In Sunday’s edition of the Colombian weekly El Espectador, IvÃ¡n Cepeda – a columnist who is also a leader of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes – wrote the following column about a visit to the city of MonterÃa. The city is the capital of the department of CÃ³rdoba, in Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region, which has long been a virtual paramilitary republic, for years strongly under the sway of Carlos CastaÃ±o, Salvatore Mancuso, and “Don Berna.”
Cepeda’s column inspired an enraged response from Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe, which is excerpted and translated further below.
The Proof is MonterÃa
IvÃ¡n Cepeda Castro
El Espectador, May 3, 2008
This week I visited MonterÃa for the first time. I did so by invitation of the Union of University Workers and Employees, Sintraunicol. The airport is near the city and adjoins the “El UbÃ©rrimo” hacienda, which is the property of President Ãlvaro Uribe.
My companions spoke to me of the lawyer JosÃ© Corena, who has been in charge of the President’s land business, and that of his cousin Mario Uribe [now in jail awaiting trial for collaboration with paramilitaries]. In the same region the CastaÃ±os, Mancuso and alias “Don Berna” have lands. A few kilometers away are the sumptuous neighborhoods of the region’s cattlemen and large landowners: El Recreo and La Castellana. In the latter, the Mancuso family has a large mansion. In the city are commercial properties which, everyone knows, belong to the paramilitary chief.
When I ask whether any authority has ordered the seizure of these lands and businesses, those accompanying me laugh. In that same zone are the social club and the open-air restaurants where the local high society meets. They tell me that at the parties one would frequently see the former prosecutor-general, Luis Camilo Osorio. We passed by the La Vittoriana restaurant, property of the brothers Jaime and JosÃ© Maroso, partners and testaferros (property-holding figureheads) of Mancuso. This government named JosÃ© to two diplomatic posts: one in Italy, the other in Switzerland. Now the paramilitary groups are led by DomÃ©nico Mancuso, cousin of Salvatore.
In the shadow of the bridge that President Uribe ordered to be built, and which goes to his hacienda, on the banks of the SinÃº River, thousands of displaced people live in misery. They come from places like Tierralta and Valencia. The Civil Victims’ Committee of the department of CÃ³rdoba, Comfavic, is made up of 7,800 families. Many have more than one member murdered or disappeared by the paramilitaries. It is obvious that for anyone who lives in, or visits, the city or its nearby haciendas, it must be impossible to ignore the reality of these crimes. How can they not know that thousands of killings are being perpetrated, or not see the displaced people? How can they ignore who Mancuso and the CastaÃ±o clan were in a city in which everything is known and is commented in whispers?
Finally, we arrived at the University of CÃ³rdoba. The employees and students have begun a movement to demand the resignation of the current president, Claudio SÃ¡nchez Parra. They also demand truth and justice. Since 1995, 19 people belonging to the university have been murdered. On February 18, 2003, Mancuso called professors and employees to Santa Fe de Ralito [where the paramilitary leaders were gathered as they began negotiations with the government], and warned them that if they did not attend they should be prepared for the consequences. Present at the meeting was a delegate from the government, FÃ©lix Manssur Jattin. After reading the CVs of the professors, which had been taken from the University’s files, Mancuso introduced them to SÃ¡nchez Parra and said to them, “This person here by my side is my friend, and in the University I must have men that I trust.” The new president put Mancuso’s relatives in posts in the University leadership. Even though the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Attorney-General’s office are carrying out investigations against him, he remains in the presidency. This week the Victims’ Movement will lead a petition of the government and will carry out an international campaign calling for his immediate firing.
Perhaps there are photos, witnesses or recordings of the meetings of the landholders, politicians and soldiers with Mancuso, while thousands of people were being killed or displaced. But beyond these elements of hard evidence, the whole social order, the nearness of the large haciendas and the centers of MonterÃa’s high society show the reality of a criminal power: the city itself is the proof.
Excerpt from “Words of President Ãlvaro Uribe during the inauguration of the MonterÃa Transportation Terminal“
Presidency of Colombia, May 6, 2008
Let me touch on another issue. There are people in Colombia, like Doctor IvÃ¡n Cepeda. They dress themselves up in the protection of victims.
And the protection of victims serves them as a way to have NGOs that ask for money from the international community.
The protection of victims serves them as a way to instigate the violation of the human rights of those people who do not share their ideas. And nothing happens to them.
The protection of victims serves them as a way to go overseas to discredit the Colombian government and to discredit Colombian institutions.
The protection of victims serves them as a way to say that MonterÃa is a criminal city, without giving the people the right to respond.
The protection of victims serves them as a way to try to recover, in the University of CÃ³rdoba, the den of criminality that existed in the past, which we will not allow to be re-established.
The protection of victims serves them as a way to discredit Colombia.
To say to their friends in the international community that the FTA [U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement] must not be approved, that human rights are not respected here, that while we live every day trying to make Democratic Security more effective and transparent, they have no limitations when it comes to violating the human rights of those compatriots who do not share their way of acting and their way of disqualifying those who dissent from them.
So let’s look at this issue. These seÃ±ores, like IvÃ¡n Cepeda, have the right to mistreat the honor of, to endanger any Colombian.
And if attention is called to them, if they are disagreed with, if they are contradicted, they immediately go out, in cowardly fashion, to say that the government is putting them in danger. That they have to go into foreign exile. That they are going to speak with some senators to tell them not to approve the FTA, or to send a letter from the international community scolding the President.
Now, I ask those in the international community who always second them, that before taking pity on the crocodile tears of these human rights frauds, they should come and see what is really happening in Colombia: a country that is resolutely making progress toward pluralism, transparency, security and investor confidence.