The investigation into the links between Santiago Uribe – the brother of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe – and paramilitary death squads was reopened last week after the testimony of a new witness, a former farmhand, according to newspaper El Espectador.
The evidence given in August by Eunisio Alfonso Pineda Lujan – who used to milk cows, feed pigs and muck out paddocks in the farm next to Uribe’s – added to the 2010 testimony of a retired police major, Juan Carlos Meneses, was considered by the Prosecutor General to be sufficient to reopen the investigation into Santiago Uribe and his alleged links with paramilitaries.
The last investigation had been closed in 2000 for lack of evidence.
Santiago Uribe was allegedly involved in the creation of a paramilitary death squad known as “The 12 Apostles” who operated between 1993 and 1994 in the area of Yarumal, northern Antioquia, where the Uribe family ranch – “Finca Carolina” – was located, and where Uribe’s brother Alvaro was governor from 1995 to 1998.
Santiago Uribe is also implicated in the murder of Camilo Barrientos Duran on February 25, 1994, at Finca Carolina.
“I saw him carrying guns: Santiago Uribe”: Pineda Lujan’s testimony
The testimony of laborer Pineda Lujan was taken in the Colombian Consulate in Santiago, Chile, three years after Meneses gave his testimony in Argentina. Pineda Lujan said that seeing Meneses deliver his accusations against Uribe on television spurred him on to testify.
In his testimony, reported by El Espectador, Pineda Lujan claims that he arrived in Yarumal in 1993 to work on the farm of Alvaro Vasquez, which had dealings with Uribe’s Finca Carolina. He says that he would wake up early, milk the cows and feed the pigs, then pass by Finca Carolina.
Pineda Lujan says that he saw armed men entering and exiting Finca Carolina dressed in military uniforms and bearing the armband of the AUC – the ruthless paramilitary group that ostensibly demobilized in 2006. The 46-year old alleges that over the radio Uribe would be referred to as “The Grandfather”, while Vasquez would be “The Uncle.”
“I saw saw him with my own eyes, carrying weapons and carrying radios: Santiago Uribe, with my own eyes,” said the farmhand to news website Uno.
He recalls that on one occasion his fellow workers claimed to have witnessed the paramilitaries in action. “Last night they took somone from the house up there,” they said. “And [the next day] he turned up in some place, dead.”
It wasn’t until a paramilitary called “Rodrigo” approached him that Pineda Lujan first had contact with the group. According to his testimony, Rodrigo allegedy offered him a gun and $100 to work with Santiago Uribe. When Pineda Lujan refused the work Rodrigo shot someone in front of him.
“Now you’re in up to your neck,” Rodrigo supposedly told him, adding that not doing what they wanted him to do was tantamount to betrayal, and he would pay with his life. Uribe and Vasquez had allegedly already met to plan his murder, because he knew too much.
They tried to pull out his teeth using pliers, then shot him in the hand.
Pineda Lujan says that he ran away, denouncing the paramilitaries to the Fourth Brigade of the Army, before travelling to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast to go into hiding.
He had spent around a year working at Vasquez’s farm, fleeing in July 1994.
When he eventually returned to Antioquia, he was stopped by some men close to Finca Carolina. He says that they beat him up, calling him a rat, before trying to pull out his teeth with pliers and finally shooting him through the hand.
Despite his wound, Pineda Lujan was too afraid to go to hospital, “because they looked for the wounded in the local hospitals to finish the job.”
The farmhand kept under the radar and worked on other farms, including La Palmira, owned by drug lord Juan Carlos “El Tuso” Sierra. Near the end of the 1990’s a cow fell on him and “screwed up his spine”, leaving him handicapped.
In August of this year he travelled to Chile to give his testimony. He was required to give characteristics of the farms of Uribe and Vasquez, but failed to recognize ten of the workers at Finca Carolina. Something that Uribe’s lawyer, Jaime Granados, finds suspicious.
