EL ESPECTADOR, May 11, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Today, May 11, 2023, was the second hearing for former paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso to contribute truthful testimony to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace with the goal of having the Special Jurisdiction accept him. He offered to travel to Venezuelan territory to recover the bodies.

Starting yesterday, the Castaño brothers’ former right hand man is providing information—most of which he himself has already furnished in other legal settings—with the goal of being accepted to the JEP’s jurisdiction and thus receive certain legal benefits. But, according to the JEP, this former leader of paramilitaries will have to go further and furnish new data about who permitted the paramilitaries to expand in Colombia at the end of the ‘90’s and early 2000’s and how that was done.

This Thursday the former paramilitary boss recounted how Venezuelan generals and politicians proposed that the Self-Defense Forces carry out a coup to overthrow then-President Hugo Chávez, who has since died. He also spoke of a file which is still under consideration by the JEP and about the alleged faking of the demobilization of the EPL guerrillas.

Here is what Mancuso had to say:

The coup de etát

The hearing was almost over when, in answer to a question from the Inspector General, Mancuso told how Venezuelan generals and politicians proposed that the paramilitaries carry out a coup and overthrow the then-President of the country, Hugo Chávez, who has since died.

“At some point a Venezuelan General came along with his son and some politicians to make the proposal to Carlos Castaño and me. Even Jorge Iván Laverde accompanied them in the helicopter, or it was Armando Alberto that got them to Tierralta in Córdoba. They were proposing that we carry out a coup, along with some parts of the Venezuelan Armed Forces that were our allies, to overthrow and kill Hugo Chávez,” explained Mancuso.

Along those lines, the former paramilitary boss explained that the proposal came from the generals and the Venezuelan Armed Forces and the politicians, but it was not accepted by the Self-Defense Forces. “Carlos even made them kind of angry. He offered that if they would send us the men, we would train them so that they could carry out this coup against Hugo Chávez.”

The El Aro massacre

After lunchtime, Mancuso reiterated the information already known about the massacre at El Aro on October 22, 1997, when 12 people were slain and more than 1,000 were displaced. He said that the Self-Defense Forces of the Castaño family took part in that operation, as well as the Miners Bloc and the Córdoba Bloc, and there was coordination with the Armed Forces. “That included that they blocked traffic. They didn’t allow any mobility in certain corridors to enter the area,” said the former paramilitary boss.

Mancuso also talked about the expansion of the Self-Defense Forces to the Montes de María and the Dique Canal. On that point, he said that this paramilitary group was created in the area as a Front of the Northern Bloc after several meetings with the cattle ranchers. One of those, Jairo Pineda, who offered to give him some land, better than letting the guerrillas take it. He also mentioned that there was a Victor Carranza group in the area; it was in San Onofre. “The political military boss was Juan Pimiento. We called him Juancho Diablo. That group was organized with the Police Commander in San Onofre, and that’s how we were able to get to the area with the Dique Canal.” Mancuso had already related all of that previously.

After that, he referred to the joint operations by the paramilitaries with the Armed Forces that they had done in that area, but he didn’t provide any new details.

The demobilization of the EPL was a “farce”

Before lunchtime, Salvatore Mancuso spoke of a file that is being considered by the JEP: the alleged faked demobilization of the EPL guerrillas that were operating in Urabá during the ‘80’s and the ‘90’s. According to his testimony, there were some 240 guerrilla fighters that, instead of incorporating themselves into society, went into and strengthened the ranks of the Self-Defense Forces. Mancuso mentioned how one of the principal collaborators was General Leonardo Barrero Gordillo, then the Commander of Colombia’s Armed forces and at the time of the events being described, was the Commander of the Junín Battalion, headquartered in Córdoba.

Just recently, last January 31, the JEP summoned General Barrero to testify at a hearing about alleged connections with the paramilitaries. Now, Mancuso states that he supported the demobilization of the EPL at the end of the ‘90’s, and that he supported choking off the residents of Alto Sinú, keeping them from bringing any food into their houses, with the objective of getting rid of the EPL guerrillas. He only gave food to the campesinos and indigenous people who reported insurgents within their territory. Boatmen were killed if they refused to answer questions from the Army and the paramilitaries, according to Mancuso.

