Here are translated excerpts from an interview with extradited paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, given at the DC Jail where he is being held pending trial. The interview was the cover story in last Thursday’s edition of the Colombian newsweekly Cambio. Thanks to CIP Intern Cynthia ArÃ©valo for the translation help.
According to the Government, you were playing around with the processâ€¦
Look, I am going to give you a â€œscoop.â€ The prosecutor-general, Mario IguarÃ¡n, and the attorney in charge of my case said in this same prison that there was no evidence that I, in particular, had committed any criminal offense when I was in the ItagÃ¼Ã prison [between December 2006 and his May 2008 extradition]. They said that if that evidence had in fact existed, I would have been out of â€œJusticia y Pazâ€ [the Justice and Peace process], and I’m still in “Justicia y Paz.”
If, like you said, you werenâ€™t committing any crimes, then why do you believe you were extradited?
The government got scared by what many commanders were doing and because we were reconstructing the truth. I decided to tell all of those who had worked with me to tell the truth, and in the stand I also told some of it.
I reported, to [government peace commissioner Luis Carlos] Restrepo, to the OAS and to the church, that there were 6,000 people re-armed in CÃ³rdoba and Catatumbo. But some AUC commanders said they wouldnâ€™t talk because they had been threatened. I was left alone. That truth worried many businessmen, political leaders and others in the economic sector. There had to be some kind of pressure for the government to extradite us all. But if there were commanders who failed [to honor the Justice and Peace terms], we should say as well that the government failed because they ruined any hopes for peace in Colombia.
With you all extradited while trying to negotiate with U.S. Justice, is there any possibility of rebuilding the process and giving reparations to the victims?
My attorneys and I are determined to continue with the reconstruction of the truth as well as with reparations to the victims. However, I want to clarify that when the government extradited me, they said through the Minister of Justice that the agreements and mechanisms existed to allow the process to continue. That is a big lie and what we have done so far owes to the goodwill of the district attorneys in the United States and â€œJusticia y Pazâ€ in Colombia [the Justice and Peace Unit of the prosecutor-general's office]. The government extradited us, and they will have to figure out what to do in order to avoid impunity and fulfill reparations.
Will the whole truth be known someday?
It is us, the commanders, who hold the important truth, with our extradition to the United States they extradited the truth. The law they passed sought retaliation. For example, when I said that Carlos CastaÃ±o and I met with the ex minister [of defense] Juan Manuel Santos in order to promote a coup dâ€™etat against President Ernesto Samper, the minister of Interior said that people should not believe a criminal like Mancuso. The truth is stigmatized and generates rejection from society.
Which of the truths you revealed have not had any effect?
The coexistence of active and retired military, as well as of important political figures, who are presidential candidates today, with the AUC.
In Colombia there is a controversy over an iPod you owned, apparently, that has dozens of recorded conversations with politicians and officials. Some of these conversations have already been revealed. What is the truth about this device?
Evidentlly it was the iPod where I stored the filesÂ of my processes in the Colombian courts and the records of theÂ reconstruction of historical truth. I left it in my cell in ItagÃ¼Ã and the INPEC [Colombian government prisons institute] took it.Â When they returned all my belongings they did not return it, and some judicial authorities have added to the charges against me part of what was recorded there. But these could have been manipulated,Â added or edited, and therefore I do not acknowledge theseÂ recordings. The last I heard, this ipod was being put on sale in Colombia.
You said that the AUC had control of 30 percent of Congress. Right now, there are 68 who have been investigated, nine of whom have been convicted. Are there more?
There are many more, and some commanders have not yet completedÂ their testimonies. And I donâ€™t think that they will do so until they arrange their affairs with the United States. That is the problem ofÂ extradition.
What politicians are not detained for their ties to the AUC?
There were many people involved. For example, in earlyÂ 2002 in a country estate in ‘Macaco’ in Piamonte, near Taraza,Â there was a big meeting where ‘Cuco’ Vanoy,Â Vicente Castano, ‘Don Berna’, ‘Macaco’, ‘JuliÃ¡n BolÃvar’Â ’Ernesto BÃ¡ez’, ‘Diego Vecino’ and I attended, as well as Colonel (Ret.) Hugo Aguilar (former governor of Santander) and ‘Â El Tuerto’ Gil (former Senator Luis Alberto Gil, investigated forÂ para-politics).
What was the meeting for?
For electoral support that someÂ politicians were seeking at that time from the â€œBloque Central Bolivarâ€ in six orÂ seven departments.
Why do you recall the presence of Gil and Aguilar in particular?
Because Aguilar presented himself as the person who hadÂ killed Pablo Escobar, and I recall Gil because he was with the colonel.