“There is political motivation here”: Uribe’s lawyer
“He is a liar,” Granados said to El Espectador. “It is easy to conclude that he is a false witness, even more so than Major Meneses.”
Granados believes that the lawyer in the case against Uribe, Daniel Prado, really has a political aim: to discredit the brother of Santiago Uribe, Alvaro, who served as Colombia’s President between 2002 and 2010. On September 19th it was confirmed that Alvaro Uribe would head his party’s list of candidates for next year’s congressional elections.
“After three years and just one week after ex-president Alvaro Uribe presented his candidacy for the Senate, they bring a new false witness,” Granados said. “There is a political motivation here.”
In 2010 the retired Major of the police in the area, Juan Carlos Meneses, accused Santiago Uribe of being involved with The 12 Apostles. The testimony, made before Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, among others, was televised and subsequently published in prestigious newspapers like The Washington Post.
In his testimony, he said that in 1993 departing police captain Pedro Benavides told him that he had to support a group carrying out social cleansing in the area. The group later became known in the local media as “The 12 Apostles”, because of a priest who was supposedly part of the group.
“The group has a boss called Santiago Uribe,” Benavides allegedly said to him. “He is the brother of Senator Alvaro Uribe. He is a rancher in the region that has the farm near to Yarumal, Finca Carolina. He is the boss of the paramilitary group.”
Human Rights website Verdad Abierta reports that Meneses made an agreement with Santiago Uribe to cover up and even aid the paramilitary group’s crimes.
“Santiago says to me [Meneses]: ‘Look, either you take the money or you don’t take it, we have support from the commanders of the police at the state level and friends at the national level, we are going to continue with what we’re doing whatever.’” Meneses recalls. His reponse was “Ok, let’s do it.”
Over the next three months that he served in the area, Meneses claims that men under his command joined with The 12 Apostles to commit several murders. One involved killing a couple of petty thieves. Another was the murder of a supposed collaborator with left-wing guerrillas, and then the murder of two extortionists, a crime for which Meneses was arrested but never tried.
He maintains that it was only thanks to the influential power of the Uribe brothers that he avoided going to prison.
“First, it was drug addicts and small-time criminals winding up dead,” said one former town official, reported in the Washington Post in 2010. “Then, there were more and more dead.”
Training facilities for paramilitaries
Meneses also recalled being shown round the training facilities at Finca Carolina by Santiago Uribe himself, who he claims showed him a list specifying all the people they were going to kill.
“Behind this square we have a training facility for paramilitaries,” Uribe allegedly said to him. “An obstacle course for military training. The ladder, the spider web, everything.” As well as men armed with shotguns and rifles, Meneses said that Finca Carolina was guarded by a “sub-machine gun.”
He remembers receiving around $2000 per month for his collaboration, delivered by Santiago Uribe.
According to The Washington Post, Meneses came forward after being tipped off that his life was in danger because he knew too much. He admitted to his crimes and made the accusations against Uribe after fleeing Colombia.
“Santiago has been a victim of the conflict”
Santiago Uribe has always maintained his innocence, and has weathered two previous investigations against him, in 1996 and 2000. While he admits that a man died at Finca Carolina under strange circumstances, he has always claimed that rather than being a founder of the paramilitaries in the area, he was a victim.
“One can’t forget that Santiago has been a victim of the conflict,” said his lawyer, Granados. “Now he is being made a victim again.”
Santiago Uribe is due to face prosecutors on October 17, along with Meneses.
More than 80 politicians have been imprisoned for having links with paramilitary groups since 2006. Many of these were allies of former President Alvaro Uribe, who is currently under investigation for the same crime, known as “parapolitics.”
- El testigo que enreda a Santiago Uribe (El Espectador)
- Otros testimonios que acusan a Santiago Uribe (Noticias Uno)
- ‘Los Doce Apóstoles’: la sombra de Santiago Uribe (Verdad Abierta)
- Colombian president’s brother said to have lead death squads (The Washington Post)