After that, Mancuso accused high levels in the administration of President Ernesto Samper. He said that the paramilitaries themselves had met with Horacio Serpa, who has since died. At that time, Serpa had been Minister of Interior and Minister of Government. “We went to talk with Horacio Serpa, whom Castaño had known by way of (unintelligible) Henao, who was a drug trafficker who had helped in the presidential election with funds from drug trafficking. In that operation, Serpa designated Carlos Rangel, Secretary-General of the Ministry, to take part in the demobilization of the EPL because the EPL was scattered.”

Among the members of the military that he mentioned insistently were Barrero Gordillo and Colonel Leonardo Ortíz Chavarro, Commander of the 11th Brigade of the Colombian Army in 1996, also with an open file in the JEP. In the helicopters they commanded, said Mancuso, they carried out the phony demobilization of the troops of alias “El Negro Sarley”, a former member of the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, and the Clan del Golfo. They collected them at the port of Chibogadó on the shores of the Sinú River, as far as the Jaraguay ranch, near to the Castaños’ property. There, Mancuso explained, they had collected the best of the EPL’s weapons, and they turned them over to the Self-Defense Forces. They gave the guerrilla fighters the paramilitaries’ worn-out weapons to turn over officially in the demobilization.

“Commander Carlos Castaño spoke directly to Minister Serpa, and told him that we were going to push these operations forward and that he should help with that. He told him that he would send a person that would help with the demobilization that he was going to do along with the Army. (. . .) It’s important to point out that Daniel García Peña, Hernán Gómez, Carlos Rangel Miguel Campo, Tomás Concha, had no idea of the illegality of the demobilization. But their boss, Minister Serpa, did know, and the military knew also,” Mancuso told the JEP concerning this chapter that was being investigated. When the Justices asked him to give the names of the high-ranking military officers, the criminal boss answered, “in a closed hearing.”

Among the particular events in Mancuso’s testimony is that, in this game of a faked demobilization, Juan de Dios Úsuga, alias “Giovanny”, (killed in combat in 2012) and Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel” (extradited), maximum leaders of the Clan del Golfo, were involved. To reinforce his theory about the faked demobilization of the EPL, Mancuso recalled that only two months later, in 1997, Otoniel was still the commander of the troops that had been sent to the interior of the country and that perpetrated one of the most brutal massacres in the history of this country: the one at Mapiripán (Meta Department). It left nearly 50 campesinos killed, hundreds of victims displaced, and the conviction of Colombia in the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.

Mass graves in Venezuela

That paramilitary invasion in which, according to Mancuso, “we were all together, all mixed in together with the soldiers,” there were hundreds of victims, and by orders of Carlos Castaño and the Army, they told us to get rid of the bodies. The same thing happened in several areas of Catatumbo where they started incinerating the bodies of the people that were killed. But several communities, Mancuso said, started complaining about that macabre practice, and they decided just to toss them over the border with Venezuela. “Several members of the Self-Defense Forces went to Venezuelan territory and got rid of the bodies (. . .) that’s why one of my commitments is to be able to recover those bodies. Those disappearances took place between 2000 and 2001,” affirmed Mancuso.

He added that in 2001 the Attorney General’s Office had almost found a common grave where some 50 people were buried. It was just like the clandestine cemetery that the AUC had at that time in Villa del Rosario, Norte de Santander Department. “When that operation was going on, since 2001, 2002, they brought those bodies and they incinerated them in those crematory ovens and we also installed another one on a farm in Puerto Santander. In the town of Juan Río at a place known as Trapiche Viejo, there was one of the ovens that were being used to make people disappear.”


Special Jurisdiction for Peace, May 11, 2023

Answering @JEP, Colombia

“When we got to Cesar we met with all of the rich people in Cesar. It was Jorge Gnecco who organized that meeting. Jorge Gnecco even facilitated all of the houses where we had our center of operations. It was in the best neighborhood of Valledupar, Novalito,” said Mancuso.


