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April 08, 2010

Let’s hope this isn’t true

Posted in: Paramilitarism

Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos has faced accusations in the past that, as a journalist and anti-kidnapping activist in the 1990s, he met with paramilitary leaders and suggested they set up a presence in Bogotá.

Those accusations came from paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, in his testimony before “Justice and Peace” prosecutors. Though the Vice President insisted that he was just making a bad joke, and although Mancuso’s version was never corroborated, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office maintains an open investigation.

Now there is a bit more corroboration. The Verdad Abierta website, a collaboration of Colombian media and think-tanks, has just released a 150-page diary taken from a memory card belonging to extradited paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo. Tovar, alias “Jorge 40,” headed the AUC’s powerful Northern Bloc, which controlled much of the departments of Magdalena, Cesar and La Guajira.

The diary mentions few living Colombian public officials, but it goes on at some length about Vice-President Francisco Santos. And it reflects very poorly on him.

The following should be taken as the words of a truth-challenged former combatant with a political agenda of his own. Much here is probably inaccurate or untrue. (Just as in the case of “Samir,” the former FARC commander who has sought to impugn non-governmental activists.) Still, this is not a testimony that “Jorge 40” chose to release himself, and it does include some disturbing details.

The excerpt follows.

I’m not sure if it was in March, April or May 1997. I was at a vallenato festival when I had the opportunity to meet FRANCISCO SANTOS. I was presented as the person who could contact Comandante Salvatore Mancuso. I said that, coincidentally, he was in the city of Valledupar. I knew he was sleeping just three blocks from where the partying was going on, because we had been talking that day.

He asked me the favor of taking him to where he was because he wanted to say hello and talk to him. I assumed they knew each other because he spoke of wanting to say hello. I asked him to wait a moment while I communicated with the comandante. I moved away from the party and called him. I communicated the desire of FRANCISCO SANTOS, and although the comandante told me that he was sleeping, he agreed to meet him.

I told FRANCISCO SANTOS that I would, with pleasure, take him to the comandante. He asked me for a moment as he poured a shot of whiskey – smuggled, which we were used to drinking back then in Valledupar – and then the two of us left in the company of my two bodyguards.

We arrived and one of the comandante’s guards knocked on the door of the room where he was. He warned of my presence in the company of another man and, within minutes, came out and I saw the effusive way they welcomed each other, and how he greeted the comandante with the nickname “monito” [“Little Monkey” — Mancuso went by the nickname El Mono.]. That’s how I confirmed that they already knew each other. Comandante Santiago, who was sleeping in a room adjacent to Comandante Mancuso, also came out and sat down to talk in the kiosk.

Comandante Mancuso asked me the favor of sitting down and accompanying them for the meeting. In the first topic of conversation Mr. SANTOS asked Comandante Mancuso about the progress of the war. To which Comandante Mancuso responded most knowledgeably and gave an exposition of the situation, confirming his desire to increase the self-defense resistance forces in the departments of Cesar, Magdalena and Guajira.

At the same time, he informed him of Comandante Carlos Castaño’s plans to confront subversion throughout the country. At this moment Mr. FRANCISCO SANTOS asked Comandante Mancuso about the status of the issue he had raised with Comandante Castaño, about the presence of self-defense groups in Bogotá and Cundinamarca.

Next, he brought up the subject of his presence in Valledupar and explained that it owed to a launch the next day, in the Plaza Alfonso López, of the País Libre Foundation, which is devoted to helping on the issue of the release of hostages and their families. Comandante Mancuso, who was the only one who opened his mouth, said it seemed very good to him, because kidnapping not only affects the kidnapped, but his experience told him that the families suffered even more.

At that moment, FRANCISCO SANTOS said that, precisely, not just to help a family, but also because it would help the Foundation to gain a firm foothold in Valledupar, he would like to be given a person that was kidnapped by the AUC, which would kill three birds with one stone: the release of a person and tranquility of the family, the positioning of País Libre in the region, and a signal of the AUC’s will to achieve peace.

