EL ESPECTADOR, February 27, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The former paramilitary boss came back to this country surrounded by a powerful security operation, and now he has to face the justice system and the victims who have been waiting nearly two decades for the truth, for justice, and for reparations. It still isn’t clear whether he will be released from custody.

The former paramilitary chieftain, Salvatore Mancuso, has come back to this country after being extradited to the United States more than fifteen years ago. The authorities confirmed that, and that there was a powerful security operation to receive the ally of the brothers Carlos and Vicente Castaño in the paramilitary project that ended up creating terror in different parts of the country during the ‘90’s and part of the 2000’s.

Mancuso has been in the United States since 2008 when the administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez agreed to extradite the most important paramilitary chieftains. According to his criminal record, Mancuso was behind at least 300 killings and took part in massacres like the one at Mapiripán, El Salado or La Gabarra, where more than 150 campesinos were murdered.

At 2:40 p.m. this Wednesday, the much-feared criminal former gang boss got off the plane in custody and surrounded by a powerful National Police security component. Upon his arrival, his attorney issued a written statement by the defendant Mancuso, stating that he was returning to Colombia to do right by the victims.

“I have the task of continuing to furnish the truth to the transitional justice system, with responsibility for the implications this has for the people mentioned in my testimonies, for their families, and for the victimized communities; I will do this under strict standards that permit the Court to analyze and determine what testimony provides truth of good quality,” concludes the statement.

Salvatore Mancuso was designated a “peace builder” on July 23, 2023, by order of the Gustavo Petro administration. “The peace process between Uribe and the paramilitaries is not complete, even though all the truth is not yet known. Parts of some of the ranches turned over have been lost by the government, recycled to the new groups that inherited paramilitarism. The bodies of many of the victims have not yet been found. To finish the process and achieve complete peace, I have decided to appoint Salvatore Mancuso as a ‘peace builder’.”

Along with that appointment, Mancuso turned to knocking on the doors of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) in July of last year. In several public hearings, the former paramilitary boss explained why there could be room for his testimony, and the truth he has to tell in the Special Jurisdiction, in spite of the fact that, because he is a paramilitary, there was no way he could be accredited to receive the benefits that this Justice system provides.

Mancuso answered questions from the Justices, furnished material and evidence that is still under seal, and in November 2023, the JEP accepted his submission. According to the decision, the extradited ex-paramilitary is able to furnish information that is new, specific, and sufficient to win for him a space as a “hinge” or a point of connection between the Self-Defense Forces and the Colombian Armed Forces.

In that period of time, Mancuso was a key link between the Castaño brothers’ criminal group and important military commanders in some departments in Colombia. That’s why the JEP agreed to opening the door. Nevertheless, days after he learned of the decision, Mancuso himself appealed the decision and we still don’t know what finally happened to that.

In spite of his submission, it’s not clear if Mancuso will be released from custody after his return to Colombia. In spite of the fact that the Constitutional Court had ordered the Superior Tribunal of Bogotá to decide the matter, it was only this week that the file left the High Court, so it’s not yet clear what awaits the former paramilitary boss, who has more than 30 arrest warrants waiting for him.

Who is Salvatore Mancuso?

The former paramilitary boss was born in Montería (Córdoba Department) on August 17, 1964. His father, Salvatore Mancuso D’Angiolella, came from Naples, Italy, and his mother, Gladys Gómez, is from Montería. They had six children, Salvatore being the second.

According to his resume, the former paramilitary boss studied civil engineering for several semesters at Javeriana University in Bogotá and Agricultural Administration in the School of Technical Agriculture Training. In addition, he studied English at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, but he never completed any of those degrees.

In 1992, Mancuso was working as an administrator at several farms at his wife’s ranch in Tierralta (Córdoba Department). That’s where he was the victim of extortions and other threats by members of the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and he decided to follow them and figure out where they were camping.

With that information in hand, he went to the Colombian Army and turned over the coordinates. That’s the way, according to the news link VerdadAbierta, he turned into an informant for the Armed Forces, particularly for Major Walter Fratini Lobaccio. Then the officer himself suggested that he and other cattle ranchers in the area ought to arm themselves in response to the threats and demands from the illegal armed groups.