Special Jurisdiction for Peace

@JEP Colombia

While giving more details about transferring the bodies to Venezuela, Mancuso recounted that, “it was coordinated by the military, I don’t have the names, but there were cemeteries there with at least 200 victims in San Cristóbal, Ureña, San Antonio, La Fría, and Boca de Grita (Táchira State).”

12:13 p.m.  May 11, 2023

When they asked him about who it was in the Colombian government that was pressuring to get rid of the bodies, Mancuso said that all of the military command knew about the joint armed actions and the forced disappearances. When the Justices in the case asked that he provide specific names, he said that he would prefer to do that in a closed hearing, but he assured them that the pressures increased in the transition between the administration of Andrés Pastrana and the incoming administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

This is how they prepared the operations with the military

Salvatore Mancuso started this next session by pointing out that they planned multiple operations together with the Armed Forces and he was precise about how they supported the construction of the Urrá dam in Córdoba. He said that, in 1994, together with General Julio Charry Solano, an operation set out from Tierralta, Córdoba and went to Urabá and there they coordinated operations with two captains: Sánchez and Camelo, but Mancuso didn’t give their full names. “It was a trip that we made in helicopters to the Army’s 17th Brigade and at that time we talked to the Commander, I can’t remember his name, but it’s easy to identify the year that took place. This is new; this wasn’t previously known,” said Mancuso.

He mentioned a high official of whom he has spoken previously in his first hearing before the JEP: Major Walter Frattini of Army Intelligence. Mancuso stated that after his death, which happened in 1993 in a helicopter accident, other members of the military, including colonels, captains, and lieutenants, supported the paramilitary group commanded by Mancuso and the Castaños in Córdoba and other bordering departments, like Cesar, Bolívar, and Sucre. “A Major López, from Pasto, whom he had not spoken of before, helped us carry out an invasion against the guerrillas (apparently between Antioquia and Córdoba). This high official sat down with me and “Doble Cero” (“Double Zero”) to plan the operations. Army troops from the 11th and the 17th Brigades and more than 1,000 paramilitaries took part,” Mancuso explained.

He said that operation was for the purpose taking out the big chieftains of the FARC guerrillas, at the place where they had their center for planning and operations. He also said that the other purpose of that military movement was to protect the public and private infrastructure that could put the area’s economy at risk. The Justices of the Admissions Branch of the JEP noted that they moved about in helicopters, and they asked how they could do that without drawing the attention of the authorities. Mancuso answered with a story about one of the paramilitaries’ massacres that branded the history of the organization: El Salado.

“We flew almost touching the trees and that kept us out of the radar of the authorities. During the operation in El Salado an Armed Forces helicopter asked us to identify ourselves.  And I told him (on the radio) who we were and that we were both part of the same cause. The pilot could have shot us down, but he didn’t. I had trained the Armed Forces pilots in flying helicopters, in intelligence, using long guns, in everything,” Mancuso claimed. In the case of the incursion into Catatumbo and Cucutá, Mancuso said that it was all coordinated with Generals Mario Fernando Roa (who died in 2022), Victor Hugo Matamoros, and Mauricio Llorente Chávez. Mancuso has been mentioning them since 2009.

This is how the hearing was prepared

For several months, the Justices of the Definition of Legal Situations Branch of the JEP have been studying voluminous files in order to understand the context of the things that Mancuso would be talking about, but above all to have a clear understanding of what Mancuso’s real contribution to the whole truth might be. The Justices decided on four criminal practices. The first, which he talked about yesterday, has to do with the criminal scheme that allowed the Convivir to be a façade for paramilitary activity; the second is related to joint operations between paramilitaries and the Armed Forces; the third is to seek information about alliances with officials, civilians, paramilitaries, and the Armed Forces; and the fourth is about the leaking of information by the DAS (now-defunct Administrative Department of Security) for counter-insurgency purposes. With regard to each of those, Mancuso will have to speak and answer more than 20 questions that the JEP has now prepared.

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