By Alejandra Bonilla Mora, CAMBIOColombia, January 9, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace has assessed the testimony of José Eduardo González, as revealed by CAMBIO, where he admitted relationships with paramilitary groups and blamed  former officials of Ecopetrol and of the Colombian Armed Forces. There will be a hearing on this coming February 8. Who are the ones he implicated?

Last November 24, CAMBIO revealed exclusively the testimony of José Eduardo González Sánchez, a former member of the Colombian Army who, after leaving the Army, became the second in command of Security at Ecopetrol in Barrancabermeja and later on, took an active part in the Central Bolívar Bloc of the Self-Defense Forces. One of his revelations was that several members of the oil company’s board of directors had been allied with the Armed Forces and the paramilitaries since 1996, an alliance that included, in the prelude to the massacre of May 16, 1998, the use of a helicopter that was assigned to the company and that—allegedly—served to transport paramilitaries as well as logistics and supplies for the illegal group.

After reviewing his commitment to telling the truth, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) Definition of Jurisdictional Situations Branch decided to admit González as a government agent who is not a member of the Armed Forces. The Branch concluded that his contribution to the truth complies with the requirements for submission because his account does provide elements needed to obtain a better understanding of the armed conflict and how relations between the Armed Forces and the AUC were initiated in the area.

The Court’s resolution states that González’s contributions may be very useful in relation to the events they are examining in JEP Macrocase 008, which reviews crimes committed by members of the Armed Forces in connivance with other agents of the government or in association with paramilitary groups. Specifically, about the “intensification of the counterinsurgent battle and the stigmatization of the civilian population” that existed among the areas based in Magdalena Medio, Antioquia, Bolívar, and Santander.

What González had to say about Ecopetrol and the AUC

As revealed by CAMBIO, Gonzalez Sánchez admitted having facilitated and sustained meetings in the prelude to the massacres of 1998 and the one on February 28, 1999; specifically, a meeting with the corporate Director of Security for Ecopetrol, Marco Tulio Restrepo, and with the Secretary of Security at the President’s Palace, Retired General Antonio Sánchez Vargas, to “encourage the entrance of the Self-Defense Forces”. He admitted connections with the New Granada Artillery Battalion No. 2, and the Heroes of Majagual Counter-Guerrilla Battalion No. 45, and with Police troops, the Navy’s Special Command for Magdalena Medio (COEM), and the United Self-Defense Forces of Santander and southern Cesar Departments.

For example, the former official highlighted an appointment at the refinery guest house with his uncle, Retired General Antonio Sánchez Vargas, who was also the Chief of Security at the refinery in Barrancabermeja and was the one who led the oil company to “study and create the conditions needed for the entrance of the Self-Defense Forces into southern Bolívar, Magdalena Medio, and Barrancabermeja”, because he was worried about security because there had been some terrorist attacks and extortions by the guerrillas.

González indicated that in one of those meetings he found out that the Chief of Security at the Galán de Oleoductos station, Retired Major González “also knew about the strategy and ( . . . ) wanted to work with the same cause”, and so in 1996, with the intervention of Marco Tulio Restrepo, persons of confidence, who at the same time were trying to infiltrate the labor union USO, infiltrated the payroll of Ecopetrol. They included Carlos Piedrahita Zabala, who had been a professional soldier, and Leocadio Bohórquez. In the Central Bolívar Bloc, Piedrahita and Bohórquez had been known by the alias Mauricio–or—David and Leo, respectively.

The meetings also served to contact Lt. Carlos Mauricio García, alias 00 and a man in the confidence of Carlos Castaño. The testimony also points to “the material contributions by Ecopetrol for the entrance of the Self-Defense Forces into southern Bolívar and Barrancabermeja”. Those contributions were to increase the number of people, and the battalions mentioned above were reported as troops in the service of the oil company, in exchange for collaborating with the armed excursions and permitting the use of their helicopters for AUC missions.

