EL ESPECTADOR, May 15, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Salvatore Mancuso’s third hearing before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) commences this Monday. He hopes to provide new information so that he will be admitted to the Special Jurisdiction.

After giving information, we see that most of it had already been provided in earlier proceedings, like how the Convivir were a façade to permit the expansion and strengthening of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the country, and how they put together joint operations that included both the paramilitaries and the Armed Forces of Colombia. This Monday the former paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso will attend the third session of the single hearing for the truth to which he had been summoned by the by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. This is his last opportunity to be admitted to the Transitional Justice System. On this occasion, it’s expected that the former paramilitary boss will talk about the alliances between paramilitaries, government officials, civilians, and the Armed Forces.

On the first day of this hearing, which took place last Wednesday, May 10, the former paramilitary leader recounted how they had established connections between the Convivir and the Armed Forces. As part of that, he referred to the influence of political clans in different parts of the country in promoting the paramilitaries, and he mentioned, as he has done at other opportunities, that the AUC relied on the Gnecco political clan in Cesar Department, especially on Jorge Gnecco Cerchar, who also occupied political offices in the Department, and was part of the paramilitary organization. He was actually murdered by that same group of criminals in August of 2001.

The next day, on May 11, Mancuso returned to the hearing before the JEP and related how Venezuelan politicians and generals proposed to the Self-Defense Forces that they should carry out a coup and overthrow then-President Hugo Chávez, who has since died. He also described what he alleged to be a faked demobilization of the EPL guerrillas.

El Roble and the prosecutor Paternina

Justice Pedro Elías Díaz, during the investigative hearing, asked Salvatore Mancuso about his responsibility in the murder of the former Mayor of El Roble (Sucre Department), Eudaldo “Tito” Díaz. Mancuso responded that the murder “was a direct request from the Governor (Salvador Arana). After then-President Uribe ordered his security team taken away, we killed him,” Mancuso said. He then said that he had another piece of new information on that case, but that he would provide it in a confidential situation, as it dealt with “delicate information.”

David Díaz, one of the sons of Eudaldo “Tito” Díaz, was present at the hearing in Montería. Minutes after hearing Mancuso’s testimony, David broke down emotionally and had to leave the chamber for a few minutes. After hearing that confession, he did not return. El Espectador was able to talk with Díaz a few minutes before the session, and he said that he hoped that Mancuso would explain his role in the murder of his father.

In this same case, the former Governor of Sucre, Salvador Arana, was sentenced in 2009 to 40 years in prison for ordering the murder of Mayor Díaz. At present, Arana is appearing before the JEP, and in a recent interview with this newspaper, he said that he did not intend to take any “secrets to his grave”, and that he is disposed to tell the truth to the Transitional Justice System. David Díaz, the victim who took part in this hearing, stated that he is working with the former Governor on a plan of reparation for his family. It would include the construction of a training center to be used by SENA (National Apprenticeship Service).

The Justice also requested new information about the murder of the prosecutor Yolanda Paternina. She was killed in 2001, and at that time had been investigating the events surrounding the massacres at Macayepo (October 2000), Chengue (February 2021), and Ovejas (January 2021). All of them were perpetrated by paramilitaries in the departments of Sucre and Bolívar. However, he just said that, for now, he would have to do a thorough analysis to determine if he did have any additional information.

The role played by the communications media

The former paramilitary boss talked about the role of journalism in making the statements of the paramilitaries known throughout the country. He said he had stayed in permanent contact because the communications media were very interested in learning what was going on “at the level of prominence that we had in the armed conflict.” Mancuso said he had had permanent contact with the local newspaper El Meridiano in Córdoba, but that several media at the national level complained to him for giving priority to a regional paper.

In the next item, Mancuso gave details about how they had stigmatized various social organizations that had complained about the paramilitaries’ barbarity, including the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) headed by Gustavo Gallón; the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners; and the José Álvear Restrepo Attorneys Collective (specifically against Attorney Alirio Uribe). Besides identifying José Miguel Narváez, the former Assistant Director of Intelligence for the DAS (Department of Administrative Security), he testified that he had received intelligence information from the Police and the Army in order to “tag” those sectors and stigmatize them.

