By Alejandra Bonilla Mora, CAMBIOColombia, December 3, 2023


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

After Mancuso’s testimony before the JEP and the testimony of Álvaro Uribe to the prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office, the statements made by Diego Fernando Murillo, alias Don Berna in 2015 are receiving unexpected relevance. Don Berna admits that he was sought out to get the former paramilitary Francisco Villalba to retract his accusation of Uribe for attending meetings in advance of the massacre at El Aro.

The former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez testified in an investigation that the Attorney General’s Office is conducting of the massacres at El Aro and La Granja, both districts in Ituango, as well as the massacres at San Roque in 1996, and the murder of Jesús María Valle. Valle was a well-known human rights defender who had denounced publicly and filed criminal complaints stating that the paramilitaries and the Convivir were acting jointly and that the then-Governor of Antioquia and his Secretary of Government, Pedro Juan Moreno, had taken no action against it.

This is an investigation that includes not only these complaints, but also the complaints filed in 2011 and 2012 by Senator Iván Cepeda, who gave the prosecutors a copy of a series of interviews with former paramilitaries that connected the former President with the support and creation of the Self-Defense groups, and with the massacres cited above.

Added to that are several authenticated copies that had been prepared when the prosecutors heard testimony that tainted Uribe, Santiago Gallón Henao, and Juan Guillermo Villegas Uribe.

What exactly did they say about former President Uribe? CAMBIO is in possession of multiple testimonies (with the passage of time, some of those have already been published) which are centered specifically on matters like meetings with paramilitaries, the massacre at El Aro, and the creation of the Metro Bloc.

A little context

Uribe Vélez was the Governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997, when the situation of public order was a difficult one. There was a strong guerrilla presence in the Department, and the Convivirs had been put in place. These were cooperatives for surveillance and private security, created by the decree of President César Gaviria. Paramilitaries acted as legal representatives of many of these Convivirs, including Fredy Rendón Herrera, Salvatore Mancuso, and Rodrigo Pérez Álzate. Many of these were endorsed by Uribe when he was Governor.

The massacre of four people at La Granja took place on June 11, 1996. On July 13 and September 17 of that year there were the San Roque massacres. El Aro happened on October 22, 1997, where Mancuso’s men killed 15 people and provoked a massive displacement of people from that area. Between those crimes, people like Jesús María Valle were calling attention to the upsurge of paramilitarism and to the support of that upsurge by the Armed Forces. Valle also called attention to the more than 150 murders in the area since January of 1996.

On June 13, 1997, Valle gave this testimony to the prosecutors: “It’s mystifying how (the massacre at La Granja) could have been carried out without the Army and the Police being aware of it, and certainly without the Department’s Secretary of Government, Dr. Pablo Juan Moreno, being aware of it ( . . . ) Even before the massacre, there were rumors going around that the Municipality of Ituango was going to be visited by the Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá.”

In that testimony, Valle complained that the ACCU were camped at the urban perimeter of Ituango, and that he had reported that to Moreno, to General Manosalva, then the Commander of the 4th Brigade, and to Uribe in person. “I begged our Sr. Governor to protect the people of the Municipality from that armed paramilitary command which, in the presence of the Colombian Police and Army, had murdered several people. That command is continuing to operate right now in Ituango, and I personally filed a petition in writing to the Governor of Antioquia, and I have not received any response.”

Later on, the human rights defender told the Attorney General’s Office that, in his opinion, Governor Uribe “has committed an act of omission, and that Dr. Pablo Juan Moreno has done the same, acts of omission that border on the criminal.”

Mancuso, El Aro, and Uribe

In his secret testimony before the JEP—as disclosed by CAMBIO—Mancuso said that the order to kill Valle was given, allegedly, by Pedro Juan Moreno, “because the human rights defender was attacking them frontally, not only Uribe but also Moreno himself, and General Carlos Alberto Ospina and another general whose name I don’t remember just now.” Mancuso also said that the murder was planned at the La Siete ranch in a meeting with Pedro Juan Morena and Carlos Castaño that lasted 35 minutes.

Mancuso also accused Moreno of having ordered the massacres at La Granja and El Aro, and he testified that he had met with Uribe in 1996 at his ranch, and that Uribe “always knew about El Aro.” Mancuso’s testimonies against the former President and Moreno have been repeated in his testimony in the Peace and Justice tribunal. CAMBIO has a copy of testimony from November 2008 where Mancuso states that he met with Pedro Juan Moreno between 12 and 15 times.

