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Colombia: Reactions to Paramilitary Chief's “Confession”

On May 15-17, paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso Gómez continued his deposition before the Colombian Attorney General's office in Medellín's Palace of Justice, which was interrupted in January. It was preceded by a sort of “expectative campaign” and was followed by a huge series of events, such as hostage Colombian Police Officer Jhon Frank Pinchao's escape from captivity by the FARC. While a lot of people, including me, thought it was going to be much ado about nothing, Mancuso implicated a lot of key people in Colombian politics (including current Vice President Francisco Santos and his cousin, Minister of Defence Juan Manuel Santos), economy, military, police and even large American and domestic companies, which allegedly supported the paramilitary death squads. Mancuso also said that paramilitarism was a “State policy” and told how this was a “phenomenon” in his area, Córdoba, Sucre and Antioquia departments.

Jaime Restrepo makes an analysis at Atrabilioso [ES]:

Me gustan los dos primeros días de testimonio de Salvatore Mancuso. Y si esa fue la entrada, hay buenos augurios sobre el plato fuerte, pues uno de los mayores criminales de las Autodefensas está dispuesto a contar su historia, ya sea como un acto de venganza o por cumplir con el compromiso de contar una parte de la verdad: de alguna manera la motivación es accesoria, pues lo importante es que se conozcan los intrincados lazos de los violentos con la sociedad colombiana y que estos sean evaluados por la justicia, cosa difícil, o por la historia. […] Por lo pronto hay que estar satisfechos con el despertar y tener confianza en que a lo largo de los procesos no disminuya el impulso de los jefes paramilitares para contar su historia y sus verdades: eso lo necesita Colombia.

I liked the first two days of Mancuso's testimony. And if that was the appetizer, then there are good forecasts about the main dish, because one of top criminals of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) is willing to tell his story, whether as an act of revenge act in order to honor the commitment to tell some of the truth: in a way, the motivation is secondary, because the important thing is that the complicated ties of violent squads and guerrillas with Colombian society will begin to be known and that they be evaluated by the judiciary, which is something quite difficult, or maybe just for history […] To start, we must be satisfied with this awakening and we must be confident that throughout the processes the impulse of the paramilitary bosses to tell the truth and their stories does not fade: Colombia needs it.

Felipe, from El Andurrial [ES], refers to Mancuso's accusations against Vice President Francisco Santos, whose family owns Colombia's leading and only national daily newspaper. According to Mancuso, Santos suggested deceased boss Carlos Castaño to create a paramilitary bloc for Bogotá and mentioned an article wrote by Santos at El Tiempo in 1997 which seems to praise the paramilitaries. Felipe doesn't believe him that much:

Supuestamente Carlos Castaño le ofreció dirigir el Bloque Capital y la respuesta de Pacho Santos fue que él no sabia de esas cosas…Eso tiene pinta de cuento, de verdad Carlos Castaño, un estratega militar, le ofrecería a Santos que dirigiera un bloque de auto defensas? […] Habrá que ver qué pasa…Por ahora, Pacho, ese sueño 2010 – 2014 hay que archivarlo.

Allegedly Carlos Castaño offered to lead the Capital Bloc and Pacho Santos answer was that he didn't know about that stuff… that seems like a tall story… did actually Carlos Castaño, a military strategist, offer Santos to lead a self-defence bloc? […] We'll have to see what happens… For now, Pacho, that dream [to become the next president for the] 2010 – 2014 [term] will have to be shelved.

In contrast, Fabio Andrés Gómez [ES] does believe Mancuso:

Si la esencia de la Ley de Justicia y Paz, es que los desmovilizados digan su verdad, por qué no se les cree cuando lo hacen. Mancuso y los demás exjefes paras, saben muy bien que en las audiencias ante la Fiscalía deben decir la verdad, o sino, podrían perder los beneficios a que tienen derecho según dicha Ley.
Entonces, por qué se pone en tela de juicio lo que él ha dicho; o será que no ha dicho lo que alguien quiere que diga; ¿será tan bruto Salvatore de decir cosas que no pueda demostrar más adelante?. Haré de abogado del diablo y le creeré, así diga verdades incómodas que algunos quieren hacer ver como verdades a medias.

