By Julián Ríos Monroy, EL TIEMPO, April 20, 2022
(Translation by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Dressed in a white shirt and NIKE tennis shoes, Daíro Antonio Úsuga David (alias Otoniel) this morning furnished the first part of what may be his last testimony before the Colombian justice system.
With just days before he is to be extradited to the United States, the drug lord testified for five hours before the Justices of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), Alejandro Ramelli Arteaga and Hugo Escobar Fernández de Castro, along with the Inspector General’s assigned representative, Alonso Pío, the victims’ attorneys from the Orlando Fals Borda Collective, Javier Villegas Posada, Attorneys at Law, Walter Mejía and Associates, and his defense attorney, Camilo Santacoloma.
The head of the “Clan del Golfo” revealed the connection between the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and members of the Colombian Army, to commit massacres and extrajudicial executions.
And in his declaration, he named the former Commander of the Colombian Army, Retired General Mario Montoya Uribe, alleging that he took money and gifts from the paramilitaries in return for the movement of Army personnel and other irregular actions.
One of those movements, according to his testimony, was the transfer of the controversial Retired General Leonardo Barrero Gordillo (accused in recent weeks of belonging to a network of the fugitive capo alias Matamba.) Otoniel said that Montoya had receive a sum of money and, allegedly, a sealed and bullet-proof apartment in return for transferring that General.
Responding to that accusation, the Retired General’s attorney stated that, although he hadn’t heard about these statements by the crime boss, it’s important to remember that “there was an investigation lasting 7 years of General Montoya and his family. Property, accounts, among other things, and they never found any irregularity at all.”
A collateral payroll?
According to the testimony of Úsuga David, there were several members of the Colombian military that were connected to the paramilitaries and received money from them.
In fact, the crime boss testified that several high officials had the good fortune to be on the paramilitaries’ collateral payroll, which paid them each a salary. “We were all mixed together,” he said, and he provided details of how they shared intelligence information, radio communications, guides, and weapons.
He even mentioned some alleged aerial support that the paramilitary groups in the Llanos (Plains) received in some operations toward the end of the 1990’s, when the union with the paramilitaries was being consolidated.
That version, according to representatives of the victims’ organizations of Meta Department, is supported by an Army Captain who, at that time, belonged to the Pantano de Vargas Battalion. He revealed the alleged participation of the Air Force in activities by the irregular groups.
Otoniel also stated that Retired General Rito Alejo del Río and a Colonel named Pérez of the 17th Brigade were connected with the paramilitaries.
The second part of Otoniel’s testimony will take place this Wednesday beginning at 8:00 a.m. and according to what El Tiempo was able to learn, he will be questioned about his connections with well-known individuals in the areas where he operated.
What he had to say about the massacre at Mapiripán
Another subject that the crime boss talked about was the planning behind the massacre at Mapiripán in 1997, that left more than 60 victims.
Even though, in his first testimony in December, he said that he had no details about the event, in the hearing this Tuesday, Otoniel stated that 90 paramilitaries left Urabá in Antioquia in a plane headed for the plains, and that another plane brought the weapons they used to commit the massacre.
For this act of violence they were counting on the support of the Colombian Army, and the drug trafficker even identified General Jaime Uscátegui, who has been convicted for the massacre.
This newspaper has established that in the judicial proceedings on Tuesday, the three organizations of victims that participated had the opportunity to formulate questions for Otoniel, a right that they had requested on several occasions.
In fact, in the order summoning him to testify, Justice Ramelli recalls that “because of the imminent extradition that will be taking place”, the victims “are requesting urgently and as a priority that he be called to furnish testimony regarding Macro Case 03, so as to fulfill their right to the truth, to reparations, and to justice.
Even though Otoniel was summoned initially to talk about the victimization in the Urabá region (which the JEP is investigating in Macro Case 04), later he was summoned for Case 03, which is examining the executions of civilians by the Armed Forces in order to present their bodies as guerrillas killed in combat (“false positives”).
In the investigation proceedings this Tuesday, the Justices questioned the crime boss about the extrajudicial executions for the subcases of Meta and Dabeiba. Dabeiba is a municipality in Urabá in Antioquia where many bodies of victims have been found, and there will be a new ceremony to receive those bodies in the next few weeks, EL TIEMPO has learned.
It’s expected that with his testimony this Wednesday Otoniel will have completed presenting the panorama of paramilitary alliances, the Army, and agencies like DAS in Meta Department, before he is sent to the United States.