Regarding that episode, amply documented, we know that several crimes ordered by the paramilitaries were carried out by the gang of paid “hit men”, La Terrazza. However, the main window in that story is knowing that the military supported and collaborated on murders like that of Jaime Garzón, Eduardo Umaña, Jesús María Valle, and the CINEP investigators Elsa Alvarado and Mario Calderón. Now Mancuso still continues without furnishing any information about that, or he just repeats information that is already reposing in court files.

Postobón supposedly was paying the AUC ten million pesos per month (roughly USD $5,000 at exchange rates of the time)

During the hearing Mancuso also referred to the relationship that several businesses in the country had with the Self-Defense Forces, helping them to achieve their consolidation. First of all, he referred to Fedegan (National Cattle Ranchers Association) and the Cattle Ranchers Fund in Córdoba. He said there were several meetings with the former president of the cattle ranching business, Jorge Visbal, and Rodrigo García, Manager of Fedegan. According to Mancuso, the convicted former Minister of Justice, Sabas Pretelt, also attended the meetings. “At those meetings, Dr. Jorge Visbal requested the presence of Self-Defense Forces, and the same thing happened with the merchants and the transportation businesses.

Regarding Ecopetrol, Mancuso said that he gave that business information about what kind of fuel was going to be bombed, and the days on which that would happen, and it allowed them to help themselves to fuel. He said that had been agreed with high officials, but he didn’t furnish any names.

As to Bavaria, he said the paramilitaries had received payments from that business, and in exchange, it was allowed to sell its products in areas where the Self-Defense Forces were present. The same thing with Postobón, Mancuso said. He said they paid the paramilitaries ten million pesos per month (roughly USD $5,000 at the exchange rate at that time) and that was based on a specific agreement, but he didn’t furnish any names either, and promised that he would do so in the future.

Faced with Mancuso’s attitude, Justice Pedro Díaz reminded him that he would have to provide new elements if he wanted to be admitted to the JEP. “I will ask you, please, that you will have to contribute the events and the people involved. The Appeals Branch has identified some conditions so that the information you furnish can be effective right now and can allow us to find out whether you know more about this. That is material because it will permit the investigators to examine whether you are eligible to be admitted to the JEP,” explained the Justice.

“We intervened in the congressional elections of 2002”, Mancuso

During the hearing, Mancuso reaffirmed what he himself had said before Peace and Justice Tribunal in previous years about the fact that the Self-Defense Forces had supported the presidential candidacies of Horacio Serpa, who ran for president three times but was never elected (1998, 2002, 2006), Andrés Pastrana, who served as President from 1998-2002, and Álvaro Uribe, who was President of Colombia from 2002 to 2010.

“It was for those elections, even in 2002, and that’s something important to know because it happened not only at the regional, but also at the national level. The Self-Defense Forces intervened directly in the elections for Congress in March 2002, and we also intervened directly in the May elections for President,” explained Mancuso.

During his testimony, Mancuso also reiterated that all of the politicians were required to make an agreement with the Self-Defense Forces before they would be allowed to operate in the region. Among the politicians he mentioned were Miguel Alfonso de la Espriella, Mario Salomón Náder, Juan Manuel Cabrales, and Julio Manzur, all of whom have been convicted and sentenced.

Joint operations

After a legal act accomplished by two women who were victims of the Las Brisas massacre, which took place March 11, 2000, and they performed a funeral ritual that tells the story of the massacre and of the displacement that they had to suffer, Mancuso admitted that it had been a joint operation between the Armed Forces and the paramilitaries. He also admitted that on many occasions when the paramilitaries committed murders, they were protected not only by the Police, but also by the military base in Tierralta, in Córdoba. “It’s true that we shared intelligence. It’s true that in operations like the one in Tierradentro, we were working together, and it’s true that I was a person who met together with all of the people; I went into their houses and ate what they ate.”

Mancuso immediately then referred to the activities of the paramilitaries in Norte de Santander. He confessed that in several of the massacres they carried out in 1999 in that part of the country, there was coordination with the Police and the Armed Forces. He identified Generals Fernando Roa Cuervo (now dead) and Colonel Victor Matamoros, but when he was asked for more names, he said he would produce them in private.

He said the same thing when he was asked about the massacre in El Aro, committed October 22, 1997 by paramilitaries of the Mining Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

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