The extradited commander-in-chief of the AUC, Salvatore Mancuso, testifies that his paramilitary organization formed the anti-guerrilla group “CONVIVIR” with the help of Colombia’s ex-President Alvaro Uribe when he was governor of Antioquia.
Mancuso claimed that he met with the former government secretary of Antioquia under Uribe’s governorship, Pedro Juan Moreno, as well as AUC founder Carlos Castaño to form the CONVIVIR.
“Moreno met with me and Carlos Castaño so that we could create the CONVIVIR in Uraba,” a region in the north of Antioquia, the former AUC chief declared. “We created 12 [self-defense groups] there.”
The CONVIVIR, whose creation was promoted by Uribe, were legalized by the Colombian government in 1994 in response to increased violence from guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN. Because of their links to the illegal AUC and its atrocities, the Constitutional Court banned the self-defense groups in 1997.
Verification of Mancuso’s accusations will be difficult as Moreno was killed in a plane crash in 2006 and Castaño was murdered by his paramilitary associates in 2004.
In his latest testimony, the former AUC head said that the paramilitaries’ links to government authorities went further than his dealings with Uribe’s aide.
“The AUC were born from an alliance with the State in 1995,” said Mancuso, explaining that Castaño met with “certain persons of the State to form AUC fronts, to strengthen those that already existed.”
Retired Army general Rito Alejo Del Rio was a “great friend” of the AUC and helped the paramilitaries expand from their birth-ground in the north of Colombia to the eastern plains, said Mancuso.
In the east of Colombia, emerald czar Victor Carranza had his own self-defense group called “Los Carranceros,” which used to participate in paramilitary summits with Castaño and his main partners, the former AUC head went on.
“In these conferences Carranza did not make a direct presence, but to my knowledge, I attended two meetings with him. Carlos Castaño summoned me to one because Carranza not only had groups in the plains, but in the north of the country, in an area of my influence,” said Mancuso.
He also added that the emerald czar “arrived by helicopter in late 1996” to participate in a meeting that planned the massacre in the town of Caño Jabon, where at least 20 people were killed on May 4, 1998.
The AUC was demobilized during the first presidential term of Uribe by the Justice and Peace Law. The law was passed by Congress, which offered legal benefits to paramilitaries in exchange for truth, justice and reparation.
Mancuso was extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges by the authorities without the consent of the Supreme Court who wanted the paramilitary leader to stay in Colombia to stand trial for crimes against humanity and to collaborate with the justice system to unravel the ties between the terrorist organization, State agents and businessmen.