Two former heads of Colombia’s notorious right-wing paramilitary group, the AUC, called on President Juan Manuel Santos to allow them a space at the negotiating table in the ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government and rebel group FARC.
Two ex-leaders of the now-defunct AUC, Salvatore Mancuso (extradited and imprisoned in the US on drug trafficking charges) and Edward Cobos, alias “Diego Vecino” (demobilized and incarcerated in a Bogota prison), sent a letter to President Santos claiming they too were victims of Colombia’s largest armed rebel group, the FARC, reported Colombia’s El Universal newspaper.
“I was subjected to extortion, threats, assaults, robberies, cattle rustling by the FARC since the early 1990s,” wrote Mancuso in the letter to President Santos.
Mancuso and Cobos, responsible for forced displacements, rape, and aggravated robbery, as well as tens of thousands of murders committed between late 1980 and mid-2000, claim they are both victims and perpetrators who can contribute to building a road to reconciliation. They seek to “once again ask forgiveness of all Colombians (…) to whom in the past we also did damage and caused much pain.” They also wish to “participate in person in the great gathering of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation between former guerrillas and AUC.”
This is not the first time Mancuso has asked to actively participate in the peace talks. In October 2012, he sent a similar letter to President Santos claiming the “bitter and painful lessons of history and personal experiences has taught us that a peace process that does not include the grand majority of the actors of the conflict will result as insufficient.”
Between 2003 and 2006, some 32,000 members of paramilitary block demobilized en masse in an agreement reached with then-President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law was enacted in 2006 to legally sustain a demobilization treaty between the AUC and the Colombian government. In exchange for cooperating with the authorities and demobilizing, the AUC’s commanders and middle men received a pledge that no-one who came in as a result of the law would receive more than eight years in prison.
With the exception of those extradited to the US, many of the incarcerated ex-paramilitary leaders and middle-men, including Cobos, are eligible for release after having completed their eight-year prison sentences on August 15.
The Colombian government and the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, have been negotiating an end to Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict in Havana, Cuba since November 2012. The subject of victims is the fourth of six topics while deals have been reached on how to combat drug trafficking, the political participation of ex-guerrillas and agrarian reform.