Here, thanks to an excellent translation from CIP Intern Anthony Dest, is the text of an article that appeared this weekend in the Colombian newsmagazine Semana. It summarizes the “Justice and Peace” testimony of RaÃºl HasbÃºn, a shadowy businessman and paramilitary leader who was a key player in the AUC’s bloody late-1990s expansion in the northwestern region of UrabÃ¡. HasbÃºn was the key connection for the payments that Chiquita Brands, the U.S. fruit company, admitted making to the paramilitaries.
Perhaps most striking about this article is how thoroughly it confirms what Colombia’s human-rights defenders were alleging at the time about paramilitary ties with the military, local government and the regional business establishment. At the time, of course, those allegations were fiercely denied by all involved.
The businessman turned paramilitary boss told the attorney general’s office revealing secrets about a gruesome chapter in the history of UrabÃ¡, Colombia’s banana growing region.
The day that RaÃºl HasbÃºn arrived at the office of Pedro Juan Moreno, the government secretary of the then governor of Antioquia, Ãlvaro Uribe, he left with more than he expected. HasbÃºn, a businessman in the banana industry, relayed to Moreno the interest of various UrabÃ¡ land-owning farmers in creating a government-sponsored surveillance cooperative, a “CONVIVIR,” in the region. Moreno, however, told him not to create just one, but twelve. In a few months, UrabÃ¡ had twelve CONVIVIR units that consisted of 150 people, 800 radios, cars, and weapons.
Throughout the mid-1990s CONVIVIR had the support of the national government. The issue was, however, that HasbÃºn was not only the owner of banana plantations and extensive cattle ranches, but he had also become commander ‘Pedro Ponte’ of the Campesino Self-Defense Forces of CÃ³rdoba and UrabÃ¡ (ACCU).
In his own “Justice and Peace” confession (which began in July), he did not hesitate to admit to giving the order to kill people who ’smelled like guerrillas.’ Without blinking, he confessed to the San JosÃ© de ApartadÃ³ massacre of 1998. He said he ordered the massacre because the town was so secluded, and the logistics of getting there were so difficult, that it wasn’t worth it to make an incursion just to kill one or two people. Therefore, in order to make the most out of the trip, they killed the largest amount of people that could possibly be associated with the FARC.
How did the owner of more that 4,000 hectares of land become a criminal? According to him, he once tried to sell a farm, but no one wanted to buy it because there were so many guerrillas in UrabÃ¡. Disappointed because his wealth was diminishing and he was being extorted by the guerrillas, he searched for someone who could introduce him to Fidel CastaÃ±o, who already had a paramilitary group in UrabÃ¡, so that he could offer CastaÃ±o his help. He was soon invited to a farm where he met Carlos and Vicente CastaÃ±o. From that moment on he began to collaborate with the paramilitaries. Soon afterwards in 1996, the CastaÃ±o brothers put him in charge of a group of forty armed men.
Without sacrificing the image of a respectable business man, HasbÃºn became the head of a bloody and ambitious paramilitary group that worked under the guide of Vicente CastaÃ±o. HasbÃºn used information that he gathered from CONVIVIR units for the purposes of the paramilitary group. He said that the twelve CONVIVIR groups in UrabÃ¡ worked as a network. The information that they gathered was sent directly to him, as a paramilitary head, at the same time that it was sent to the military and police. The paramilitary groups generally carried out the operations because they had better resources. “On one occasion, the CONVIVIR gave the military the exact location of some guerrillas. When the military decided to act, two trucks were out of gas and one had a dead battery. As soon as they were about to leave, it turned out that they didn’t have radios. Finally, they decided not to carry out the operation.” According to HasbÃºn, the CONVIVIR paid for the military’s gas and allowed the police and DAS [the Colombian intelligence agency] to borrow cars and even radio transmitters. When intelligence was not able to arrest and try someone, the paramilitary groups would receive the information and immediately kill the person.
