Here is another important public service which the folks at CIP recently posted, an English translation of an exclusive interview with Colombian Paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso from a Federal US Prison in the magazine Cambio. In it, Mancuso discusses how the Uribe government's extradition of he and 14 other right ring heads of the AUC was a way to "extradite the truth." I think it reveals some interesting details about the paramiltary project in Colombia, and the way the so-called Justice and Peace process there has unfolded under Uribe's watch. It also should be considered by President Obama, as he gets ready to meet with Uribe later this month to discuss a slew of bilateral issues, including the US-Colombia FTA.
Here are translated excerpts from an interview with extradited paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, given at the DC Jail where he is being held pending trial. The interview was the cover story in last Thursday’s edition of the Colombian newsweekly Cambio. Thanks to CIP Intern Cynthia Arévalo for the translation help.
According to the Government, you were playing around with the process…
Look, I am going to give you a “scoop.” The prosecutor-general, Mario Iguarán, and the attorney in charge of my case said in this same prison that there was no evidence that I, in particular, had committed any criminal offense when I was in the Itagüí prison [between December 2006 and his May 2008 extradition]. They said that if that evidence had in fact existed, I would have been out of “Justicia y Paz” [the Justice and Peace process], and I’m still in “Justicia y Paz.”
If, like you said, you weren’t committing any crimes, then why do you believe you were extradited?
The government got scared by what many commanders were doing and because we were reconstructing the truth. I decided to tell all of those who had worked with me to tell the truth, and in the stand I also told some of it.
I reported, to [government peace commissioner Luis Carlos] Restrepo, to the OAS and to the church, that there were 6,000 people re-armed in Córdoba and Catatumbo. But some AUC commanders said they wouldn’t talk because they had been threatened. I was left alone. That truth worried many businessmen, political leaders and others in the economic sector. There had to be some kind of pressure for the government to extradite us all. But if there were commanders who failed [to honor the Justice and Peace terms], we should say as well that the government failed because they ruined any hopes for peace in Colombia.
With you all extradited while trying to negotiate with U.S. Justice, is there any possibility of rebuilding the process and giving reparations to the victims?
My attorneys and I are determined to continue with the reconstruction of the truth as well as with reparations to the victims. However, I want to clarify that when the government extradited me, they said through the Minister of Justice that the agreements and mechanisms existed to allow the process to continue. That is a big lie and what we have done so far owes to the goodwill of the district attorneys in the United States and “Justicia y Paz” in Colombia [the Justice and Peace Unit of the prosecutor-general's office]. The government extradited us, and they will have to figure out what to do in order to avoid impunity and fulfill reparations.
Will the whole truth be known someday?
It is us, the commanders, who hold the important truth, with our extradition to the United States they extradited the truth. The law they passed sought retaliation. For example, when I said that Carlos Castaño and I met with the ex minister [of defense] Juan Manuel Santos in order to promote a coup d’etat against President Ernesto Samper, the minister of Interior said that people should not believe a criminal like Mancuso. The truth is stigmatized and generates rejection from society.
Which of the truths you revealed have not had any effect?
The coexistence of active and retired military, as well as of important political figures, who are presidential candidates today, with the AUC.
In Colombia there is a controversy over an iPod you owned, apparently, that has dozens of recorded conversations with politicians and officials. Some of these conversations have already been revealed. What is the truth about this device?
Evidentlly it was the iPod where I stored the files of my processes in the Colombian courts and the records of the reconstruction of historical truth. I left it in my cell in Itagüí and the INPEC [Colombian government prisons institute] took it. When they returned all my belongings they did not return it, and some judicial authorities have added to the charges against me part of what was recorded there. But these could have been manipulated, added or edited, and therefore I do not acknowledge these recordings. The last I heard, this ipod was being put on sale in Colombia.
You said that the AUC had control of 30 percent of Congress. Right now, there are 68 who have been investigated, nine of whom have been convicted. Are there more?
There are many more, and some commanders have not yet completed their testimonies. And I don’t think that they will do so until they arrange their affairs with the United States. That is the problem of extradition.
What politicians are not detained for their ties to the AUC?
There were many people involved. For example, in early 2002 in a country estate in ‘Macaco’ in Piamonte, near Taraza, there was a big meeting where ‘Cuco’ Vanoy, Vicente Castano, ‘Don Berna’, ‘Macaco’, ‘Julián Bolívar’ ’Ernesto Báez’, ‘Diego Vecino’ and I attended, as well as Colonel (Ret.) Hugo Aguilar (former governor of Santander) and ‘ El Tuerto’ Gil (former Senator Luis Alberto Gil, investigated for para-politics).