Comandante Mancuso told him that as a matter of the Organization’s policy, if the self-defense groups fight against kidnapping, how could they engage in it? That was not allowed. He said, however, that Comandante Santiago could provide additional information on this specific issue. At this time Comandante SANTIAGO explained to Mr. Santos about the person he was asking about.

He said this person had been involved in placing a bomb at the residence of a patriarch of the region. That this person had been located and taken to a zone in Magdalena, to obtain information about the urban network to which he belonged, that later he was killed and that his body would be impossible to recover, because they had thrown it in the Magdalena River. Mr. Santos expressed regret, as he hoped to do his launch the next day, presenting that person.

He took another drink of smuggled whiskey, with which he toasted Comandante Mancuso, and ended with another issue that was more like – or so I saw it – a recommendation. He mentioned that it was true that the war should continue, and that the evil of war was that there would be dead people. He said, then, that they should not disappear people, that this would end up becoming a problem, not just for human rights but also a problem for his Foundation, since the relatives ask his intervention to find the missing, and this increased not only operating costs but the need for more staff.

Comandante Mancuso told him, as did Comandante Santiago, that he would take into account his advice, and that he hoped that on another occasion he would be able to help him with something similar or whatever he might consider approriate. We said goodbye and he wished the comandantes success in their war and prudence in their actions. Then, we went back to the party where everyone awaited the arrival of Mr. Santos, then, as in all Vallenato parties when a Bogotano arrives, he became the center of attention.

(Later in the diary)

After lunch [Carlos Castaño] asked me the favor of traveling to Bogotá to meet with Mr. Francisco Santos, to give a greeting from him and to bring a message.

I told him no problem. When I asked for when, he told me to seek the appointment as quickly as possible. He already knew of our meeting in Valledupar. I told him I would look for the person who had introduced us because I didn’t even get his number the day I met him. He gave me the message to deliver, and thanked me in advance. He said he would only confirm; I was given a phone number and name so that, with that person, he would confirm the completion of the meeting. We said goodbye and I left encouraged because I was trying to position itself as a trusted associate of Comandante Castaño.

Though the message was very short, I was representing him. I took great pains to do him the favor as quickly as possible. I called the person who had introduced us, and asked him the favor of contacting Mr. Santos, to see if I could get 5 minutes, that I wouldn’t take more time than that, since I had a message from Comandante Castaño. He told me that when I was in Bogota to call him, that he would be happy to get him the meeting.

This was the case, and in mid-August, while in Bogotá, I was told he would receive me at 8 or 9 PM at a restaurant called Carbón de Palo, on 106th with 19th, something like that. He would be there because he had a dinner appointment; so I should arrive early in order to have time to speak, before the party he was expecting. I arrived, I greeted him and told him I would not take but 5 minutes. He asked me if I wanted a whisky, I was grateful, but I told him a glass of water was sufficient. He asked me why and I told him I was trying to stop drinking. He laughed I said that was impossible for a vallenato.

I gave him greetings from Comandante Castaño. He thanked me and asked me how things were going. I told him very hard but that the paramilitaries were willing to change the balance of the conflict; that our region was so accustomed to violence that the guerrillas handed us, that the actions with which the resistance responded did not frighten people, however harsh they might be, because the attack had been this hard for the last ten years.

He told me that war was definitely very cruel, and hopefully there could be humane methods. I told him that the only way was by eradicating them, and that without a state guaranteeing the citizens’ minimum rights, they would increasingly choose the option of violence; that definitely this was a war between the people.

Our chat had already taken like 10 minutes, when I proceeded to give the message of Comandante Castaño, which was to say he had received Comandante Mancuso’s message but, because it is the capital of the Republic, he could not send just any commander to that front; that he was looking for the ideal person, who already had the troops, and that once he had the right man, he would come to operate in the capital and in the Department.

I acknowledged receipt of the message and in a few minutes he said to me: the person I was waiting for has arrived. She was a woman. I thanked him for having received me kindly and said goodbye, as the woman was approaching.

Comandante Mancuso’s response was that this was an issue that Mr. Santos had discussed with Comandante Castaño at a previous meeting, and only Comandante Castaño could respond, but that, with pleasure, he would convey the concern to the comandante next time he saw him.


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