Here is a translation of a video interview posted to the website of the Colombian magazine Semana.
The interviewer visits what is left of the town of El Salado, in Colombia’s department of BolÃvar not far from Cartagena. In February 2000, hundreds of paramilitaries poured into this village where, in the middle of town before the eyes of horrified residents, they killed more than 40 people over four days. The military and police did nothing to stop it.
“Diego Vecino,” the paramilitary leader whose unit carried out the El Salado massacre, has revealed very little to Colombian prosecutors so far, Semana reported a month ago. His number two, “Juancho Dique,” gave grisly testimony at the end of July about how the massacre was carried out.
The testimony in the video and translation below is disturbing not only because of its graphic nature, but because of the matter-of-fact, emotionless way that the two women recount it.
Questioner: How did the massacre happen here?
Witness: They took everyone out here to this soccer field. By the church were some bleachers, that is where they made everyone sit. They would point to people there and take them away. They took them to be killed right here [pointing]. Those whom they hacked to death, those whom they killed with lead [shot], were taken from there. Some bodies were taken to the church and laid out on tables. After there was no room, the rest of the bodies were left here in the open, out in the sun. Later, the smell was unbearable. So they had us dig a common grave, there, where the monument is. They were thrown in there in sheets, wrapped in sheets.
Q: In one grave, there was room for 3 or 4 people?
W: In the same grave, yes. And they were unrecognizable. We recognized them only from the clothes they were wearing. And we didn’t know, because the families had fled from the town, where there was anyone who could identify the body from the clothes, some sweater or something. They were unrecognizable. When we brought them over there, we nearly fainted because the smell was so strong. We used alcohol, cologne, soaked in cloths over our faces, but it just wasn’t enough.
Q: How many days did this take?
W: This began… it lasted three days … part of four.
Q: With El Salado so close to El Carmen, why was there no reaction from the security forces?
W: That is what we all ask ourselves. I fled to El Carmen del BolÃvar, to ask for help. The mayor wouldn’t listen to us. I called the national and international Red Cross, everything I could. I was already desperate when the people arrived from BogotÃ¡, from Venezuela, from everywhere, and they asked me, “you escaped?” I said yes. And I told them about everyone they had killed. … But by then, the deed was done, by then it was the fourth day. They had already gone, by that night.
Q: It has been said that in the video that the Prosecutor-General’s office has, that they talk about drums, that they were playing music.
Second Witness: Yes, that is true. The drums were kept there, in the Casa del Pueblo, where we had a band and they were donated. I can tell you because I saw it. Everytime they killed someone, they played the drums. That was true.
Q: They were sober, or were they drunk?
SW: Well, some seemed sober, but others appeared to be on drugs, because of the way they acted, the way they killed people, and played music. A few seemed well, but the others, yes, must have been on something.
Q: How did they kill people? With bullets?
SW: Yes, some with bullets. Some were hung, one was beaten to death. Some they tortured, ears cut off while still alive, fingers from hands, later they put a garbage bag over their heads, still alive and screaming for help. But we were just a few people, what could we do.
Q: You all saw this?
SW: I did. I saw the whole thing from the beginning until they left the town.
Q: And why did they torture those people so much?
SW: Well, what I heard, they were saying that they were guerrillas. That’s what they explained to us.
Q: Those paramilitaries, were they known, had you seen them here before?
SW: No, I never had.