If the essence of the Justice and Peace law is that the demobilized militias tell the truth, then why doesn't anyone believe them when they do so? Mancuso and the other ex paramilitary bosses are quite aware that in their depositions before the Attorney General's office, that must tell the truth, or else they could lose the benefits that they are legally entitled to. Then, why do they cast doubt on what he has said; or maybe he hasn't said something that someone wants him to tell… Is Mancuso so stupid to tell things he can't prove later? I'll act as the devil's advocate and I will believe him, no matter if he says uncomfortable truths that some people want to make it seen as half-truths.

As all the accused denied Mancuso's allegations, Bilioso [ES] slams the supporters of the current administration, whose main politicians have been involved in the scandal and some of them are in jail. Colombians, in general, pretend to know nothing about all the crimes these people commit:

¿Y saben por qué no sabemos nada? Porque Uribe militarizó las carreteras. Con eso fue suficiente para que el país le diera el beneficio del tapujo. Los paramilitares seguirán disfrutando los beneficios de Justicia and Peace, los Santos seguirán siendo el gobierno detrás de Uribe, Londoño seguirá siendo un columnista leído y respetado y los generales seguirán disfrutando los milloncitos de su retiro. En Colombia los delitos son otros: robarse una gallina, cogerle el culo a una transeúnte o pasarse borracho un semáforo. Los demás no. Reunirse con paramilitares, tomarse fotos con reconocidos mafiosos, robarse las acciones, apoyar una masacre, robarse la tierra, expedir licencias de vuelo a los mafiosos, nada, nada es delito en el país de la motosierra porque el culebrero tiene bajo hipnosis a la gleba que va a toros, apoya equipos de fútbol y ve realities. A la chusma, a la porquería. No ven el desempleo, el estado de la salud, el desplazamiento, la educación pública, nada ven porque aquí nadie sabe nada. Todo va mejorando para ellos, claro, es que no saben nada.

And do you know why we don't know a thing? Because Uribe militarized the highways. That was enough for this country to give him the benefit of doubt. The paramilitaries will continue to enjoy the benefits of Justice and Peace, the Santos will keep being the government behind Uribe, [Fernando] Londoño (a controversial right-wing former minister accused of illegally acquiring shares of a holding company which managed investments for state oil and gas companies) will keep being a widely read respected columnist and the generals will keep enjoying the millions of their retirement. In Colombia the felonies are others: to steal a chicken, to touch some female passer-by's ass or pass a traffic light while drunk. Not the other things. To have meetings with paramilitaries, to take pictures with well known mafias, to steal shares, to support a massacre, to steal lands from peasants, to issue flight licences for mafia guys, nothing, nothing is a crime in the country of the chainsaw because the culebrero has hypnotized the populace that goes to bullfights, supports football teams, and watch reality shows on TV. The riffraff, the scum. They don't see the unemployment, the [bad] state of [public] health, the displacement, public education, they see nothing because here no one knows a thing. Everything is getting better for them, of course… they know nothing.

Valentina Díaz from Realidades Colombianas [ES] criticized President Uribe's reaction to the Mancuso accusations against the Santos cousins, when Uribe said in a radio interview that former left-wing presidential candidate Carlos Gaviria was a guerrilla man:

¿Es malo que Mancuso sindique al vicepresidente y al ministro de defensa de estar conectado con los paracos por lo que esta indignado el señor presidente ofreciéndoles total respaldo y pregonando su pureza moral y social, pero es válido que él sindique a dirigentes de la oposición, (o cualquier se humano), de ser guerrilleros?

Is it a bad thing that Mancuso accuses the Vice President and the Minister of Defence to be tied with the ‘paracos’, which is why the president is so outraged offering them his total support and announcing their social and moral purity, but it's perfectly valid that he accuses opposition leaders (or any other human being) to be guerrillas?

It is expected that Mancuso and another paramilitary bosses’ confessions continue within the next few weeks. The relatives of their victims were quite disappointed, because Mancuso said little about the whereabouts of the thousands of peasants killed and cut up by AUC. President Álvaro Uribe deals with the scandal, saying he will ‘release’ jailed FARC and ELN rebels and also proposed to free the jailed politicians (“to save his his friends“) because of their paramilitary ties “as long as they confess the truth”. Meanwhile, Colombians try to move on with their lives, hoping for the truth to finally show up, still suspicious of its political class, which seems to be all linked with violent groups. We'll have to wait and see, as they desperately seem to try to cover up everything in the name of the “institutions”.

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