Santiago Uribe will have to respond to accusations he was one of the founding members of paramilitary group “The 12 Apostles” that is accused of killing leftists and other “undesirables” in a town called Yarumal in the early 1990s.
Ranchers and narcos from the area formed dozens of private armies in the 1980s and 1990s.
One day before the trial, former cartel associate Francisco Javier Zuluaga, a.k.a. “Gordo Lindo,” came out in defense of Uribe.
Zuluaga began his career in the 1980s working for cartel leader Fabio Ochoa, became associated with the Cifuentes clan, and demobilized as a leader of paramilitary umbrella organization AUC.
The Ochoa and Uribe family were close since the former president and his two brothers were young. The oldest of the sons, Jaime Alberto, would later have a child with Dolly Cifuentes.
Zuluaga reportedly is close to being released and hoping to return to his ranch and wife in the Cordoba province.
From his United States prison, Zuluaga sent a letter to Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez, claiming Uribe has been set up by the Norte del Valle Cartel and the Castaño brothers, who would later form the AUC.
According to the letter, a key witness in the case against Uribe had been coerced by the late Norte del Valle cartel capo Wilber Varela. Zuluaga said he was supposed to deliver that message to the paramilitary leaders.
Varela told me: Gordo, since I know you’re going to Cordoba. Tell your neighbors, the Castaños, to stop saying I’m a guerrilla. I have done the best deals for the self-defense forces and to demonstrate this I have a [Police] official here in Buga who belongs to our forces and does what we tell him to. He served in Yarumal and if Castaño wants to stop this son of a bitch Uribe, the official does what I tell him and he can say that Uribe was the guy who ordered the “social cleaning.”
Varela to Zuluaga, according to Zuluaga
The leaked letter was confirmed by Jaime Granados, the defense attorney of the Uribe family.
Varela’s former lieutenant, “Diego Rastrojo,” and fellow cartel member “RQ” would be willing to corroborate the claim, according to El Tiempo.
The witness in question, former Yarumal police chief Juan Carlos Menenes, is one of a few living witnesses claiming Uribe led the group that killed dozens between 1992 and 1994.
Others corroborating Menenes’ claims are former Castaño associate “Don Mario” and extradited former AUC commander Salvatore Mancuso.
Both living Uribe brothers have been accused of criminal links to paramilitary groups the former president supported until he was governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997.
While a case implicating the family of a former president is unprecedented, dozens of other economic and political elites have seen members imprisoned for their ties to drug traffickers or paramilitary groups.
More than 60 former members of Congress have been imprisoned since 2006. Many more alleged paramilitary collaborators are expected to be called to trial during a war crimes tribunal pending in Congress.