The former house of powerful paramilitary commander Rodrigo “Jorge 40” Tovar on Thursday became a museum for peace.
The “Casa del Balcon” (House of the Balcony) in the Chilobo district of Magdalena department, north Colombia, was for more than a decade the headquarters of Jorge 40, head of the ruthless Northern Bloc of paramilitary group AUC, who ostensibly demobilized in 2006.
The house will be handed over to the organization representing the victims of Colombia’s armed conflict, the Victims Unit, and will document the violent atrocities that the region suffered, including massacres, kidnappings, disappearances, and the forced displacement of people.
Several victims who were forced off their land by the AUC will also receive property titles in the districts surrounding Chilobo.
Jorge 40 converted the House of the Balcony, which had been a cultural center, into his court, a place to give public audiences, and the place in which the so-called “Pact of Chilobo” was signed.
The pact involved the AUC promising to provide support for hundreds of officials in their election campaigns. It resulted in the arresting of 60 regional politicians, including members of then-President Alvaro Uribe’s family, who were charged with ‘parapolitics’ – having connections to paramilitary organizations.
Much of the evidence came from information held in the computer of Jorge 40’s right-hand man, “Don Antonio,” who was captured in 2006. The information contained a list of 558 individuals killed by paramilitaries in the Atlantico department during the demobilization ceasefire period (2003-2006).
It also provided evidence of the AUC’s involvement in cocaine trafficking, how lucrative government contracts were awarded to the paramilitaries, and how the demobilization was a scam, with unemployed farmers being paid to act like paramilitary combatants and to participate in demobilization ceremonies while real combatants continuted fighting.
Jorge 40’s most infamous crime was his involvement in the “false positives” scandal. His Bloc colluded with Colombia’s army in killing thousands of civilians, dressing them as rebel fighters, then presenting them as combat kills.
Last week two former army colonels, Hernan Mejia and Jose Pastror Ruiz, were sentenced to 19 years in prison for their part in the false positives scandal.
Crime analysis website Insight Crime describes one incident in which a group of Jorge 40’s paramilitaries were assassinated by Mejia’s soldiers after an internal dispute. The paramilitaries were subsequently dressed up as ELN guerrillas – Colombia’s second-largest rebel group – and reported as combat kills.
Newspaper Semana reports that Mejia received up to $15,000 from Jorge 40’s Bloc for his continued collaboration.
The paramilitary leader was sentenced to 26 years in prison in November 2011, although he had already been extradited to the States in 2008 on drug-trafficking charges.
It is estimated that the armed conflict in Chilobo affected 2753 people, with 2621 cases of forced displacement, 238 cases of massacre of murder, and 60 cases of forced disappearance.
In March almost a thousand hectares of land in the region taken by the AUC were handed back to the 32 families who used to own it.
- Habitantes de Chibolo vuelven a la tierra que alias “Jorge 40” les arrebató (Victims Unit Official Site)
- Campamento principal de ‘Jorge 40’ en Magdalena será sede de paz (El Tiempo)
- Colombia Colonel Sentenced to 19 Years for Paramilitary Ties (Insight Crime)
- Las pruebas hablan por sí solas (Semana)
- Pacto de Chivolo: primer laboratorio de la para-política (Arco Iris)