EL ESPECTADOR, January 27, 2023


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The former leader of the Northern Bloc of the AUC[1], convicted for the massacre at El Salado, revealed to the JEP[2] how he entered the paramilitaries after allegedly being a victim of the ELN. He furnished details about Mancuso and said that he felt admiration for the way the Self-Defense Forces made incursions above and beyond what the government did.

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40, kept his appointment for the second day of his hearing before the JEP, trying to prove that he possesses previously unrevealed truthful information about the conflict and that, therefore, he deserves acceptance by the transitional justice system. The man who was the leader of the Northern Bloc of the AUC explained that, in the ‘90’s, he was an ordinary citizen in Valledupar, where the ELN came every month to collect payments of “vacunas” (extortion). With the arrival of the Córdoba Self-Defense Forces, he saw the opportunity to get out from under the guerrillas and be a fighter for the “paras”. A decision that would lead to thousands of crimes against humanity, crimes that define him now as one of the greatest protagonists of the war.

In his previous session, the first thing Jorge 40 mentioned was that he wanted to refer to the victims of the conflict as “survivors”. That was based on his reflections in which he stated that was coming after 16 years of uninterrupted imprisonment. He served a sentence in the United States for drug trafficking and then returned to Colombia, where dozens of convictions for some 6,000 crimes like massacres, kidnappings, and murders on the Caribbean coast awaited him. He remained a prisoner in the La Picaleña Prison in Ibagué.

He is remembered for ordering the massacre at El Salado (Bolívar Department), when paramilitaries murdered more than 60 campesinos in 2000 and played football with some of the heads of their victims.

In general, Jorge 40 explained that, in order to understand the multiplicity of his crimes, we have to know about his background and about the government’s disregard of his family. In this session, the criminal furnished details. He said they were impoverished by the monthly payments of 1,500,000 pesos (roughly USD $1,700 at 1995 rates) to the ELN for the so-called “revolution tax”. It was then when, in 1996, the United Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU) came to operate in Cesar. They knocked on the door, but this time to charge them the “war tax”. And that, according to Jorge 40, was his single collaboration as a third party financer of paramilitary groups in his entire life.

“I met (Salvatore) Mancuso in September of 1996. I found out that he already had troops in Magdalena and I asked him how he was going to finance the war,” said Jorge 40, who at that time had experience as a secretary at the Valledupar Hacienda. Little by little, he confessed, he was getting to be friends with the paramilitary leaders in the area like René Ríos González alias Santiago Tobón, and Jorge Gnecco, alias Simón. Although he insisted that he had no greater connection beyond the payment of the “vacuna”, between the lines he let it be known that he was in the meetings where they omitted extorting the coal mine owners, and did impose extortions on other business owners in Cesar.

“In 1998 I started as a fighter. I didn’t go back to making contributions,” Tovar Pupo explained. According to his confession, he acted like a victim, doing favors like buying medicines, mosquito nets, powder flasks, rubber boots, and even treating fighters who got sick. Even though historically it had been thought that Jorge 40 started out by marketing weapons for the Self-Defense Forces, he himself explained that his relationship with Mancuso was, in the beginning, that of a guide around Cesar in the context of the expansion of his faction on the Caribbean coast. “When Mancuso said he needed collaborators, I got right to it. I enjoyed it,” he said.

After that, the JEP asked about certain private collaborations that Jorge 40 might have had with the heads of the Self-Defense Forces at a national level. He categorically denied having participated in the massacre at Medialuna (2006) in Cesar, where four people were killed, including an eight-year-old child. He said he would have no problem confessing, as he has been convicted of far more sickening crimes. Furthermore, Jorge 40, through his testimony, was able to exemplify the way that Salvatore Mancuso operated in the regions while he was going into the Caribbean coast. To illustrate that epoch, the justices asked him to describe the rescue of three cattle ranchers near Ariguaní (Magdalena Department) at the end of 1996.

“Mancuso called a Police Officer who was going around on the highway. When the Officer came near, he told him that three people on their way out of the town had just been kidnapped. And Mancuso says to him: ‘You all are waiting to go after the kidnappers? You can’t give them 24 hours. If you give them 24 hours, you’re going to lose those people.’  Then the Officers told us that they were not allowed to leave their jurisdiction. And Mancuso said, ‘Lend us the rifles and we’ll go after them.’ He pulled out a badge and identified himself as a member of a Convivir (a vigilance and private security cooperative),” he explained.

Arriving at the District (corregimiento) of El Dificil, in Ariguaní, Mancuso had found there was an uproar in the village because of the kidnapping of the three cattle ranchers, who were in the power of the Domingo Barrios Front of the ELN. That was when Mancuso, continued the testimony, barged into a pool hall. He threatened to kill everybody there if they didn’t reveal the location of the kidnapped men. So one man who had been threatened told Mancuso and Jorge 40 that they were all at his farm, in a rural area. The paramilitaries went there and after some combat, they rescued two of the ranchers and killed seven guerrillas.

“When I started shooting, what a terrifying thing! I was so scared I had forgot I had a gun. I was petrified. You have to feel it, because I can’t describe it. When the people see Mancuso coming back with the kidnapped men and you see the attitude of their families, hugging Mancuso more than their son, and thanking him, that had a big impact on me. I started telling myself, you can do this! Before I said that this was ridiculous, impossible. If the government can’t do it, and doesn’t even try, how can 20 men be able to do it? We stayed there for a while and Sr. Mancuso decided to go to Córdoba and I went back to Valledupar,” he concluded.

The hearing will resume in the afternoon of this January 27, when the Justices delve into the role that Jorge 40 played as a collaborator with the Self-Defense Forces and, as he has promised to do, describes the role played by agents of the government in alliance with the paramilitaries.

[1] United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, one of the most important paramilitary groups.

[2] Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a court required by the Peace Agreements.

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