By Alfredo Molano and José Guarnizo (Vorágine), CAMBIOColombia, November 19, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The former paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso has accused former President Álvaro Uribe of the murder of human rights defender Jesús María Valle and in the massacre at El Aro in Ituango, Antioquia Department.

CAMBIO and VORÁGINE have revealed exclusively the complete testimony Mancuso gave in closed hearings before the JEP. He incriminated former President Álvaro Uribe in the murder of human rights defender Jesús María Valle and in the planning of the massacre at El Aro. He mentioned 16 generals, 18 colonels, Pastrana, Serpa and Naranjo, and Lafaurie.

In three days of closed sessions before the JEP, Mancuso did a u-turn from his habitual testimonies. For the first time, he connected the former President directly to the massacre at El Aro and to the murder of human rights defender Jesús María Valle Jaramillo. He gave previously unknown details about the political campaigns that brought Uribe to the Presidency and to his re-election, and he revealed the names of military and police officials, prosecutors and business owners who were in the service of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC in Spanish).

The content of the three single hearings by the former paramilitary boss, and which CAMBIO and VORÁGINE can now reveal, could change the direction of the investigations that have remained in impunity for decades. The newness of what he has furnished and the evidence that supports his statements are believed by the Justices of the JEP to be sufficient to open the door of the Peace Tribunal to Mancuso as one whose appearance the Court can accept. His acceptance means that there is now a new horizon for the legal elucidation of the armed conflict, because there is a living paramilitary of the highest rank who is now involving the political, economic, and military elite of Colombia in his accusations.

Mancuso warns that 15 witnesses to Uribe’s actions have already been murdered

It was on the third day of the closed hearing that Mancuso broke with protocol and let the Justices know how nervous he felt about what he was going to tell them, and how worried he was about his safety and his family’s safety after his testimony.

“We have planned on providing a clear and specific contribution today, new and very interesting information, and also pretty dangerous, because it connects people that we have complained about for years and who have basically dedicated themselves to eliminating, to getting rid of, anybody that has dared to complain about the kinds of alliances that we are seeing in the case of former President Uribe,” he said.

Then he immediately stated that 15 witnesses who have dared to talk about the former President have been murdered. And he told the Justices that he was very worried about his children’s and his ex-wife’s security situation, because what he was about to say would have consequences.

He involves Uribe in Valle’s murder

Without any preamble, Mancuso said he had information involving Uribe in the murder of human rights defender Jesús María Valle. “He was involved (Uribe) in a meeting where Carlos Castaño was with the Uribe Secretary of Government, Pedro Juan Moreno ( . . . ) Pedro Juan was basically asking him to carry out this action because the human rights defender kept making frontal attacks, not only on Uribe, but also on him and on General Carlos Alberto Ospina and another general whose name I can’t remember right now.”

Jesús María Valle was a humanist and a lawyer born in Ituango, who in the last few days had been dedicating himself to complaining publicly that members of the Colombian Army had taken part in the massacre at El Aro in Ituango, Antioquia, which was carried out between October 22 and October 26 of 1997. Fifteen campesinos were killed in the paramilitary incursion. Not only in the communications media, but also in the various prosecutors’ offices, the human rights defender had kept filing reports containing evidence to support his complaints.

Four months after the massacre, Valle was shot to death at his office in downtown Medellín. Three hit men had gone after him and subdued him; they used their shoelaces to tie his hands, they made him lie on his stomach, and they shot him in the head.

According to Mancuso’s testimony, the murder of Valle had been planned at the Hojaragüai Ranch, which, in the ranks of the paramilitaries, was known as Seven. That’s where Carlos Castaño got together with Pedro Juan Moreno, who was Secretary of Government in the Department while Uribe was Governor. “Pedro Juan was speaking for Uribe and for the generals I’m telling you about, because Valle was attacking them directly; he had even filed criminal and public complaints,” Mancuso said. He, Mancuso, is the one who took charge of picking up Moreno at the Five Thirteen Ranch and taking him to Seven for the meeting, crossing the river on a ferryboat.

Mancuso related that he, himself, took part in the meeting, which lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. He said that for a moment or two, he lost the thread of the conversation between Castaño and Pedro Juan when he was called on the radio to resolve an issue with his troops.

Pedro Juan Morena Villa, whom Mancuso mentions several times, was a harsh man with a volcanic temper. He had been in charge of the creation of the Convivirs in Uribe’s administration. Those cooperatives ended up legalizing paramilitarism in some parts of the Department.

