Diego Fernando Murillo (”Don Berna”), the dominant paramilitary leader in MedellÃn, is to begin his confession before Colombian prosecutors today, as required by the “Justice and Peace” law. A remarkable 13,000 victims have registered to view Don Berna’s testimony on closed-circuit television.
Though he has been in prison for two years, Don Berna is considered one of the most powerful people in MedellÃn. Whether he has truly demobilized is far from clear.
El Tiempo reports this morning:
“Don Berna’s” multiple dead, displaced and disappeared may not tangle him up as much as his risky past in [Colombia's narco-] mafia.
During the 1980s he belonged to the Moncada and Galeano clan, which did business with the MedellÃn cartel. Later, he joined forces with the narcos of Valle del Cauca in the “Pepes” [People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar] to combat Pablo Escobar.
The United States has asked for his extradition on narcotrafficking charges.
These unholy relationships continued until 1997, when he began to become part of the AUC and rose to the rank of inspector general.
He was the first of the big chiefs to go to the ItagÃ¼Ã maximum-security prison. “Don Berna” has remained silent and enigmatic.
Many still attribute to him an immense amount of power in the Antioquian capital [MedellÃn], and although the mayor’s office dislikes these claims, academic researchers insist that the city’s current calm owes in part to the former “para” leader having ordered his gangs to cease their violence.
In two critical moments for “Don Berna,” MedellÃn was mysteriously paralyzed. [This is apparently a reference to citywide shutdowns of bus and other public transportation, allegedly on Don Berna's orders.]
Intelligence agencies affirm that, from his cell, he continues to manage the “Envigado Office” network of hitmen-for-hire, whose leader on the outside is alias “Rogelio.”
MedellÃn’s ombudsman has registered 2,100 intra-urban displacements since [Don Berna's] Cacique Nutibara bloc demobilized [in November 2003], and 64 percent of them said that those who made them leave were “paras” or demobilized paramilitaries.
If these allegations are correct, and Don Berna is still controlling criminal and narco activity in MedellÃn, he should not be entitled to a light jail sentence under the “Justice and Peace” law – and indeed should be subject to extradition to the United States. That decision will be up to the prosecutors who will begin considering his case today.
Like other paramilitary leaders, Don Berna appears to be preparing to accompany his confession with a less-than-spontaneous show of support on the streets outside. Semana magazine reported yesterday on the pressure that “former” paramilitaries exerted on a charter high school in the slums of western MedellÃn.
Last Wednesday afternoon, a group of demobilized members of the Cacique Nutibara bloc arrived at the CEDEPRO educational institution in MedellÃn’s Alta Vista neighborhood. They confronted the directors with the peremptory order to fill two buses with students on Monday, and to send them to the prosecutor’s office building to support Don Berna’s hearing. The directors refused to do that, and the men immediately insulted them. They told them that by saying no, they were proving what “the boss” had said about them. That those from CEDEPRO were the only ones who wouldn’t collaborate, while the rest of the sector’s institutions, they said, had already obeyed.
This act demonstrates, once again, what has been happening with the paramilitary leaders’ confessions: they are becoming a circus spectacle in which the victims are hit the hardest.
According to initial reports, Don Berna’s victims and supporters turned out this morning in large, vocal numbers outside the MedellÃn prosecutor’s office.