“I met with Pedro Juan Moreno for the creation of the Convivir. Mine. The one that helped me create it was Pedro Juan Moreno. In the Ituango area, they were planning to create Convivirs in ’96 and they were asking for support. The Convivirs were facades for the Self-Defense Forces, to give them the appearance of legality. We were talking about the government’s paramilitaries,” said Mancuso.

On that occasion, Mancuso also said there had been meetings before and after the La Granja massacre, to talk about the incursion into El Aro. “Carlos Castaño, in a meeting we had with Pedro Juan, said they were planning that incursion there, because it was the place, the burrow in which the commanders there had been planning the operations that the guerrillas were carrying out. After the action in El Aro, there weren’t any more of the checkpoints that the guerrillas used to have in the road.”

Besides that, he indicated that he got to El Aro in a helicopter in the middle of the week (That massacre lasted several days.) when his men, he said, were already running out of ammunition. Mancuso said the helicopter belonged to the Self-Defense Forces but that there were three others in the area; one was from the Governor’s Office that was flying over the scene, and one that had come to pick up Iván Márquez.

There was one helicopter maybe yellow or orange, and that helicopter had been with us at various meetings we had in Urabá, close to the La 35 ranch. A humanitarian commission came in that helicopter to join Commander Castaño; they came in a helicopter from the Antioquia Governor’s Office,” he said then.

The testimony of Francisco Villalba

The presence of Pedro Juan Moreno in meetings where the massacres were being planned was also confirmed by the paramilitary, Francisco Villalba, who had been convicted in the El Aro massacre. He stated that Governor Uribe had also been present and that the incursion had been done to free several kidnap victims, including Mario Uribe, a cousin of the former President. He also indicated that the Governor’s Office helicopter was flying over the area, and he mentioned Santiago Uribe, the former President’s brother, as the owner of the paramilitary group known as “The Twelve Apostles”.

On February 15, 2008, while imprisoned at La Picota Prison, Villalba testified before the prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office. “Three days before that (the massacre at El Aro) Manosalva came, the one that later became a general. Ospina also was there, a Police commander, José Serrano, who said that there had been some kidnapping victims up there ( . . . ) Santiago Uribe and Álvaro Uribe, who became the Governor, were also there.”

(Transcript material omitted)

Villalba added that Santiago Uribe, who is now waiting to learn whether or not he will be charged with establishing Self-Defense Forces, knew him very well within the organization. With regard to Álvaro Uribe, he said that he got to know him after the massacre. “He introduced himself, he talked with us and he said that the operation had been a success, and that the kidnapping victims had gotten out safe and sound.” Later, he retracted what he had said, and he was killed in 2009.

Mancuso, in 2008, said that Villalba had made a mixture of truth and lies. In his testimony before the JEP, he said that Uribe allegedly did know about the incursion.

Don Berna admits that he pressured Villalba and offered him money

Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias Don Berna, stated on August 12, 2015, from a United States prison cell in Miami, that for him, the killing of Villalba was a “state crime”, related to the killing of Jesús María Valle, and had been ordered by Carlos Castaño at the request of Pedro Juan Moreno, because of the accusations he was making against Governor Uribe.

But perhaps more relevant than that testimony is the statement in which Don Berna says that, while he was in prison in Colombia he was sought out in the early months of 2008 by prosecutor Juan Carlos Goyeneche, who told him that “the Boss” was concerned about Villalba’s testimony. According to Don Berna, when he asked Goyeneche who he was referring to, his answer was that it was former President Álvaro Uribe.

Don Berna was also sought out by Attorney Sergio González.

“He told me how I could cooperate with them to try to put a stop to those statements. You have to keep in mind that I was there cooperating with the government, because they transferred me for the purpose of recording Rafael García, who had been testifying against the government at that time,” said Don Berna, who accepted the mission, and said he would meet with Villalba in one of the community rooms:

“I greeted him. I asked if there was a way to stop giving this testimony against the government about what had happened at El Aro, if he could stop giving that testimony against the President of Colombia. He answered that ‘no’, he planned to continue, because for him it was a kind of catharsis,” he said.

