“No place in a civilized and democratic society” Public diplomacy…
Oct 082008

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 Raúl Hasbún, a shadowy businessman and paramilitary leader who was a key player in the AUC’s bloody late-1990s expansion in the northwestern region of Urabá. Hasbún 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.

Hasbún’s Confessions

The businessman turned paramilitary boss told the attorney general’s office revealing secrets about a gruesome chapter in the history of Urabá, Colombia’s banana growing region.

The day that Raúl Hasbún arrived at the office of Pedro Juan Moreno, the government secretary of the then governor of Antioquia, Álvaro Uribe, he left with more than he expected. Hasbún, a businessman in the banana industry, relayed to Moreno the interest of various Urabá 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, Urabá 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 Hasbún 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 Córdoba and Urabá (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 José de Apartadó 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 Urabá. Disappointed because his wealth was diminishing and he was being extorted by the guerrillas, he searched for someone who could introduce him to Fidel Castaño, who already had a paramilitary group in Urabá, so that he could offer Castaño his help. He was soon invited to a farm where he met Carlos and Vicente Castaño. From that moment on he began to collaborate with the paramilitaries. Soon afterwards in 1996, the Castaño brothers put him in charge of a group of forty armed men.

Without sacrificing the image of a respectable business man, Hasbún became the head of a bloody and ambitious paramilitary group that worked under the guide of Vicente Castaño. Hasbún used information that he gathered from CONVIVIR units for the purposes of the paramilitary group. He said that the twelve CONVIVIR groups in Urabá 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 Hasbún, 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 Hasbún, “[they] had a huge influx of money. Millions and millions of pesos.” Hasbún carried out every order that Vicente Castaño gave him, which guaranteed that all of the money that he took would either go to CONVIVIR or to the paramilitaries. Carlos Castaño 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 Peñuela, 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 Urabá this way. Even though Hasbún denies it, other paramilitary leaders assure that one of every three cents collected by the CONVIVIR went to the paramilitary groups.

Hasbún 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 Raúl Hasbún, 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 Urabá the most violent region in the country.

Hasbún 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 Hasbún mentioned in his confession was that of Postobón [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 Hasbún, the company did not immediately acquiesce to the paramilitary group’s demands, and the AUC responded by kidnapping company truck drivers. This forced Postobón to send its security chief to speak directly with Carlos Castaño. The two reached an agreement wherein Postobón would pay the AUC 10 million pesos a month for every department of the country. Postobón has refused to comment.

In one of Hasbún’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 Castaño’s plan to expand the AUC into Chocó 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 Belén, Bajirá and Riosucio, as well as the mayor and the military, for support. According to Hasbún, 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 Castaño 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 Castaño. 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 Urabá 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.

Raúl Hasbún’s confession, just like those of Hebert Veloza (H.H.) and Freddy Rendón (El Alemán), demonstrates that there was a paramilitary project in Urabá 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 Urabá’s experience as a model that should be imitated.

9 Responses to “Semana on “Hasbún’s Confessions””

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Several points come to mind as I read this article. Who, mentioned in this article, was a conspicuous financer of Antioquia governor’s Alvaro Uribe campaign in the mid-90’s? Hmmm.. non other than CHIQUITA! Yes they were. Why the mutism of Colombia government in the face of these declarations that would otherwise merit an immediate investigation? That’s an easy one. Why I think Carlos Castaño is still alive besides the strong rumors running in Colombia to this respect? Genal attorney Iguaran started out a show that declared the man dead in a few days, closing all the judicial files incriminating the maggot, that by what I knew then amounted to several hundreds. In short, and that’s the thesis I have been showing here for a long time now. Colombia has finally turned in the world’s best financed most respected narco state par excellence.

  2. Marcos Says:

    These Hasbún confessions show the development of a criminal and social network but this same thing will happen again and again until the state really takes control of vast areas of Colombia even if some people scream a million different things as a distraction.

    Regards,

    Marcos

  3. John Says:

    ‘These Hasbún confessions show the development of a criminal and social network but this same thing will happen again and again until the state really takes control of vast areas of Colombia even if some people scream a million different things as a distraction.’

    The problem, Marcos, is that the state is entirely wrapped up in these criminal networks, so state control of these areas doesn’t address the crimes. Prosecution of those responsible – inside and outside the state – could change things, and prevent future crimes.

  4. Jaime Bustos Says:

    “The problem, Marcos, is that the state is entirely wrapped up in these criminal networks, so state control of these areas doesn’t address the crimes. Prosecution of those responsible – inside and outside the state – could change things, and prevent future crimes.”

    Additionally John, those that could prosecute those responsible are entirely wrapped up in delinquency networks benefiting from said racket ring.

  5. Marcos Says:

    John, Those criminal networks are parasites that take advantage of the state’s weaknesses. If the state was stronger it wouldn’t need to privatize and subcontract such an important security role to questionable parties with their own interests. Prosecution of those criminal connections is necessary, I said nothing against it, but that is not going to fill the holes. You could put all the Hasbúns in jail and another crop would show up if that is all you do.

    I have a single question for Jaime Bustos: what would you do? You keep saying that everything and everyone is trash but I don’t see you suggest anything unless all you want is for people to get the heck out.

  6. Marcos Says:

    I have to emphasize that I am not in favor of paramilitarism or mercenaries, not just because they are committing sins against the lord and against humanity but because they are criminal structures that do not make the state stronger in any way.

    Regards,

    Marcos

  7. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Marcos in answering your question it would have to be assumed that I am in the obligation of giving alternatives, which eventually would not fall in deaf ears. I only describe what I see, I have no solutions whatsoever, and even if I had the power to make my opinions underway, I am outnumbered by the people that have made the world such a nice ramshackle set.

  8. Marcos Says:

    I didn’t say that was an obligation, it was only a question I tried to ask.

    Regards,

    Marcos

  9. Jeff Reynolds Says:

    Are you aware of any English translations of the book titled, “Mi Confesion: Carlos Castano Revela Sus Secretos.” This book was originally written in Spanish by Mauricio Aranguren Molina. The book was published by Editorial La Oveja Negra, Bogota, 2001.

Leave a Reply