Mancuso, a.k.a. “El Mono,” was sentenced to 15 years and 10 months by Judge Ellen Huvelle for his involvement in the transportation of cocaine, as a part of operations that funded the AUC, a paramilitary umbrella group accused of tens of thousands of human rights violations committed during the group’s existence between 1997 and 2006.
The former AUC head has already served seven years in US prison, leaving him just under nine remaining. With good behavior this could reduce the remainder of his time to serve to four and a half years.
Mancuso is Colombia’s highest ranking ex-paramilitary official still alive today.
During his leadership within the AUC he commanded at least eight paramilitary groups that perpetuated mass killings across the country with reports of 1,426 crimes committed, including 175 cases of rape and sexual abuse, 609 forced disappearances, 405 cases of forced displacement, 149 counts of illegal recruitment and 87 cases of homicide.
A dispute earlier this year ensued between the defense and prosecution after the US government recommended a more severe sentence. Mancuso’s lawyer Joaquin Perez, claiming the defendant had fully cooperated with both Colombian and US justice, had asked for 12 years against the prosecution’s proposed 22 years.
Mancuso was the first chief of the AUC to confess to crimes after his demobilization in 2005. As part of a reduced sentence plea in 2006 he admitted to 87 criminal acts, causing the deaths of more than 336 victims and named dozens of Colombian politicians and businessmen who colluded with the warlords. Together with the rest of the high command of the AUC, he was placed in the maximum security prison in Itagui, bordering Medellin.
In an extrajudicial surprise move, Mancuso was extradited to the US with 13 other paramilitary commanders in 2008 as local investigations began revealing the far-stretching ties between Colombian politicians and the AUC, a terrorist organization according to the US.
The move was fiercely protested by victims’ rights groups who wanted Mancuso to respond to the Colombian charges of human rights abuses, rather than the American drug trafficking charges.
Mancuso has claimed that his extradition was to prevent him from revealing the involvement of then President Alvaro Uribe and hundreds of other local, regional and national politicians in “parapolitics,” the use of paramilitary death squads to coerce voters.
“I am here because of my mistakes, for the suffering and pain that I have caused. But I’m a new man,” Mancuso pleaded with Judge Huvelle asking for forgiveness and mercy.
Mancuso’s co-operation with US authorities earned him a 35% reduction on his sentence. At Tuesday’s sentencing he again stressed his active role in the demobilization of the AUC which took place from 2003 to 2006, but he was interrupted by the judge.
She reminded him that his presence in the courtroom was due to “what you did before” his demobilization.
“We are talking about more than the export of more than 50 tons of cocaine and one of the largest cartels in the world,” she said shortly before giving him his sentence.
He will serve the remainder of his sentence in the US, after which he will be deported to his home country of Colombia.
Ex-Colombian Paramilitary Leader Sentenced on Drug Charges (The Associated Press)