This was all possible because the system that the paramilitaries had created made the CONVIVIR units incredibly rich. According to HasbÃºn, “[they] had a huge influx of money. Millions and millions of pesos.” HasbÃºn carried out every order that Vicente CastaÃ±o gave him, which guaranteed that all of the money that he took would either go to CONVIVIR or to the paramilitaries. Carlos CastaÃ±o had many meetings with companies working in the banana industry, and he was able to reach an agreement where the companies would pay CONVIVIR three percent of every box of bananas exported. This money was collected by the CONVIVIR in Papagayo, which was managed by Arnulfo PeÃ±uela, who is now in prison for his relationship with the paramilitary groups. These payments continued until 2003 in cases such as that of Chiquita Brands, a company that has since recognized that it financed the paramilitary groups in UrabÃ¡ this way. Even though HasbÃºn denies it, other paramilitary leaders assure that one of every three cents collected by the CONVIVIR went to the paramilitary groups.
HasbÃºn insists that very few people in the banana industry knew of his double life as a businessman and a paramilitary, but people who lived in the region during that time period say otherwise. Everyone knew that RaÃºl HasbÃºn, owner of more than five farms and the legal representative of many units of the CONVIVIR, was ‘Pedro Ponte,’ commander of the paramilitary groups that ordered the murders and massacres that made UrabÃ¡ the most violent region in the country.
HasbÃºn recognizes that the money that was given to him by cattle ranchers, approximately 10,000 pesos per hectare per year, went directly into the savings of the paramilitary groups and financed their actions in rural regions. Other businesses and commercial enterprises paid the paramilitary groups operating in urban areas. One example that HasbÃºn mentioned in his confession was that of PostobÃ³n [one of Colombia's largest soft drink companies]. He verified Salvatore Mancuso’s confession admitting that the soda company complied with the paramilitaries’ demands. According to HasbÃºn, the company did not immediately acquiesce to the paramilitary group’s demands, and the AUC responded by kidnapping company truck drivers. This forced PostobÃ³n to send its security chief to speak directly with Carlos CastaÃ±o. The two reached an agreement wherein PostobÃ³n would pay the AUC 10 million pesos a month for every department of the country. PostobÃ³n has refused to comment.
In one of HasbÃºn’s first confessions, he said that Coca-Cola also paid extortion fees, but he later stated that he was confused and that they did not. He did, however, admit to the murder of three union organizers at Coca-Cola. These murders have kept Coca-Cola on many international NGOs’ lists of companies with poor human rights records.
CONVIVIR units received so much money that they were able to build at least two roads that aided the AUC’s military objectives. Vicente CastaÃ±o’s plan to expand the AUC into ChocÃ³ had only one large obstacle: there wasn’t a road that would allow them to deliver supplies to the paramilitaries. Therefore, the AUC and CONVIVIR decided to build it. CONVIVIR held a meeting at which they asked farmers from BelÃ©n, BajirÃ¡ and Riosucio, as well as the mayor and the military, for support. According to HasbÃºn, CONVIVIR was able to “sell the road to the community as a public works project.” Following the meeting, they were able to build the road that the AUC needed.
Vicente CastaÃ±o also ordered that the paramilitaries take control of all narcotics trafficking that left through the port at Turbo. The AUC charged fifty dollars for every kilo of cocaine that left the port. Half of the money was sent to CastaÃ±o. The middleman between the paramilitaries and the narcotics traffickers was a man known as Mateo Rey, who was killed a few months ago in San Pedro de los Milagros, Antioquia.
The AUC had so much control in UrabÃ¡ that they were able to shut down five kilometers of the Pan-American Highway several times in order to use it as a runway for planes. The planes arrived with weapons and ammunition for the AUC and left with cocaine for narcotics traffickers.
RaÃºl HasbÃºn’s confession, just like those of Hebert Veloza (H.H.) and Freddy RendÃ³n (El AlemÃ¡n), demonstrates that there was a paramilitary project in UrabÃ¡ with far-reaching tentacles in all sectors of society. This calls into question the idea that the region was “pacified” by civil authorities and the military, who now praise UrabÃ¡’s experience as a model that should be imitated.