Colombia’s most-circulated newsweekly, Semana, published an explosive cover story Sunday. The magazine got its hands on recordings of some of the telephone conversations that mid-level paramilitary leaders in the ItagÃ¼Ã prison near MedellÃn have been having with their associates “on the outside.” The recordings reveal that these individuals – the right-hand men of several of the top paramilitary leaders – are continuing to traffic drugs, order assassinations, and manage arms caches, even while supposedly in maximum-security confinement.
If this is true – and if the paramilitaries’ maximum leaders know about these activities, as is likely – then the Colombian government’s talks with the paramilitaries are in very serious trouble. It would mean:
- President Uribe’s decision to send fifty paramilitaries to the ItagÃ¼Ã jail had no effect on their ability to continue their criminal activities.
- The mere fact that these criminal activities continue would mean that the paramilitary leaders are in clear violation of the “Justice and Peace” law, and thus subject to 40-year jail sentences.
- If they lose the protection of the “Justice and Peace” law, paramilitary leaders would likely face extradition to the United States.
Here are some translated excerpts from the Semana story (thanks to CIP intern Gareth Smail).
Semana has obtained dozens of recordings from the latest four months in which various paramilitaries held in the ItagÃ¼Ã prison’s Cell Block 1 coordinate all kinds of illegal dealings over their cell phones and email. The voices identified in the conversations are the right-hand men of some of the principal leaders of the demobilized AUC, like Salvatore Mancuso; Ramiro Vanoy, aka â€œCuco;â€ and Fredy RendÃ³n, aka â€œEl AlemÃ¡n.â€
There are some, like â€œEl Flaco,â€ a member of the old Catatumbo Bloc commanded by Salvatore Mancuso, who order their men outside of jail to buy and sell large loads of cocaine. â€œEverybody knows that the guy that doesnâ€™t sell the white merchandise at 22 (2,200,000 pesos, $950 USD) is in trouble. You know how it is, they are targets and targets understand each other.â€ Others, like â€œGoyo,â€ of the Elmer Cardenas Front lead by Fredy RendÃ³n, aka â€œEl AlemÃ¡n,â€ order their men to uncover the guns they did not hand over when they demobilized, and tell them to continue dominating communities and towns that they do not wish to lose. â€œYou know that we have some repeating shotguns there. I took a risk to put them there, and I have to have them guarded.â€ He also asked them to continue extorting wealthy people for financing. â€œWe need to get back all the business in San CristÃ³bal so that they support us again, because we have to give something to the boys.â€ Most frightening is that using cell phones, they calmly speak of the murders and tortures they continue committing, like in the conversation of â€œEl Mosco,â€ of the demobilized Bloque Mineros lead by Ramiro Vanoy, aka â€œCuco,â€ with one of his men who reports his crime. â€œLetâ€™s just say nobody missed this son of a bitch. You know sir that what we do, we do with your permission, and what you say, goesâ€ says one of his lieutenants.
In the majority of the recordings obtained by Semana, the 17 highest bosses of the demobilized AUC chat about personal issues, legal proceedings, and the difficulties of the Peace and Justice process. On repeated occasions they have insisted that they cannot be held responsible for the illegal activities that their demobilized men continue carry out. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that they are not informed of what the 25 men that accompany them in the cell block do. In the end, they are more than just their right-hand men of the past few years; they now spend 24 hours a day just a few meters from them.
In one of the most revealing recordings, everything that happens in the jail, the lack of control, disorganization, and above all corruption, reflects in the voice of who up until just a few weeks ago was the prison’s director.
The testimony of Yolanda RodrÃguez is the most impressive diagnosis of what happened there. â€œEvery day this is getting worse. Here, they change my orders every day. When I say â€˜noâ€™ they call the general director [of prisons], the high commissioner [for peace], the minister [of interior], and if still no, the president himself.â€ This past April 10, this official’s disappointment brought her to tell these and other grievances to her friend, the director of the Picota jail, Imelda LÃ³pez. Rodriguez was so disillusioned that she asked to be transferred to any other jail in the country.