Moreno died in a plane crash on February 24, 2006, when he was traveling from Medellín to Mutatá in a helicopter, while he was campaigning for a seat in Colombia’s Senate. At that time, Moreno had become Uribe’s enemy, after having been his confidant for years. The former Secretary of Government went from being the depositary of Uribe’s most intimate secrets to being his most bitter enemy.

Pedro Juan Moreno himself, according to Mancuso, was the one that carried former President Uribe’s directions to the paramilitaries. He did it, said Mancuso, in order to get them to carry out the massacre at El Aro.

“La Granja (a massacre) and El Aro (a massacre)—those were also requested directly by Governor Uribe through Pedro Juan Moreno, who is the one who put the meeting together; Carlos was there, I was, Rodrigo Doble Cero was there, I don’t know if Monoleche was there or not, there were several people there, Nicolás Bergonzoli, several people were there.

This is how El Aro was planned, according to Mancuso

At the beginning of 1997, when then-Governor Álvaro Uribe was concluding his term, they had been planning, according to Mancuso, a military operation to make an example of the people that were living around the Cauca River at the place where, later on, Hidroituango was built. Plans for the massacres of La Granja and El Aro had been developed in the offices of the Colombian Army’s 4th Brigade in Medellín, at the order of Governor Uribe.

“The first planning was started after I had gone to General Manosalva’s office, an arrangement made through General Iván Ramírez ( . . . ) He had left, and I met with General Manosalva, planning the operation (of the El Aro massacre) with satellite cards on the table in the conference room that he had there to make decisions about where we were ( . . . ) we exchanged intelligence information, we got out some plans that he had there, he showed me the location, he showed me the orders, the details, information on encampments, support, mobile corridors. “He explained it all to me,” Mancuso told the Justices of the JEP.

Mancuso said that everything that Manosalva had given him, it was later when Carlos Castaño and Vicente Castaño met to finish perfecting the plan for the incursion in Ituango. “What’s new here is that when Manosalva died, the one who completed the planning of the operation was General Ospina, with Doble Cero.”

One of the Justices asked, “Which Ospina?”

Mancuso responded, “The one who later became the Commander of Colombia’s Armed Forces.”

Alfonso Manosalva Flórez was the Commander of the 4th Brigade until April 20, 1997, the day he died, apparently of an aneurysm. Retired General Iván Ramírez Quintero, for his part, has now been accepted by the JEP because of events related to the extermination of members of the Patriotic Union Party. Ramírez Quintero, according to Mancuso’s revelations, is one of the high officials of the Colombian Army that played a leading role in the linkages with the paramilitaries.

Mancuso went further and even maintained that there was a direct encounter with Uribe at his ranch at Ubérrimo in 1996, before the massacre. “Uribe met with me, and I met with Colonel Raúl Suárez, the Police Commander in Córdoba. He took me to the ranch to meet with Uribe, who was Governor at that time, and he was always aware of the El Aro operation.”

The former paramilitary insisted that Pedro Juan Moreno was the one who requested, on behalf of the Governor, that the El Aro massacre be carried out.

“They wanted to do El Aro ever since 1996, when in a meeting in General Manosalva’s office, I met with General Ramírez, among other things ( . . . ) it was Iván Ramírez who told me to organize it and coordinate it with the operation that Pedro Juan Moreno was asking for, and Pedro Juan Moreno came in the name of the Governor.”

Mancuso says they were supported by a helicopter from the Governor’s office.

The Justices of the JEP wanted to dig deeper into the reasons for the commission of the massacre. And Mancuso explained that in that area the FARC had an impenetrable fortress where they took the people they had kidnapped on the highway between Medellín and Caucasia and between Yarumal and Caucasia. “They had a base that was like a prison; they kept the people the FARC had kidnapped, so when they gave us that information, we planned the operation, we had never been inside there,” he said.

The objective of the operation was to unleash terror on the population and take away the base of support for the guerrillas. His narrative is brutal:

“You don’t only put in practice a theater of operations, but rather, you set up a theater of terror, just as horrible as that sounds ( . . . ) You have to terrify them so much that they either stop supporting the guerrillas or they leave the area, or you shoot them all. As crude as that sounds, the operations are a punishment; you impose the terror, and then we are able to leave the area.”

