Below is a translation of Patricia Lara’s column in today’s El Espectador about the probable extradition of former paramilitary leader Hebert Veloza GarcÃa, alias “HH.”
Veloza is one of the bloodiest of paramilitary leaders. He played a command role in the horrific paramilitary takeover of the UrabÃ¡ region in northwestern Colombia during the second half of the 1990s, a campaign that involved near-daily massacres and enjoyed the security forces’ blatant support. Then, after the ELN kidnapped wealthy worshipers at an upscale Cali church in 1999, HH worked with local businesspeople and authorities to form the Calima Bloc, which went on to terrorize much of Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments, carrying out notorious massacres like the Alto Naya killings in 2001.
Veloza demobilized along with the “Bananero Bloc” of the AUC in November 2004. He then thought better of it and became a fugitive. The Colombian authorities captured him in April 2007. Upon his arrest, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said that Veloza was disqualified from participating in the “Justice and Peace” process, which would have allowed him a lighter jail sentence in exchange for full confession of his crimes.
However, Veloza later managed to enter the Justice and Peace process, where he quickly became a star witness, one of the most forthcoming of all the former paramilitary leaders. He has confessed to over 3,000 murders, identified the whereabouts of many mass graves, and talked openly about the collaboration he received from banana companies like Chiquita Brands and from the Colombian military – including Gen. Rito Alejo del RÃo, who commanded the army’s UrabÃ¡-based 17th Brigade in 1995-1997, while Ãlvaro Uribe was the governor of the surrounding department of Antioquia. Last month Veloza turned in a USB memory drive with thousands of files belonging to deceased AUC leader Carlos CastaÃ±o.
Veloza has declared his intention to “say everything. How the security forces coordinated the movement of troops and helped us move weapons. We paid them to give information and cooperate.” In lengthy interviews given over the past week (El Espectador, Semana video), he has reiterated his desire “to tell the truth about why the victims’ relatives died, where the graves are, and who participated” before his extradition – recently approved by Colombia’s Supreme Court – goes forward.
Will “HH” be extradited – and thus silenced, at least for a while – before he gets a chance to tell the Colombian authorities about the members of Colombia’s political, business and military elite who aided and abetted his campaign of murder?
Here is Patricia Lara’s column.
Do it for your honor, Mr. President
By Patricia Lara Salive
A barbarity is going to be committed: to extradite to the United States, for trafficking a scant five kilos of cocaine, someone who has confessed to murdering 3,000 people and who wants to tell secrets about the complicity of military officers, politicians and businessmen with the Self-Defense Groups.
In effect, Hebert Veloza GarcÃa, alias HH, the paramilitary who delivered to the authorities the USB memory from Carlos CastaÃ±o’s computer (by the way, why are its contents not discussed?) and who is now in the extraditables’ cell block, relates in an impressive interview in Sunday’s El Espectador some deeds that it would be unheard of not to finish investigating and punishing. He says, for example:
About CastaÃ±o’s USB: “I turned over the USB (…) and they put me in isolation. If I turn over more information they will reopen Gorgona [a small Pacific island that Colombia once used as an Alcatraz-style prison] to stick me there. It is very hard to tell the truth (…). There are 9,000 files [on the USB] in which everything is spoken of and many important people appear.”
About politicians: “Today we are like the ugly girlfriend: at night they caress us and during the day they don’t even look at us (…). Power is very good and politicians will do anything to have it.”
About the murder of Jaime GarzÃ³n [a popular TV comedian killed in 1999]: “The information we had was that he had ties to the ELN and that he was acting as an intermediary between kidnap victims’ relatives and the guerrillas. And it was people from the high command of the Army who gave us this information.”
About Gen. Rito Alejo del RÃo [commander of the UrabÃ¡-based 17th Brigade from 1995-1997, widely accused, but never convicted, of aiding and abetting paramilitaries]: “I don’t know why they haven’t tied him to any criminal investigation. I’ll just give you one piece of information: when I was the commander in UrabÃ¡ and he was the commander of the 17th Brigade, I kidnapped two people who had been detained by the Army, held at the Brigade headquarters. I got them out of the brig (…) with complicity. I took them out in a car from the brigade itself, in a covered red Trooper (…). They were from the FARC’s 5th Front and they had kidnapped a woman in Buenaventura. I entered the Brigade, took the people out, we took them to Buenaventura and disappeared them. (…) Gen. Rito Alejo went to see Carlos CastaÃ±o many times and they met at ranches near the border of CÃ³rdoba and UrabÃ¡ [Antioquia]. The security forces were very tied down when it came to fighting the guerrillas, and we used the same methods the subversives did. Our results benefited the Army. There is more (…) I patrolled with Col. Byron Carvajal [recently convicted for planning the massacre of an elite police counter-drug Unit in JamundÃ, Valle, in 2006] in 1995 and we fought the guerrillas (…). I went anywhere I wanted, like Pedro in his own house. I entered brigades’ headquarters, police barracks, I did what I wanted.”
About the victims’ bodies: “In UrabÃ¡, when we began, all the bodies were left where the people were killed. But the security forces protested and asked us to keep working, but to disappear the cadavers. That is why mass graves were implemented… (The problem was that) the mortality rates increased rapidly and this was not helpful (…). I traveled freely in a white Hilux [pickup truck], which they called ‘road to heaven,’ and we killed people every day, in all the municipalities of UrabÃ¡. The only one who denounced this was Gloria Cuartas [at the time, the outspoken mayor of ApartadÃ³, one of UrabÃ¡'s main towns].”
About the victims: “The biggest victims will be the victims who are going to be left without the truth (…). It is necessary to tell the truth about this war in which only the rich benefited, and the poor lost.”
President Uribe: you, who gave such heartfelt praise to General Rito Alejo, cannot allow Veloza to go now without having finished telling his truth. Accept his request to delay his extradition. Do it for the good of the fatherland. But do it as well for your own honor, since you were the governor of Antioquia during this period.