told of generals, soldiers, politicians, and of one former DAS[1] agent.

Not even three months have passed since the capture of the one who was “the most wanted man” in Colombia, until he, himself told the country that he was disposed to tell everything he knows about the war. He did this before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), and that’s where he started to provide the first items of what his version might contain. This was not only because Otoniel was part of at least four illegal organizations, but also because he was the boss of three of them. The details of everything that he could tell are set forth in a document in which he requested the JEP to admit him as a civilian third party. EL ESPECTADOR has seen the entire document in which Otoniel is asking for a space where he might receive the benefits of the system.

Otoniel’s façade of demobilization

The first thing Otoniel mentioned to the JEP was about his roots in the conflict: He joined the FARC in 1986. Next he joined the ranks of the EPL, and from there he jumped to the United Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (AUUC); later to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and, in 2012 he became the chieftain of what today is known as the Clan del Golfo (even though he keeps referring to the group as the AGC). While he was talking about being in the EPL, Otoniel gave the first details of what he might know about the alliances that he and his men had with the Armed Forces. According to what he said, the demobilization of the guerrillas was put together, planned, and executed by the Colombian Army’s 4th Brigade, with a macabre objective.

He explained that he arrived at the Granadino Battalion in Antioquia, and was received by Lt. Colonel Jesús María Clavijo, who had been ordered to receive the armed men and transport them in trucks and helicopters to the finca Cedro Cocido (Cooked Cedar) in Montería, a property belonging to Fidel Castaño. In other words, the demobilization was a façade so that the men of the EPL could get to Córdoba to reinforce the ranks of the AUC. Jesús María Clavijo is an old acquaintance to the prosecutors’ files. The retired soldier was convicted of sponsoring paramilitary groups and, besides that, he had been mentioned in investigations of well-known death squads, false positives, and massacres.

In this part of the document, Otoniel’s defense attorney recalls that his client was excluded from the Peace and Justice demobilization in 2015, and in that same year two warrants were issued for his arrest. Even though the lawyer confesses that it’s still not known exactly how many legal cases Otoniel has; the defense has on its radar that there are seven convictions, ten cases being processed, eight detention orders, 137 warrants for his arrest, and 33 pending investigations by prosecutors. Besides that, Daíro Antonio Úsuga has three pending charges in the United States for drug trafficking crimes, and he has been on track for extradition for those ever since he was captured in October of 2021.

The Army generals

After talking about the alleged ties he had with Lt. Colonel Clavijo, Otoniel mentioned other members of the military, two generals this time. According to his statement, he worked with high-ranking Army officers to perpetrate illegal actions in Casanare and Meta. Specifically, he talked about Retired Generals Henry Torres Escalante and Leonardo Barrero Gordillo when they commanded the 16th Brigade in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Úsuga added that in “actions ordered by those Generals, they perpetrated extrajudicial murders, massacres, disappearances, and other serious violations” in those two departments.

About that episode, Otoniel referred to three victims in particular: Daniel Torres and his father, Roque Julio Torres, killed in 2007 and presented as combat “kills”; and Cayetano Mendivelso, who was killed in Tamara (Casanare Department) in 2006. In addition, he said he knew how they planned the false positives, working with Torres’ and Barrero’s men. About the first, the JEP has already heard about it in the case on extrajudicial executions in Casanare and now the focus of a scandal, as the prosecutors believe they were a key piece of the mafia in the southern part of the country. Furthermore, Retired General Torres Escalante has submitted to the JEP and has been investigated formally for false positives; one of those, to be precise, is that of the Torres, father and son.

“Speaking under oath, I testify that I met Generals Leonardo Barrero Gordillo and Henry Torres Escalante, and I carried out joint operations with the soldiers that were following their orders when I was a paramilitary in the Centauros Bloc of the AUC, and also later, as a civilian, after I demobilized in 2006, and until 2008,” Otoniel wrote to the JEP. Besides that, he assured the Court that he had also had all of these illegal alliances in Urabá, especially with Retired General Barrero, and because of that, he mentioned that he has specific information about the massacre in San José de Apartadó that occurred in February of 2005, in which three children and five adults were murdered.