The connections between Salvatore Mancuso and the Castaño brothers

That’s how the first connections between the cattle ranchers and the paramilitary groups in Córdoba were created. By 1994, Mancuso was already famous for his skills in the creation of these connections, and the Castaño brothers Vincent and Carlos wanted to get in touch with him. Mancuso himself has told the Attorney General’s Office that he agreed to a meeting with them, partly out of fear, because he already knew about their bloody doings in the Sinú River.

Anyway, after the meeting, Mancuso became part of the circle that was close to the Castaño brothers, who that same year had founded the Campesino Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (Accu) with Salvatore Mancuso as one of the principal leaders. By 1995, explains VerdadAbierta, the former paramilitary boss had created the Nuevo Horizante (New Horizon) private security and vigilance cooperative, which was legal at that time, and was known as a Convivir.

Using the mantle of legality, they covered up a number of crimes they had committed in the area. The first group of men that accompanied Mancuso was known as the Córdoba Company, and the paramilitary expansion turned it into the Córdoba Bloc. Its objective was clear: take total control of the areas where the FARC had already settled in, especially in Sucre, Bolívar, and Cesar.

With those tasks laid out by the paramilitary chieftains, the massacres began. In 1996 there were four in Guamo, which allowed the paramilitaries commanded by Mancuso to start gaining ground in Sincelejo, Tolú Viejo, and La Mojana ( Sucre Department).

On December 4 of that same year, men from Accu, the Convivirs Nuevo Horizonte and Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn) murdered 11 campesinos from the District (corregimiento) of Pichilín, en Morroa, Sucre. The next year, on March 23, 1997, they perpetrated what is thought to be the first El Salado massacre, in Carmen de Bolívar, where four campesinos and a schoolteacher were murdered.

At gunpoint, with massacres, threats, evictions, and thousands of displacements, Mancuso’s Accu, and the Castaño brothers, had conquered Sucre, Bolívar, Cesar, and Magdalena by the end of 1997. But they wanted more. From that moment, their plan was to reach as far as La Guajira, and also towards Atlántico and Catatumbo (Norte de Santander Department) consolidating their power in practically the entire northern part of the country.

According to what the Attorney General’s Office has been able to establish, and also the JEP, the project of paramilitary expansion was not achieved without the support of the Colombian Army, which also participated in various massacres and in the criminal operations of the Castaño brothers and Salvatore Mancuso. Besides showing that they had the support of government forces, the prosecutors have been able to prove that those paramilitary groups were also allied with politicians.

Salvatore Mancuso and his pending legal cases

The paramilitary movement began to change when, during the first administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, there started to be talk about a demobilization and a peace process to put an end to their criminal activities through political action. The project materialized in July of 2003 with what was known as the Agreement of Santa Fe de Ralito (Córdoba).

After three years of negotiations, in 2006 the Justice and Peace Law was signed, and that was how they achieved the demobilization of thousands of paramilitaries. It was in that context that Salvatore Mancuso ended up being an inmate in the High Security Prison in Itaguí (Antioquia Department) along with other bosses of paramilitary groups.

After he started to collaborate with the legal system, and confessed to hundreds of crimes, massacres, and murders of public figures, on May 13, 2008, the Uribe administration approved his extradition to the United States, together with another 12 paramilitary leaders like Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40; Diego Fernando Murillo, alias Don Berna; Hernán Giraldo Serna, alias Pablosevillanor; and Ramiro Cuco Vanoy.

From that moment until now, Mancuso has remained in prisons in the United States, serving a sentence for drug trafficking. However, at least four years ago, he had served his sentences, and he was waiting for Colombian and United States authorities to resolve his immigration situation.

It was only resolved just now. The Gustavo Petro administration started to expedite his return to this country in August of last year, through the Justice Ministry. This February, in 2024, they finalized his return, in the midst of political and judicial expectations that he will be able to relate everything he experienced throughout his life in the service of the war.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.