A Bogota court ruled on Friday that a series of massacres, homicides and forced displacement operations carried out by paramilitaries in the north and northeast of Colombia in the late 1990s was “state policy.”
The condemnation came with a verdict in which the extradited chief of the paramilitaries, Salvatore Mancuso, was sentenced to eight years in prison. the maximum sentence agreed between the state and the paramilitaries in 2005 when signing peace.
As part of his plea bargain with the special Justice and Peace prosecution unit, Mancuso admitted to 402 crimes, including 300 murders of which one was of a 22-month-old girl.
Additionally, the paramilitary chief admitted to having led four massacres, and that under his command more than five thousand civilians were assassinated.
The man who led the AUC between 2004 and 2006 also laid bare how government officials and the military had made up an integrated part of the AUC’s operations.
Military, intelligence agency trained paramilitary groups
According to Mancuso, AUC founder Carlos “Castaño told me in 1995 that he met with the military command that asked him to strengthen the AUC in the north. They would appoint police commanders and regional prosecution directors who were loyal to the paramilitary ideology.”
“If you want to stay alive you have to either fight for it or sell your land because the guerrillas are going to kill you,” Mayor Walter Fratini Lobaccio allegedly told Mancuso ahead of the formation of the AUC.
“I was trained by the army and police, I had a B2 card, I entered the Brigade without being searched, entering like the commanders did, they opened the door for me,” Mancuso explained.
According to the former AUC boss, “without the action or inaction of the State, we wouldn’t have been able to grow the way we did.”
Army collaboration in paramilitary offensive
Mancuso said that the commanders of the army’s first and second division were complicit in moving thousands of paramilitary fighters from its stronghold in the northwestern Uraba region to Catatumbo, a region in the northeast.
The judge agreed, claiming that “thanks to the collaboration of the armed forces and the state” the paramilitaries successfully were able to carry out the territorial offensive between 1998 and 1999 in which 900 civilians were killed.
Consequently, said the judge, “the military and the army were institutionally responsible.”
The judge also considered it proven that former intelligence chief Jose Miguel Narvaez, trained paramilitary forces, and gave one workshop on “why it is legal to kill Communists.”
The disgraced intelligence official also provided workshops at Fedegan, whose director in the past had said that his “trade group has the courage to assume responsibility that in the passed it financed the country’s paramilitary movement.”
Help from the prosecution
Mancuso’s sentence also tightens the judicial net around former Prosecutor General Luis Carlos Osorio, on trial for his alleged support of the paramilitaries, for appointing a regional prosecutor who warned the paramilitaries of pending investigations or raids.
Osorio has long faced accusations he was a paramilitary collaborator while occupying the Prosecutor General’s Office, but has yet to be investigated.
Bye bye, Mancuso
Mancuso was illegally extradited to the United States by the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe, himself accused of being a prominent AUC collaborator, in 2008. In a surprise move in the middle of ongoing investigations of paramilitary links to politics, Uribe extradited 14 paramilitary commanders claiming they had breached their agreement with justice.
The move spurred fierce criticism from both the paramilitaries and their victims who blame Uribe of trying to obstruct investigations against himself and other senior politicians.
The then-Prosecutor General and the Supreme court fiercely condemned the move, denying that the extradited commanders had breached their agreement with the justice department, and the extradition was impeding the clarification of tens of human rights violations.
The AUC was born in 1997 from a collection of self-defense groups that were trying to prevent private property and wealthy Colombians from attacks by leftist rebel groups like the FARC and ELN that were wreaking havoc throughout Colombia in that period.
However, the extreme-right group did not just successfully counter the guerrillas in the paramilitary attempt to “refound the nation,” but assumed vast interests in the cocaine trade while displacing millions of Colombians whose land ended up in the business portfolios of paramilitary frontmen, or sold to large landowners and multinationals.
The group formally demobilized in 2006. However, mid-level commanders who were not sent to jail used their organization’s criminal structure, arms and manpower to create neo-paramilitary groups like the Urabeños and the Aguilas Negras, groups that are still active today.
- Sentencia contra Mancuso confirma vínculos de Auc con militares, empresarios y políticos (Verdad Abierta)
- ¿Qué se hicieron los desmovilizados del Bloque Catatumbo? (Verdad Abierta)
- Condena a Mancuso vuelve a enredar a exfiscal Osorio con ‘paras’ (El Tiempo)
- ‘Fui adoctrinado por el Ejército y la Policía’: Mancuso (El Tiempo)
- Pena alternativa de 8 años imponen a Salvatore Mancuso; si vuelve a delinquir serán 40 años (Radio Santa Fe)