Is it true that one of the largest meetings of polititians andÂ the AUC was on an estate called “La 21?”
Yes, the estate â€œLa 21â€ was owned by Carlos CastaÃ±o, located between San Pedro de UrabÃ¡Â and Valencia. There was a big meeting as well in â€œLa 15â€ with Vicente CastaÃ±o. It was two or three days of meetingsÂ towards the end of 2001.
What happened at the meeting in â€œLa 21?â€
Carlos CastaÃ±o called all commanders to a meeting because â€œErnestoÂ Baez,â€ political leader of the Bloque Central BolÃvar, wanted to propose the creation of a â€œsingle [candidate] listâ€ for Congress headed by RocÃo Arias and Carlos Clavijo. This initiative failed to pass because ‘Jorge 40′ and I said that the AUC acted as a federation, and that each region had its own needs.
And in the meeting at â€œLa 15â€ what happened?
In the meeting at â€œLa 15,â€ according to what Vicente CastaÃ±o told me, it was with farmers and businessmen from the region. Vicente asked them to support Uribeâ€™s campaign for the presidency.
What do you remember in particular from those meetings?
I remember Juan JosÃ© Chaux in particular (former governor ofÂ Cauca and former ambassador). He was the only one whom I did not knowÂ who came to give a speech. He said that his grandfather or great-grandfatherÂ had been president, that they had belonged to theÂ legal â€œself-defense groupsâ€ created by Guillermo LeÃ³n ValenciaÂ and that they had always been against the guerrillas. At that time heÂ was dealing with the kidnapping of a relative by the AUC. I also recall seeing Carlos Clavijo.
The speech you refer to was in favor of the AUC?
Yes, [Chaux] completely identified himself with the AUC. ‘H.H.’Â (Hernando Hernandez, an AUC leader) was so proud, he presented him as the political representative of the Calima [which was based in Valle del Cauca and Cauca departments in southwestern Colombia].
Is it true that former Deputy Director of DAS [the presidential intelligence service] Miguel Narvaez, involved in scandals for the paramilitary infiltration of that office, attended meetings of the AUC?
NarvÃ¡ez is a very structured man who collaborated with the AUC on ideological issues. He was a professor at the â€œEscuela Superior de Guerraâ€ and taught classes to officers. He was in meetings withÂ Carlos Castano, ‘Jorge 40′, ‘El AlemÃ¡n’ and me. In ourÂ training schools he spoke to the cadres aboutÂ command structure. He delivered ideological indoctrinationÂ to our men in either 1996 or 1998.
How did he get involved with the AUC? Did he get any form of payment for the classes?
Through Commander CastaÃ±o, but I don’t know how they met. When heÂ arrived in the area I would sometimes send someone to pick him up at theÂ airport in MonterÃa. I never knew of any payment for his work.
When NarvÃ¡ez came to work in the DAS, what did you think?
That the guerrillas would have a serious problem with this manÂ because of his knowledge of the conflict.
NarvÃ¡ez pursued the guerrillas and he would turn a blind eye to the AUC?
He identified ideologically with the AUC, so this was likely toÂ happen. But these are only assumptions, because canâ€™t really know what he thought.
There are allegations that when the DAS was under the administration of Jorge Noguera, he favored the AUC and his subordinates would pass information to ‘ Jorge 40 ‘…
I am not aware of Jorge Noguera’s relations with the AUC, butÂ with the DAS we had relationships long before, as well as with theÂ Police and Army. To give just one example, the directorÂ of the DAS in CÃºcuta, Jorge Diaz, was a self-defense group leader. We operated inÂ his cars as did the Police andÂ Military. These were used to transport our troops.
Diego Fernando Murillo, ‘Don Berna’, said, while he was in the United States, the AUC endorsed the nomination of todayâ€™s mayor of Medellin, Alonso Salazar, as well as that of President Uribe… What do you know about that?
Politically speaking, I was chief of negotiationsÂ for the AUC , however I was not responsible for the decisions of eachÂ bloc and therefore would not be able to say what kind of pacts orÂ agreements were reached. But I can say that the vast majority of us supported Uribe because those were the instructionsÂ we received from commanders and we did so in all departments withÂ influence of the Northern Bloc [commanded by 'Jorge 40'].
What were these instructions?
Because Uribeâ€™s ideological discourse was very much like ours but within a framework of legality, we decided to supportÂ him immediately. We asked people in the towns if they had listened toÂ Uribe and what he was promising to do. Their answer was yes, so we said we would support him and we ‘directed’ the populations to vote for him. There were no direct arrangements, I would lie if I said there were.