What was the meeting for?
For electoral support that some politicians were seeking at that time from the “Bloque Central Bolivar” in six or seven departments.
Why do you recall the presence of Gil and Aguilar in particular?
Because Aguilar presented himself as the person who had killed Pablo Escobar, and I recall Gil because he was with the colonel.
Is it true that one of the largest meetings of polititians and the AUC was on an estate called “La 21?”
Yes, the estate “La 21” was owned by Carlos Castaño, located between San Pedro de Urabá and Valencia. There was a big meeting as well in “La 15” with Vicente Castaño. It was two or three days of meetings towards the end of 2001.
What happened at the meeting in “La 21?”
Carlos Castaño called all commanders to a meeting because “Ernesto Baez,” political leader of the Bloque Central Bolívar, wanted to propose the creation of a “single [candidate] list” for Congress headed by Rocío Arias and Carlos Clavijo. This initiative failed to pass because ‘Jorge 40′ and I said that the AUC acted as a federation, and that each region had its own needs.
And in the meeting at “La 15” what happened?
In the meeting at “La 15,” according to what Vicente Castaño told me, it was with farmers and businessmen from the region. Vicente asked them to support Uribe’s campaign for the presidency.
What do you remember in particular from those meetings?
I remember Juan José Chaux in particular (former governor of Cauca and former ambassador). He was the only one whom I did not know who came to give a speech. He said that his grandfather or great-grandfather had been president, that they had belonged to the legal “self-defense groups” created by Guillermo León Valencia and that they had always been against the guerrillas. At that time he was dealing with the kidnapping of a relative by the AUC. I also recall seeing Carlos Clavijo.
The speech you refer to was in favor of the AUC?
Yes, [Chaux] completely identified himself with the AUC. ‘H.H.’ (Hernando Hernandez, an AUC leader) was so proud, he presented him as the political representative of the Calima [which was based in Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments in southwestern Colombia].
Is it true that former Deputy Director of DAS [the presidential intelligence service] Miguel Narvaez, involved in scandals for the paramilitary infiltration of that office, attended meetings of the AUC?
Narváez is a very structured man who collaborated with the AUC on ideological issues. He was a professor at the “Escuela Superior de Guerra” and taught classes to officers. He was in meetings with Carlos Castano, ‘Jorge 40′, ‘El Alemán’ and me. In our training schools he spoke to the cadres about command structure. He delivered ideological indoctrination to our men in either 1996 or 1998.
How did he get involved with the AUC? Did he get any form of payment for the classes?
Through Commander Castaño, but I don’t know how they met. When he arrived in the area I would sometimes send someone to pick him up at the airport in Montería. I never knew of any payment for his work.
When Narváez came to work in the DAS, what did you think?
That the guerrillas would have a serious problem with this man because of his knowledge of the conflict.
Narváez pursued the guerrillas and he would turn a blind eye to the AUC?
He identified ideologically with the AUC, so this was likely to happen. But these are only assumptions, because can’t really know what he thought.
There are allegations that when the DAS was under the administration of Jorge Noguera, he favored the AUC and his subordinates would pass information to ‘ Jorge 40 ‘…
I am not aware of Jorge Noguera’s relations with the AUC, but with the DAS we had relationships long before, as well as with the Police and Army. To give just one example, the director of the DAS in Cúcuta, Jorge Diaz, was a self-defense group leader. We operated in his cars as did the Police and Military. These were used to transport our troops.
Diego Fernando Murillo, ‘Don Berna’, said, while he was in the United States, the AUC endorsed the nomination of today’s mayor of Medellin, Alonso Salazar, as well as that of President Uribe… What do you know about that?
Politically speaking, I was chief of negotiations for the AUC , however I was not responsible for the decisions of each bloc and therefore would not be able to say what kind of pacts or agreements were reached. But I can say that the vast majority of us supported Uribe because those were the instructions we received from commanders and we did so in all departments with influence of the Northern Bloc [commanded by 'Jorge 40'].
What were these instructions?
Because Uribe’s ideological discourse was very much like ours but within a framework of legality, we decided to support him immediately. We asked people in the towns if they had listened to Uribe and what he was promising to do. Their answer was yes, so we said we would support him and we ‘directed’ the populations to vote for him. There were no direct arrangements, I would lie if I said there were.