In his testimony, the former paramilitary boss also revealed that in the El Aro massacre, they were able to count on aerial support, and that he, himself, had piloted one of the helicopters. “I went to get more munitions, and to take out some wounded and dead. There was also a guerrilla helicopter in the area, and I’m sure it was doing the same thing we were doing. A helicopter from the Governor’s Office and a Colombian Army helicopter were also flying over the scene.”

One of the Justices asked him, “Which Governor’s Office?”

To which, Mancuso responded “The one in Antioquia.”

Mancuso explained that the Governor’s helicopter and the Army’s helicopter were providing logistical support for the operation. “We hadn’t asked for the Army helicopter; it was certainly requested by somebody from the Army troops that were in the area, because they were supporting us. As the operation was planned, we went in, and they blocked the entrances. They didn’t go in at all, in fact; they wanted to keep anybody else from coming in. They prevented access by the Red Cross, by the Ombudsman’s Office, or by anybody that was headed there. Nobody could enter until we had left the area.”

Iván Ramírez is the General who threatened Mancuso

Mancuso describes General Iván Ramírez Quintero, one of the Army officers with the longest career in military intelligence, as a dangerous man, who had even threatened him just two weeks after the judicial investigation. Mancuso holds Ramírez responsible for being one of the architects of the alliance between the Colombian military and the paramilitaries. Sometimes he calls him “Don Iván”.

“What’s going on with Iván Ramírez? Why is everybody afraid of him but won’t say anything?” Mancuso asks rhetorically at the hearing. And he answered his own question: “Because they know how thin-skinned the General is. Among other things, he was one of the people who threatened me recently.”

According to Mancuso, months before the closed hearing, Ramírez told him to say absolutely nothing whatsoever about him, “and he told me that I know the consequences if I do that. He knows everybody’s story because he was in the middle of those intelligence battalions that were making all those interceptions. He knows who did good and who did bad about everybody at certain levels and in certain important positions.” And he added, “He knows more than anybody about the close connections between the legal and the illegal doings in the armed conflict. He was one of the ones that were managing it from the inside, and he was in charge of the military forces that had that relationship with us.”

The relationship between the Colombian Armed Forces and the paramilitaries was not just knit together through joint operations, logistical support, and exchange of information. Mancuso said that the commanders of the Self-Defense Forces even had influence on who was promoted and who was booted out of the Colombian military, according to paramilitary needs. In that particular segment, he mentioned an episode that Ramírez was involved in when he was the head of intelligence. He recounted how a Colonel named Carlos Alfonso Velásquez was removed from his post on the orders of Carlos Castaño. The big boss of the AUC had asked Ramírez to get rid of that officer and, according to Mancuso, that’s what was done.

I gave 2,000 million pesos (roughly USD $1,000,000 at exchange rates of that time) to Uribe’s campaign

In the “parapolitica” situation, it was evident that the paramilitaries were not just an army, but an organization with a vocation to hold power. At the time, the paramilitary bosses said they had control of 40% of the Congress and of too many mayors and governors to count.

At the hearing, Mancuso said that the Self-Defense Forces received confidential information from the Election Registry about the election tables and about the candidates they were supposed to help get elected to Congress. “I’m telling you, they made agreements, first with the Members of Congress. That manipulation of information was done by our troops directly at the voting tables staffed by the poll workers.” The system they used was that of voting as substitutes for the people who had not come to the polls to vote. Those ballots were marked for the candidates that favored the paramilitaries and they were put in the ballot boxes with anybody’s signature.

He also talked about the Presidential election of 2002 when Uribe was first elected. He said that the paramilitaries furnished 300,000 votes for Uribe, and that he, himself met with José María Maroso, Uribe’s campaign manager in Córdoba Department. I gave him 2,000 million pesos (roughly USD $1,000,000 at the exchange rate of that time) directly for his campaign. That has never been told before; it’s something new, and it’s dangerous,” he added.

Besides financing Uribe’s campaign with money, Mancuso said that the paramilitaries helped with transportation and logistical services when communities were forced to go and vote. He said they even ordered a reduction of violence at election time. “What people don’t know is about the money and the agreements that we made. Pedro Juan Moreno came to where we were before the election to ask us not to do any multiple operations, massacres, because that would be prejudicial to Uribe’s campaign for President right at that time. Regarding the support by the Self-Defense Forces for Uribe’s re-election in 2006, Mancuso said, “At a meeting with all of the commanders that were already demobilized, that took place in Villa Esperanza in Antioquia, the Minister, Sabas Pretelt, asked that we support Uribe openly in the second election, just as we had done in the first one.”

