A new book sheds further light on the alleged leading role of former President Alvaro Uribe‘s brother Santiago in the notorious paramilitary death squad, the 12 Apostles.
The book, written by Colombian journalist Olga Behar and presented Saturday in Bogota, is titled “El Clan de los 12 Apostoles,” (The Clan of the 12 Apostles) and focuses on the period of 1992-1994, drawing predominantly from interviews with a former Antioquian police official, Juan Carlos Meneses, the man who first implicated Uribe as the leader of the group in an interview with the Washington Post last year.
While the 2010 interview by Meneses was crucial in highlighting Uribe’s role as the principal financier and strategist for the group, the book delves deeper into the relationship between the paramilitaries and the authorities, a relationship that permitted the killings of peasants, guerrillas and alleged guerrilla sympathizers by the group Behar stated in a recent interview.
Rather than seeing the operational capacity of this paramilitary squad as being a result of individual failings by the police and armed forces, Behar notes that it was down to a deliberate failing by the authorities, using cases provided by Meneses as key examples.
Meneses relayed to Behar how Uribe would often order the police to retreat from their area of operation by some one or two miles in order for a massacre conducted by his gang to take place. When reports would come through to the police, they would be too far away to arrive at the scene in time to detain the perpetrators. For these services, Uribe allegedly paid Meneses personally $2,000 per month.
One incident in particular that highlights this framework perfectly is where Uribe allegedly told Meneses that there was a target of the 12 Apostles arriving into town on a bus. Uribe needed Meneses to clear his men from the bus station to ensure that the paramilitaries could assassinate the man in question.
When the man arrived at the station, he immediately became aware of the danger he was in and ran outside to find the nearest police command for help, only to find nobody. Though Meneses’ men proclaimed to their commander the need to intervene when guns began to be fired, Meneses warned against exiting from where they were nearby in case they became ambushed by the death squad, a further sign of the power Uribe and his group had over the area.
The former President’s brother has always denied any involvement with paramilitaries, with both he and Alvaro Uribe claiming the allegations to be part of a grand conspiracy to discredit their family.
After Meneses gave his interview to the Washington Post last year, Colombia’s then-Prosecutor General Guilermo Mendoza Diago opened preliminary investigations into the matter, reviving a case that had been dead since the 1990s when prosecutors found no grounds for conviction against Santiago Uribe.
Since Meneses could not return to Colombia for fear of becoming a potential target of paramilitary sympathizers, he gave his testimony regarding Uribe’s ties to the 12 Apostles to a prosecutor sent by Mendoza in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
According to Behar, as she writes in the book, during this testimony the phone rang outside of the room where Meneses and the prosecutor were, and was answered by the prosecutor’s legal counsel. Meneses apparently overheard the conversation in which the counsel continually referred to the caller as “Mr. President,” though the prosecutor, upon being confronted, claimed to Meneses to have heard no such thing.
As Behar points out, if this is indeed true, it represents a significant breach of conduct by a president in a judicial procedure. If Uribe was calling to see what was happening, questions must be asked firstly as to why and secondly whether he was trying to influence proceedings in any way.
Perhaps tellingly, though preliminary investigations were opened into Santiago Uribe more than a year ago, little if anything has happened since.
Asked by her interviewer if she fears possible violence against her because of her latest publication, Behar seemed relaxed in her response stating that she is only concerned with putting her book into circulation within Colombia, a country she has not been back to for 20 years since exile in Mexico.
She admitted that she has already taken steps by ensuring her two children are living safely abroad but added, “If something happens to me, well …”