We had meetings to introduce and contact the commanders of the Self-Defense Forces that were going to come in at that time. The three highest commanders were: alias Julián Bolívar, alias Gustavo Alarcón, and alias Mauricio. There were separate meetings at the New Granada Battalion (Barrancabermeja), at first with the chief of intelligence, Captain Oswaldo Prada Escobar and alias Gustavo Alarcón; later, at the Heroes de Majagual Counter-Guerrilla Battalion No. 45, there were also meetings with Colonel Rodriguéz and later on with Major (sic) Jesús Herrera, Executive (sic) Commander (sic) and Chief of Operations (sic), respectively, with alias David at the refinery’s military base, the Special Commander in Magdalena Medio—COEMM of the Police,” he said.

“One of those meetings was with Colonel Joaquín Correa and with alias Julián Bolívar in the office of the commander and one where every one approved individually with a ‘wink’ going ahead with the ‘project’ of the Self-Defense Forces, besides agreeing in every meeting that in the future the contacts would be with an intelligence noncom from the New Granada Battalion, known as Corporal Luis Alfonso Salcedo, who was a subordinate of Captain Prada,” he added.

The JEP also considered the testimony furnished about the massacre of 1998 to be a contribution to the truth. According to González Sánchez, alias Camilo Morantes, he had sent two emissaries to a meeting that he supposedly had refused. Later, according to what González said, they found out that there was already coordination with the Battalion to put together a Convivir in Barrancabermeja like the ones in Antioquia, but not for massacres.

“( . . . ) I found out that Colonel (sic) Joaquín Correa had given the order not to leave any dead bodies around after they had carried out a massacre, and he gave them 15 minutes to gather up the bodies of the victims from where they had been killed. All of this was focused on the report from some guerrilla commanders that they met playing pool on weekends, but at the time they carried out the incursion they were surprised to see that there was a bazaar going on at the location, and that’s why they ended up carrying away so many people, so many that two SUV’s were overloaded, and they had to get down and kill six more people,” he recounted.

“So, what I figured was that, since it was in an urban area, they were going to do it with the usual modus operandi of those groups, what they called ‘social cleansing’, eliminating members of an opposing gang, in this case it was people we thought were guerrillas,” he added.

González admitted that, with the execution of the massacre on May 16, 1998, his participation was the management of a meeting that Colonel Joaquín Correa López (Police commander for Magdalena Medio), and José Eddie Álvarez (Section Director of the DAS[1]), were going to have separately with the paramilitaries Mario Jaimes Mejía, alias Panadero (The Baker) and Fremio Sánchez, alias Esteban. These meetings were held at the request of Major Jesús Herrera García and Captain Oswaldo Prada Escobar (of the New Granada and Counterguerrilla Battalion No. 45 respectively).

“However, I have to explain that I never found out when this group of Self-Defense Forces was planning to operate, or how they planned to get into Barrancabermeja. Anyway, it’s clear that these actions are part of the armed conflict that I was involved in, and I am ready to admit that I took part in collaboration with the Armed Forces for the purpose of their meetings with the Self-Defense Forces of the AUSAC, as well as with the Corporate Director (sic) of Security of Ecopetrol, Marco Tulio Restrepo. In the same manner, with the Secretary of Security for the Office of the President of Colombia, Retired General Antonio Sánchez Vargas, to encourage the entrance of the Self-Defense Forces. I admit my participation in those events in the manner that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace will  consider to be legally adequate, and that have to the organization and carrying out of this meeting.”

The JEP has warned, even so, that these testimonies will be the object of strict comparison and analysis, and that the acceptance of his submission is not an entrenched situation, but rather that it is subject to constant verification through established conditions. Therefore, it gave Sánchez ten days to make a series of clarifications of the testimony and so that he can explain, for example, what collaboration he could furnish to other agencies of the Integrated System, such as the Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons.

[1] The DAS was the Administrative Department of Security. The agency was dissolved in 2012.

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