Mancuso also connected Pretelt with some meetings they had to promote Mario Iguarán’s candidacy for Attorney General. “We had the idea of supporting Jorge Pretelt because he was from Córdoba but Minister Sabas talked with us, and once he even sent me to José Félix Lafaurie with whom we made a list of political people that could influence some Justices of the Supreme Court of Justice.”  Pretelt and Lafaurie wanted Mario Iguarán to be chosen Attorney General.

Mancuso said that in 2005 he met twice with the President of Fedegan who is now a negotiator for peace with the ELN. The leader of the cattle ranchers asked him to support Iguarán, but Mancuso refused, because he was afraid he would be expelled from Peace and Justice—he was already demobilized. With Mancuso’s refusal, “they went to Carlos Mario Jiménez, alias Macaco. He participated in a very special way in the election of Mario Iguarán. It’s important that they consulted him, because he had a lot to do with it; he even furnished some funds for that selection.”

Pastrana, Serpa, Naranjo, and Barrero, the others mentioned by Mancuso

The former paramilitary commander explored in detail the relationship of the organization with politicians like Horacio Serpa and former President Andrés Pastrana. He told how in 1998 the paramilitaries supported Serpa in the first round, because he had taken part in the fake demobilization with the EPL in 1995. “Carlos Castaño said that it was much better to negotiate with Horacio Serpa, that he was a person already well-known; had connections with the drug traffickers, and it was much easier for him to exert pressure and make deals.” According to Mancuso, Castaño and Serpa were first introduced in Cali by Orlando Henao, a drug dealer from Norte del Valle who, according to Mancuso, financed Samper’s campaign.

However, said Mancuso, Castaño and Serpa fell out, and became enemies; the Commander of the paramilitaries finally ordered them to support Andrés Pastrana.

The relationship with Pastrana also left their mark on Mancuso’s testimony. He said that when Pastrana became President, he appointed Luis Carlos Ordosgoitia as the government’s interlocutor with the AUC. He was a former Member of Congress from Córdoba who had been convicted for the so-called “Ralito Agreement”. At that time, the peace process in Caguán was stalled, and through Ordosgoitia, the government proposed to negotiate with the AUC. “Pastrana wanted us to get in contact with Gabriel García Márquez, with the former President of Spain, Felipe González ( . . . ) He wanted us to clear out of southern Bolívar, but we didn’t accept that.”

As for the high-ranking military that maintained relationships with the AUC, in all of the three sessions, Mancuso mentioned 16 generals of the Army and Police, and 18 colonels, and too many majors and captains to count.

The Justices asked him for the names and complete identities of the generals of the Army and the Police who had relationships with the Self-Defense Forces, and Mancuso answered him unhesitatingly, “the General Commander of the National Police, Rosso José Serrano, and the other one was the Commander of the Dijin,(Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol)  Oscar Naranjo, who became Vice President of Colombia.”

Among the Army generals highlighted by Mancuso for their close relationship with the paramilitaries were Iván Ramírez Quintero, Rito Alejo del Río, Leonardo Barrero, and Harold Bedoya. “We made a monthly payment to Colonel Barrero, I think it was 10 or 15 million pesos (roughly USD $5,000 or $7,500 at the exchange rates of that time) I don’t remember exactly. And to Major Sanabria.”

Barrero’s connection to the Self-Defense Forces started in Córdoba and Urabá in 1995, because he had headed up the fake demobilization of the EPL. It was an operation of exchanging bracelets where the guerrilla front was absorbed by the AUC. This constituted one of the most determinative pushes by the military for the expansion of paramilitarism throughout the country.

“Harold Bedoya, the Commander of the Armed Forces, knew all about it; the commander of the Ortíz Chavarro Brigade, Colonel Leonardo Barrero, who later was the Commander of the Armed Forces. He was able to use this later and throughout his military career, because he had all of our support in all of the territories and all of the locations where he was assigned. The Self-Defense Forces supported him in his operations until he became the Commander of the Armed Forces.

With these three explosive sessions, Salvatore Mancuso obtained his admission to the JEP. His commitment requires him to furnish support for all of his revelations, and to make a genuine contribution to the clarification of the phenomenon of paramilitarism. The acceptance of this former commander opens a very significant debate within the JEP, and opens a path for his return to Colombia, where he will have to prove everything he said about the structuring of the greatest and the most cruel armed group that has ever existed in Colombia.

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