A number of extradited top leaders of now-demobilized paramilitary organization AUC sent a letter in which they call on Colombia to support a peace process with their former arch enemies, the leftist FARC rebel group.
The AUC fought against the FARC since its formation in 1997 until its demobilization between 2003 and 2006, colluding with top members of the military and the country’s political and economic elite.
However, 10 years after their last block demobilized, the paramilitary commanders said they “carry no grudge or desire to retaliate” against their old enemies.
“We Colombians must reach peace and reconciliation between us and to do this we need to put ourselves above sectarianism, contribute to the clarification of truth and take part in a transitional justice that covers all of us who took part in this war, the letter said.
The letter was signed by a number of top commanders of the AUC, who over the years have been extradited to the Unites States, in some cases without court approval and against promises made during their demobilization.
Authors of the letter
Julian Bolivar, Botalon, Don Cesar, Piraña, Anibal Gomez, Ernesto Baez, Ramon Isaza, Monoleche, Rodrigo Zapata, Botalon (2), Jorge Andrade, Omar Carmona, Juan Cadena, Guillermo Acevedo, Zorba, El Iguano, Ferney Castrillon
The remaining 16 commanders include “Ernesto Baez,” one of the main ideologists of the extreme-right group, and “Julian Bolivar” and “El Iguano” whose testimonies helped incarcerate numerous politicians who used the AUC’s death squads to intimidate voters and eliminate political competition.
Salvatore Mancuso, who was the commander-in-chief of the group after the murder of founder Carlos Castaño in 2014, did not sign the letter.
Mancuso is expected to be released from his US prison in four years where he is serving a reduced 12 years sentence for drug trafficking. In Colombia he has yet to respond to more than 1,000 war crimes.
The paramilitaries’ surprise extradition in 2008 stopped most their collaboration with Colombian justice, which has accused the group of tens of tens of thousands of war crimes. It also stopped the paramilitaries’ incrimination of politicians and businesses who had collaborated with them.
A transitional justice court that will take force once peace with the FARC is formalized will try approximately 12,000 businessmen, other civilians and public servants accused of supporting the AUC, a designated terrorist group before its dissolution.
“We took part in a peace process in the hope to contribute to the solution of the Colombian armed conflict. We kept our word as we demobilized a little more than 30,000 fighters and surrendered our weapons. Nevertheless, the result was our extradition and long sentences in the United States. This can not be the way to resolve the conflict and find peace in Colombia,” the former paramilitary commanders wrote.
The paramilitaries bashed hard-line former President Alvaro Uribe, the person who ordered their extrajudicial extradition, which spurred the formation of paramilitary successor groups like the AGC, a.k.a. “Los Urabeños,” who rearmed, citing Uribe’s treachery as their reason to rearm.
The former president is one of few politicians opposing peace with the FARC.
“The rejection of ex-President Alvaro Uribe of the peace process and its agreements is out of line with the offers he made to the guerrillas in the past and the ones initially made to us,” the paramilitaries said, referring to leaked documents that have revealed the former president offered the FARC the same seats in Congress he now objects to.
“To involve an entire country in his eternal hatred can only be understood given his political interests,” said the paramilitaries, whose testimonies spurred the incarceration of Uribe’s nephew and many dozens of his political allies.
“The country needs to turn around completely, independent of one’s left-leaning or right-leaning character, and say YES in the plebiscite and YES to the process of reconciliation,” said the former paramilitaries.
The AUC commanders said that they “have our hands outstretched and our hearts open to return to Colombia and contribute to peace.”
The paramilitaries asked to be accepted as witnesses in the transitional justice system that seeks to clarify and provide justice for the war crimes committed by the FARC, the AUC and the state.
Uribe last week warned that US President Barack Obama is considering granting amnesty and repatriate extradited FARC members in December, just before leaving office.
However, Obama could also decide to pardon and repatriate the illegally extradited paramilitaries and allow them to take part in the Truth Commission and the Transitional Justice Tribunal.
This would be a major victory for victims, who have criticized Uribe for disrupting the paramilitaries’ clarification of truth, which has left tens of thousands of families without closure of crimes committed by the AUC.