EL ESPECTADOR, January 27, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40, in the second session of a single hearing to tell the truth to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), said that in 1997 he went to the United States with another former paramilitary boss, Salvatore Mancuso, to buy weapons and communication equipment.
In 1997, Rodrigo Tovar, alias Jorge 40, set foot on United States territory by order of the former paramilitary chieftain, Carlos Castaño. The mission that was also entrusted to another former commander of the Self-Defense Forces, Salvatore Mancuso, was to buy communication equipment, but in addition to that, they also ended up with a massive purchase of weapons.
That is what Jorge 40 recounted before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) during the second session of a single hearing in which he has promised to tell the truth. That has become an opportunity for him to submit to the transitional justice Court.
Jorge 40 went to Miami in the United States along with Darío Laino, an alleged collaborator with the organization. When they were in foreign territory, Mancuso began to look around for a way to obtain the communication equipment, but he also had meetings with people from whom you could buy weapons. Nevertheless, they got uneasy about him and so, days later, they ended up in a weapons “supermarket”. “They had every type of weapons that I didn’t even know about,” he stressed during the hearing.
Once they were in the place, they inquired about what it would take to buy a weapon. They were told that all it would take was money and a North American drivers license. Since neither Mancuso nor Laino, nor Jorge 40, had one, they applied and did the paperwork. According to what Jorge 40 told the JEP, they started with a small purchase and they were accepted in three days. Then they asked for weapons like AK-47s and 556, 38 caliber and 9mm guns, a machine for securing the weapons, warhead boxes, boxes for spent cartridge cases, and powder tanks. “That was invoiced legally,” said Rodrigo Tovar.
Besides that, they bought the communication equipment, from a scanner to track phone calls to high frequency radios. That material was packed normally and sent to Colombia, but the armaments were sent camouflaged. According to Jorge 40, they bought cookies in metal boxes and used them to pack the warheads and the spent cartridge case containers. When everything was ready for the return to Colombian territory, before their plane took off, Tovar was stopped by the authorities because he had not paid the additional tax required for the purchase of a personal weapon.
Mancuso and Laino were also stopped and ended up missing the flight. They had to explain to the authorities, as related by Jorge 40, their motive for the purchase of armaments to take to Colombia, as each of them was carrying a personal weapon. Mancuso told them that they were cattle ranchers who had to guard their property against the “narcoguerrillas”. The agents in the United States retained them for a couple of hours and told them that it wasn’t necessary to open an investigation, but they had to leave a telephone number so they could be contacted and questioned about the future use of the weapons.
The next day, Jorge 40, according to him, was nervous about what had happened with the North American authorities who now had him on their radar. He didn’t hesitate to get a flight to Colombia for the three of them and, on the next day at 11:00 a.m., they were landing in Cartagena. What he told the Justices of the JEP is that he’s not sure if the materials all arrived in Colombia, but days later he did notice that one of Castaño’s subordinates had the same machine for securing weapons that he saw and purchased in the United States.
About payment for the weapons, Jorge 40 didn’t give much detail. He said that Mancuso had a credit card that Carlos Castaño had given him, and he had used that to pay for the communication equipment and the weapons. Regarding his connection with Castaño, he said it took shape in October of 1996 during a meeting where alias Gonzalo, aformer EPL commander, and Mancuso were present, but Mancuso only partially because he was coming and going, along with other people.
“I went to a meeting place in a district (corregimiento) called Volador on the shore of the Sinú River. There was a kiosk and there was just a gentleman who was in uniform. I was surprised by his height and his voice. It was Carlos Castaño. There were two people accompanying him and they had local accents. At that encounter, as Castaño was explaining his positions, he referred to the necessity in the country of a re-founding of the homeland (. . .) He said he could count on the participation of every Colombian, even his enemies, to go back to imposing a social Rule of Law,” related Rodrigo Tovar to the JEP.
In the midst of Castaño’s talking, according to Jorge 40, they were discussing matters like the absence of the government in some situations where its presence was necessary, and he took some people aside as a coalition, and he told them, “The omission of that social Rule of Law is mainly responsibile for this national tragedy. That omission has led to the creation of independent republics and it’s because of that situation that we are gathering the other Colombia to take up arms,” he explained.
Rodrigo Tovar, during his second session, seemed inhibited from taking up some issues, as, along with his team of lawyers, he worried that some key points relate to the still continuing investigations against him regarding the more than 700 acts of violence that he is being accused of committing after the end of his connection with the AUC. Justice Janeth Sánchez reproved him more than once for the language he was using in his testimony. She said that Tovar’s defense team ought to make a list of the issues that have to be approached with confidentiality, so that he would be able to talk freely.
The hearing of this Friday was suspended without the setting of a definite date for its continuation. However, the Justices made clear that the maximum period for his next appearance would be February 20. The Transitional Justice System gave Tovar this ultimatum because it’s the only opportunity for him to tell the truth about the events that occurred within the framework of the armed conflict, and to convince the JEP that his contribution could aid in the clarification of many violent acts that were committed by the organization he belonged to in conjunction with the Armed Forces.