Former President Alvaro Uribe was the “head of Colombia’s paramilitary groups,” according to a former paramilitary commander and witness in the case against a presidential candidate loyal to the former head of state.
The accusations were made by Pablo Hernan Sierra, alias “Alberto Guerrero”, former commander of the Cacique Pipinta bloc of the paramilitary group AUC, during an interview with Venezuelan network TeleSur.
“He was our commander,” claimed Sierra. “He never fired a gun; but he led, he contributed, he was our man at the top.”
“The massacres, the disappearances, the creation of an [AUC] group: he is responsible,” said Sierra.
The ex-paramilitary is a key witness in an investigation into Uribe’s alleged ties with paramilitary groups, especially his role in the formation of an AUC bloc while governor of Antioquia department from 1995-97, and his use of the AUC to win votes in the 2002 Presidential election.
Congressmen Ivan Cepeda, a political opponent of Uribe, first formally accused the ex-president of having paramilitary ties in April 2012, which led the Prosecutor General to reopen an investigation into Uribe’s ties with paramilitary groups, so-called “parapolitics”, an investigation that had been dismissed in 2000.
The case was reopened because of new evidence, principally the testimonies of two ex-paramilitary leaders, one of whom was Sierra. In a statement recorded by Cepeda in August 2011, Sierra accused Uribe and his brother Santiago of being among the founders of the Metro Bloc of the AUC.
He also said that at the time the AUC used Uribe’s farmhouse “Guacharacas” as their home base, from where they committed massacres and forcefully displaced local people.
On Thursday Sierra repeated those claims to TeleSur, as well as revealing the role that the AUC played in Uribe’s 2002 Presidential campaign. Sierra says that the former president took part in “auctions for [the support of] paramilitary groups,” which meant that he could count on them to coral support through coercive means.
This support translated into 2.5 million votes, allegedly gained through a campaign of terror on the part of the Metro Bloc in which those who refused to vote for Uribe were murdered.
“He is a man of war, not of peace,” said Sierra, adding that Uribe “is sill active in the paramilitary organizations of Colombia.” This is why, according to Sierra, he is a “risk” to the peace process in the country as long as he has power.
If an agreement is made between the government and the rebel groups FARC – who are currently in peace negotiations – and the ELN – who are expected to join negotiations soon – then the hope is that many of their fighters will be reintegrated into society. Sierra thinks that Uribe, who’s presidency was charaterized by his hard-line on Colombia’s rebel groups, would be “capable of killing them all.”
“He could do it because he knows how these groups operate, how they organize themselves,” Sierra said. “He has never put down that gun that he carries inside himself. He’s a man of war, not peace”
Uribe has not responded to Sierra’s latest revelations, but in March he accused Ivan Cepeda of paying Sierra to testify against him. Speaking before the Prosecutor General, Uribe also accused Cepeda of taking advantage of his position on 21 occasions. According to the ex-president, the congressman “had the authorization to visit jails in order to check the humanitarian conditions of the prisoners” but used that authorization to visit the jailed Sierra 21 times and pressure him into testifying. This apparently resulted in Sierra’s 2011 video testament.
Uribe has also attacked the accusations against him on the grounds that they come from less than credible sources, namely jailed paramilitaries looking to reduce their sentences. Although Sierra implied in the Telesur interview that he is taking a dangerous road by testifying against Uribe, not the easy way out: “I don’t know what will have to happen for me to stop. Maybe death. That’s logical! If I’m killed then who would dare speak out?”
Congressman Cepeda views Uribe’s offensive against him and Sierra as an attempt to scare future witnesses from testifying against him, saying in March that he is “waiting in complete serenity for the Prosecutor General to complete his investigation; the ex-president is prone to making these types of accusations without proof in order to divert the attention of the general public.”
Alberto Sierra is being tried for the death of more than 100 farm-workers and already has 14 convictions after having admitted committing various crimes as the leader of the Cacique Pipinta bloc of the AUC, which operated in Antioquia.
One of these crimes relates to the ‘false positives’ scandal, in which 2,997 civilians were killed by members of the armed forces, who then dressed their victims as guerrillas in order to present them as combat kills. Sierra admitted to Telesur that his men were among those who “shot them down and called them rebels…because Colombia measures success in war by litres of blood spilt.”
FACT SHEET: False positives
Uribe, then the president, denied the armed forces were killing civilians until late 2008 when investigators linked the bodies of unidentified rebel fighters found in the north of the country to people who had been reported missing in Soacha, a city south of the capital Bogota.
Accusations that Uribe has ties to paramilitary organizations have been in existence for a long time, although none have yet stuck. In 2004 a declassified US Intelligence Report, originally written in 1991, stated that Uribe had “worked for the Medellin Cartel”, run by notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who the report described as a “close personal friend.”
In 2007 another US intelligence report – leaked to the Los Angeles Times – alleged that Uribe instructed General Mario Montoya, a local army commander who was later promoted to become the army’s top commander, to lead a controversial counter-insurgency push in the city of Medellin in which AUC forces played a major role. At least 14 people were killed in “Operation Orion” and dozens were forcibly disappeared. Montoya has since been placed under investigation, and is also linked to the false positives scandal.
February 2012 saw extradited drug lord “El Tuso” testify that Uribe was involved in a conspiracy with his personal spy agency and former paramilitary leaders to discredit the country’s Supreme Court, who after 2006 increasingly unveiled ties between politicians in Uribe’s coalition and the AUC. The month before former AUC commander “Don Berna” claimed to have had a hand in Uribe’s 2006 re-election, providing logistical and financial support for his campaign. He even claimed to have met with Uribe in person.
The latest scandal involves the man described by Sierra as Uribe’s “right-hand man,” former Congress president and Antioquia governor, Luis Alfredo Ramos, who on Thursday surrendered to authorities after the Supreme Court ordered his arrest. He is also accused of having ties with paramilitary death squads. He was a presidential candidate for Uribe’s Democratic Center party. Another two of his candidates are currently under investigation for parapolitics.
- Exclusivo: Exjefe paramilitar acusa a Álvaro Uribe de ser “cabeza del paramilitarismo” (Telesur)
- La maldición de Guacharacas, la hacienda de los Uribe Vélez (Arco Iris)
- Investigation into Uribe’s ‘Paramilitary Ties’ Reopened (Insight Crime)
- The Case Against Uribe (Insight Crime)
- US Intelligence Report (US National Security Archive)