By Elvira Sánchez-Blake, RevistaRAYA, May 19, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Today, May 19, marks 26 years of impunity for the murder of Mario Calderón, Elsa Alvarado, and her father, Carlos Alvarado. One of the thousands of crimes against defenders of the environment, social causes, and the communities that remain relevant after the testimony by the former paramilitary boss, Salvatore Mancuso, before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.
Mancuso’s statements before the JEP constitute an extremely serious issue: the connivance of the Armed Forces, business owners, and the government with the paramilitary groups for the purpose of eliminating everybody that opposed their interests. Mancuso’s testimony highlights the fact that those activities were carried out under the presumption that they were combating the guerrillas and eliminating the guerrillas’ networks of support. But their real purpose was to appropriate those strategic territories to control the drug market and the routes used for the drug business. The former boss of one of the bloodiest Blocs of the Self-Defense Forces has revealed that its operations were supported with training, weapons, logistics, troops, and financing by the elected national administrations and by companies in the major forces of the country. In his testimony, he mentions the numerous members of the Armed Forces that were instrumental in the persecution and murder of leaders, students, professors, journalists, and anybody they suspected of disagreeing with the Self-Defense Forces’ policy of territorial and social control.
Mancuso’s testimony permitted me to identify precise details that are part of the research I did for my book “Suma Paz: La utopía de Mario Calderón and Elsa Alvarado” (Icono 2001). In particular, I established that the EPL guerrilla fighters had joined the Self-Defense Forces as a condition of their process of demobilization. That explains why Don Berna, who had been a guerrilla fighter in the EPL, had followed the orders from Carlos Castaño to coordinate the execution of the crime, using his gang of hired killers, La Terraza. Besides that, Mancuso stated that Tierralta, Córdoba, was a strategic area for AUC operations, and he admitted that the Emberá Katios were victims of a campaign of extermination because they opposed the hydro-electric project at Urrá. That’s why Mario Calderón, a great defender of those groups and an opponent of the construction of the dam received threats and had to flee from Tierralta after the atrocious murder of his parish comrade, Sergio Restrepo Jaramillo, in 1989.
Mancuso reported that the human rights organizations created inconvenience by filing complaints about the paramilitaries’ crimes before international agencies. That confirms the theory that Cinep was identified as a military objective, and that the murder of Mario Calderón was because of dislike and revenge against the Center. From Mancuso’s reference to the collaboration between governmental entities like the Attorney General’s Office and the DAS (now-defunct Administrative Department of Security), which furnished intelligence and support for the paramilitaries, we understand why the hired killers carried out the crime while wearing uniforms of the CIT (Technical Investigation Corps) of the Attorney General’s Office. One issue in particular was what had happened to the cell phone that one of the hit men left behind in the foyer of the building after killing Mario, Elsa, and Don Carlos. The search of the cell phone by the Attorney General’s Office was used to redirect the investigation and point to the possibility of other guilty parties, while in reality, it now proves that members of the Attorney General’s Office were involved in the crime.
When Mancuso speaks of alliances with the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and about the participation of its directors in intercepting phone calls, stalking, and military intelligence, it confirms the persecution suffered by many members of Cinep. Clearly, Cinep was under a microscope, and they knew that. That’s why they pointed out from the beginning that the paramilitary organizations were responsible for the killing of Mario and Elsa. All of that ratifies the participation, not only of the DAS, but also of the Attorney General’s Office in the execution of the crime. They were two organizations with a broad range of activities and direct relationships with the criminal organizations of that time.
Mancuso’s testimony uncovers the structure of the relationship between the paramilitaries and the Armed Forces. In several legal settings, he refers to the collaboration of Pedro Juan Moreno Villa, the Secretary to the Governor of Antioquia at that time, Álvaro Uribe Vélez. According to Mancuso, Pedro Juan was a close friend and collaborator with the Self-Defense Forces; he visited Castaño frequently, and he gave them information, lists of military objectives, and weapons. He also gave those things to José Miguel Narváez, an instructor in the Superior College of War, who was in charge of delivering the list of victims to Carlos Castaño. When Mancuso was asked specifically about the case of Mario Calderón and Elsa Alvarado, he responded, “That case was managed by Commander Carlos Castaño, using the La Terraza gang.” The mention of the strategic locations where they made decisions coincides with the testimony of a witness in my investigation. He stated that it was a farm in San Pedro de Urabá where they planned the murder of four personalities that they committed between 1997 and 1999, Mario Calderón, Eduardo Umaña Mendoza, Jesús María Valle, and Jaime Garzón. However, the question of who gave the order, still has no answer.
The case of Mario and Elsa, which took place on May 19, 1997, is one of thousands and thousands of killings, massacres, and disappearances that were going on for four decades. Mancuso’s testimony, as he tries to obtain acceptance by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, is in agreement with the complaints and testimonies by many of the people involved. That’s why it’s credible, even though it still deserves punishment.
It’s blood-curdling to realize that we have lived under a narco-state where atrocities comparable to the Nazi Holocaust have been committed. From crematory ovens, selective murders, common graves, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and persecutions of social leaders and defenders of the environment. While the government ordered fumigation of coca plantings with glyphosate, and bombarded territories inhabited by campesinos and indigenous people under orders from the DEA, the governing and business classes of the country were wallowing in the earnings from the drug traffic in association with the Armed Forces and the clans in charge of protecting their interests and pursuing their detractors.
In my book, “Suma Paz: La utopía de Mario Calderón y Elsa Alvarado”, I emphasize the importance of knowing the truth in order to heal the pain of these and other cases that remain in impunity. Mancuso’s testimony offers a valuable contribution to the unraveling of the causes and dynamics that were operating and still persist in the political/military structures of this country.