“I can even offer you money, better your conditions, but he told me no, under no circumstances will he stop making these complaints. He even got annoyed and stood up by the table and he told me that I was making a mistake if I thought that the government would thank me for what I’m doing for them.”

According to Don Berna, as Villalba wouldn’t give in, he suggested to Goyeneche that he look up Alberto Henao Miranda, alias Pilatos, who was imprisoned in poor conditions at La Dorada Prison and who had also been at El Aro. It was done. “Pilatos” was transferred to La Picota.

“I suggested, I said, you have to give some testimony against Villalba. I’ll give you some money. He was in really bad conditions. I’ll give you some money for him. He gave me the account number of a relative, and he said, “Count on me” ( . . . ) There comes Dr. Goyeneche. I’ll introduce you and organize the whole thing. He gave him a questionnaire so he could learn what they would be questioning him about and, effectively, he gave some testimony a few days later, trying to contradict what Sr. Villalba had been saying,” added Don Berna.

In answer to the question by the prosecutor Carlos Ibán Mejía as to whether Goyeneche or González authorized paying money and giving gifts, Don Berna said that they, “were in agreement with using any mechanism to convince “Pilatos” to give testimony contradicting what Villalba had testified, since “Pilatos” had also taken part in the massacre.”

Next, Don Berna referred to the murder of Villalba. “After having observed this whole situation, I have no doubt whatsoever that the murder of Villalba was a crime by the government. I’m talking about powerful sectors in the country that had something to do with killing Villalba, because he was inconvenient, because of what he knew about the massacre at El Aro, because he was constantly referring to it, because he was repetitious in continuing to implicate certain members of the establishment.”

Don Berna added that he thought that the murder of Villalba was a crime by the government because previously, in the case of Jesús María Valle, it had been Pedro Juan Moreno who had requested Carlos Castaño to kill a person because of the complaints the human rights defender had filed. “When Commander Castaño made the decision to order the killing of Sr. Jesús María Valle at the request of Sr. Pedro Juan Moreno,  he told Carlos that this person was extremely inconvenient because of the accusations he was making against him and against the Governor, who at that time was Sr. Álvaro Uribe.”

Asked about what he had gained by being an intermediary to get Villalba to change his testimony, Don Berna said that the paramilitaries were always “on the side of the government. We defended the government; we were more Uribist than Doña Lina, and we were also supporting the government in its fight with the Supreme Court. Our goal was to restore the government’s credibility. In 2015, when the Attorney General’s Office sought authenticated documents of this testimony, and the testimony was made public in part, the prosecutor Goyeneche filed a complaint against Don Berna for libel and wrongful accusation.

(Full copy of the complaint omitted.)

What Pablo Hernán Sierra and Juan Guillermo Monsalve had to say

According to Don Berna, he also took some steps to make the paramilitary Pablo Hernán Sierra, known as Alias Alberto Guerrero or alias Pipintá, change the testimony he had given to the prosecutors by changing his prison location from La Combita to La Picota. He had tried to do that, said Don Berna, because Guerrero was mentioning the Uribe Vélez brothers and connecting them with the Metro Bloc.

“With the same recording equipment that I used to record Rafael García, I also recorded Sr. Alberto Guerrero,” he said, pointing out that he was not successful in his attempt because Sierra refused to go through with it. Sierra is an old acquaintance, along with the former paramilitary Juan Guillermo Monsalve, alias “Guacharaco”, a veteran of the proceedings in which former President Uribe had been mentioned. They both told the former Senator and his family to create the Metro Bloc of the Self-Defense Forces.

In fact, the criminal proceedings for procedural fraud and bribery that involve the former President have to do with pressures, not only on Monsalve, to make him change his position, but also with alleged searching for witnesses who would contradict what Sierra had said. In interviews with communications media, and with the prosecutors, Sierra has said that at the Guacharacas Ranch, which was part of the ranch belonging to the former President’s family, they had meetings with the paramilitaries. “All of the bosses of the Self-Defense Forces knew that Álvaro Uribe was our political leader; he gave us the rifle and then took it away again,” he said, for example, in an interview with W Radio.

Sierra has said that the creators of the Metro Bloc were the Uribe brothers, Pedro Juan Moreno, Santiago Gallón, and the brothers Juan Guillermo and Luis Alberto Villegas. Facing the legal system, the former paramilitary had sent numerous letters and documents to the prosecutors; he said he had a USB with evidence of the meetings in which the former President was also present, and he wrote a document he called Manual and Route to Peace.