Through his attorney, Leonardo Barrero claimed that Otoniel’s testimony was “unfounded and not plausible, along with all the recent statements by the drug trafficker Daíro Antonio Úsuga, known by his alias as “Otoniel”, a captured and well-known criminal, wanted for extradition by the United States, whose defense team, with unique legal opportunism, is trying to use the media environment to block his extradition proceedings, taking advantage of the unjust scandal that has been triggered against my client.”

The connection with the DAS

Otoniel states clearly that he can prove the alliances with the retired generals and that there is another person that took part in the criminal arrangement: Orlando Rivas Tovar, former Director of the DAS in Casanare. Speaking under oath, Otoniel said that he met Rivas and they worked together and with other DAS officials “to plan, support, and finance crimes, homicides, extortions, kidnappings, displacements, forced disappearances, theft, and terrorism”. Rivas was convicted of homicide after a trial, and just when he was about to hear the decision on his appeal, in 2019, he submitted to the JEP. For that reason, the JEP ordered him released from custody.

Mention of former President Álvaro Uribe

Another matter that Otoniel included in his petition for admission to the JEP is that he has proof of how politicians, cattle ranchers, business owners, and civilians took part in the war. According to the court document, Úsuga would be able to explain the circumstances of his criminal alliances with these people in Casanare and Urabá, between 2006 and 2008, and tell how they collaborated with and sponsored the paramilitary groups. In the same manner, he says he has information as to how their objective was to plan, finance, and give logistical support for armed acts of violence against reclaimants of land, defenders of human rights, and social leaders that opposed the land theft by the big cattle ranching and palm oil businesses.

He also says that the criminal alliance included perpetrating murders, kidnappings, threats, attacks, and forced displacement of campesino families. On that point, Otoniel said, “That practice counted on the support of regional political leaders in Casanare and Urabá, allies of then-President Uribe, as well as Mayors, Deputies, and Members of Congress of parties that were part of the administration’s coalition between 2006 and 2008 (. . .) The business owners, cattle ranchers, and politicians, besides being beneficiaries of the land theft by evicting campesinos, also kept the municipal governments coopted, diverting their contracting and investments to shell companies allied with the AUC and the AGC,” he explained.

Besides his relationships with the Armed Forces, politicians, business owners, and cattle ranchers, Otoniel says he has information that could strengthen investigations by the JEP and the Truth Commission, such as of the extermination of the Patriotic Union and murders of indigenous people, campesinos, and members of the LGBT community. His proposal to tell the truth does not end with telling what he knows about those connections, but he also says he has specific and geo-referenced information about mass graves and the places where the bodies of persons forcibly disappeared between 1995 and 2006 in Córdoba, Urabá and the Eastern Plains might be found. These were locations that suffered the scourge of violence during the armed conflict.

The details of Otoniel’s petition are revealed in a context that is critical for his efforts to tell the JEP and the Truth Commission what he knows about the war. Those efforts are at a critical point. Not only his defense, but also officials of both entities, have complained that there are no guarantees of protection for conducting such hearings. Last week it was learned that Commissioner Alejandro Valencia was forced, in a rude manner, to leave Úsuga’s cell, and just one day later, the tape recorders that were used to record the interviews were stolen in a burglary. Another episode in this very serious situation happened this week, when his lawyers once again complained of ill treatment.

The lawyers explained that officers of the Dijín (Colombian Judicial Police), the authority responsible for Otoniel, tightened his handcuffs so tightly that the Justice of the JEP that was hearing his testimony, stated that the hearing would not continue until the handcuffs were adjusted. Besides that, his lawyers said that there had always been a Police Officer present while they met with their client, a situation that they say is a violation of his rights. The Truth Commission and the JEP will continue to listen to him from the prison, but now the Court will have to decide whether or not to accept his submission, and if they do accept it, whether they will order that he not be extradited. He has already formally requested such an order. Otoniel, for his part, will have to decide whether, even if he is not admitted, he will be disposed to tell what he knows about the war.

[1] DAS is the now-defunct Administrative Department of Security in Colombia. It was dissolved in 2012.

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