In that document he gathered together the testimonies given by various paramilitaries who mentioned the former President. He also stated publicly that that Bloc was commanded by alias Filo, and that it had been created before the guerrillas became a problem in the area.

Meanwhile, Monsalve has also repeated to the legal system that the Metro Bloc had been created by Santiago Uribe, Santiago Gallón, and the Villegas brothers, and that Álvaro Uribe was fully aware of all of that. He said that a Convivir led by Luis Villegas had been operating there (the Convivir El Cóndor) and that it was the same as the Self-Defense Forces.

Luis Enrique Serna Henao and Don Mario

Some relevant testimony in which Uribe appears is the testimony given by Luis Enrique Serna Henao to the Attorney General’s Office in May of 2000, trying to get a benefit for collaboration. Serna relates how he ended up working for the paramilitaries and he expressly mentioned alias Filo and Luis Villegas as people who were leaders of the Metro Bloc.

“Sr. Luis Villegas was always going to the ranch to meet with them. In the middle of 1996, while he was in San José, Dr. Álvaro Uribe Vélez came down to San José. I could tell it was him—he used to come to San Roque. We were in the middle of some combat and he sent a dump truck to San José where some paramilitaries were carrying away the dead bodies. I noticed that because I lived in front of the command station where they came with the truck. Filo’s paramilitaries coming from the city took over the command of the Police Station,” he said.

Serna Henao, who has disappeared, said that once a man called Ramiro Ceballos, accused of burning down the Guacharacas ranch and killing the ranch manager, came to the ranch one day to talk with him, and to tell him that he was hungry and desperate and could we let him work there. “Beto told me that he had to get away from the owner of the ranch, Sr. Álvaro Uribe Vélez , along with a brother known as alias de Perico, and that was the end of it. I talked with him on Friday and by Monday they had disappeared and people went to the house looking for them and asking for them, and that was when they took them away and they never came back,” he said.

Another person that talked about the Metro Bloc and about “The Twelve Apostles” was Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias Don Mario, who testified to the Attorney General’s Office on October 7, 2015. He said there was a meeting with then-Governor Álvaro Uribe and Carlos Castaño. He said he had attended that, along with ranchers from around Bajo Cauca.

“It’s my understanding that the majority of the militants of The 12 Apostles ended up being part of the Metro Bloc because the commander of the Metro Bloc was a former member of the Colombian military who had connections with the Uribe family—it was alias Double Zero. That’s why they put together the Metro Bloc in the area where the Uribe’s had property like the Guacharacas ranch.”

Rendón Herrera said that in the past he had worked for Santiago Gallón, Santiago Uribe, Vicente Castaño, Elkin Flores, Luis Cuesta, and his brother Jairo Rendón in coca laboratories in San José del Guaviare in 1994, and they were able to ship out two or three flights a week then. He also said that the ranch went from being owned by the Uribes to being owned by the Gallón Henao family and, since there was an oil pipeline passing through the property, this was the source of financing for the Metro Bloc: fuel theft. That testimony, like the others that have been mentioned, has been furnished after the open proceedings in which the former President now figures as an accused.

Former President Álvaro Uribe’s  Defense

Former President Uribe has repeatedly denied the accusations against him and he has stated that he has never met with paramilitaries.

“Ever since I was a candidate (for President) I’ve been saying: I have said about the only one of the paramilitaries that I knew about, and this was a very serious statement, which they were committed to proving wrong, was Mancuso. I never met with him. I never conversed with him. I never even greeted him,” he said.

He also said that Mancuso had fallen into some contradictions about the knowledge that Pedro Juan Moreno had about the massacre at La Granja, and about his presence at meetings; and he said that Valle’s murder had been perpetrated when he was not yet Governor. He was still at Oxford University.

“Besides, the last meeting I had with Dr. Jesús María Valle was at the end of 1996 and it appears that he gave some testimony to the Attorney General’s Office to the effect that I was already out of the country. In a political speech, he accuses the Armed Forces, the business community, the Governor’s Office, and me individually, of paramilitarism, as many others have done. Dr. Valle was aggressively against General Ospina, and I remember having defended General Ospina on Caracol.

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