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Jun 022009

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 Arévalo for the translation help.

According to the Government, you were playing around with the process…

Look, I am going to give you a “scoop.” The prosecutor-general, Mario Iguarán, 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 Itagüí 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 “Justicia y Paz” [the Justice and Peace process], and I’m still in “Justicia y Paz.”

If, like you said, you weren’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 Córdoba and Catatumbo. But some AUC commanders said they wouldn’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 “Justicia y Paz” 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 Castaño and I met with the ex minister [of defense] Juan Manuel Santos in order to promote a coup d’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.

Like who?

They know.

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 files of my processes in the Colombian courts and the records of the reconstruction of historical truth. I left it in my cell in Itagüí and the INPEC [Colombian government prisons institute] took it. 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, added or edited, and therefore I do not acknowledge these 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 completed their testimonies. And I don’t think that they will do so until they arrange their affairs with the United States. That is the problem of extradition.

What politicians are not detained for their ties to the AUC?

There were many people involved. For example, in early 2002 in a country estate in ‘Macaco’ in Piamonte, near Taraza, there was a big meeting where ‘Cuco’ Vanoy, Vicente Castano, ‘Don Berna’, ‘Macaco’, ‘Julián Bolívar’ ’Ernesto Báez’, ‘Diego Vecino’ and I attended, as well as Colonel (Ret.) Hugo Aguilar (former governor of Santander) and ‘ El Tuerto’ Gil (former Senator Luis Alberto Gil, investigated for para-politics).

What was the meeting for?

For electoral support that some politicians were seeking at that time from the “Bloque Central Bolivar” in six or seven departments.

Why do you recall the presence of Gil and Aguilar in particular?

Because Aguilar presented himself as the person who had killed Pablo Escobar, and I recall Gil because he was with the colonel.

Is it true that one of the largest meetings of polititians and the AUC was on an estate called “La 21?”

Yes, the estate “La 21” was owned by Carlos Castaño, located between San Pedro de Urabá and Valencia. There was a big meeting as well in “La 15” with Vicente Castaño. It was two or three days of meetings towards the end of 2001.

What happened at the meeting in “La 21?”

Carlos Castaño called all commanders to a meeting because “Ernesto Baez,” political leader of the Bloque Central Bolívar, wanted to propose the creation of a “single [candidate] list” for Congress headed by Rocío 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 “La 15” what happened?

In the meeting at “La 15,” according to what Vicente Castaño told me, it was with farmers and businessmen from the region. Vicente asked them to support Uribe’s campaign for the presidency.

What do you remember in particular from those meetings?

I remember Juan José Chaux in particular (former governor of Cauca and former ambassador). He was the only one whom I did not know who came to give a speech. He said that his grandfather or great-grandfather had been president, that they had belonged to the legal “self-defense groups” created by Guillermo León Valencia and that they had always been against the guerrillas. At that time he 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.’ (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?

Narváez is a very structured man who collaborated with the AUC on ideological issues. He was a professor at the “Escuela Superior de Guerra” and taught classes to officers. He was in meetings with Carlos Castano, ‘Jorge 40′, ‘El Alemán’ and me. In our training schools he spoke to the cadres about command structure. He delivered ideological indoctrination 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 Castaño, but I don’t know how they met. When he arrived in the area I would sometimes send someone to pick him up at the airport in Montería. I never knew of any payment for his work.

When Narváez came to work in the DAS, what did you think?

That the guerrillas would have a serious problem with this man because of his knowledge of the conflict.

Narváez pursued the guerrillas and he would turn a blind eye to the AUC?

He identified ideologically with the AUC, so this was likely to happen. But these are only assumptions, because can’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, but with the DAS we had relationships long before, as well as with the Police and Army. To give just one example, the director of the DAS in Cúcuta, Jorge Diaz, was a self-defense group leader. We operated in his cars as did the Police and 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 today’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 negotiations for the AUC , however I was not responsible for the decisions of each bloc and therefore would not be able to say what kind of pacts or agreements were reached. But I can say that the vast majority of us supported Uribe because those were the instructions we received from commanders and we did so in all departments with influence of the Northern Bloc [commanded by 'Jorge 40'].

What were these instructions?

Because Uribe’s ideological discourse was very much like ours but within a framework of legality, we decided to support him immediately. We asked people in the towns if they had listened to 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.

13 Responses to ““They extradited the truth with me””

  1. Randy Paul Says:

    Because Uribe’s ideological discourse was very much like ours but within a framework of legality, we decided to support him immediately. We asked people in the towns if they had listened to 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. [my boldface]

    No, but the guns and machetes certainly helped.

  2. Camilo Wilson Says:

    In Colombia-U.S. relations, and especially under the Bush-Uribe alliance, extradition was as much a political tool as one in the service of justice and the rule of law. This was but one unsavoury dimension of the special relationship. Specifics on how this relationship might change under the Obama administration remain to be seen.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Adam, reviewing previous posts, I am completely convinced you are pretty aware that Colombia is being governed by the narco mafia. Please I know you have to be discreet but do whatever you can to not let this country delve into a much deeper and obscure depth than it has by now. Thanks.

  4. Richard Says:

    Uribe has played this well. He works with criminals/paramilitaries/drugs traffickers then has them all detained/extradited and, when they come out and tell the truth, he can simply paint them as ‘criminals’ who are not to be belived. There is little doubt that they are criminals, it is just a shame that so few people seem to realise the Uribe too is a criminal. He simply wears a suit and pretends that he is above it all. In my view he is worse than Mancuso and the others. At least you know where you stand with them. Uribe has somehow managed to convince people that he might be legitimate. What a joke.

  5. Chris Says:

    I don’t know if they extradited the truth with him… it’s out now correct? Imagine if they wouldn’t have extradited him… we would have never known anything because of some behind the scenes deal. At least here he’s venting because he’s furious about his extradition, and he’s paying his dues (for what it’s worth).

  6. lfm Says:

    There is no question now: Uribe is God´s gift to mankind, or at least the Colombian portion of it. He spends twenty years politicking in Antioquia and Cordoba, places that are crawling with all sorts of unsavory characters, and never, not once, crosses paths with them, keeping his morals and values intact. Then, when he runs for President he has a strong discourse of counterinsurgency that he simply developed in his personal library but that (what a lucky man!) it JUST HAPPENS to be exactly what the paramilitary want to hear and are able to put into effect by pressuring the population. So, he walks on water, completely uncontaminated while, entirely unbeknownst to him, the AUC is helping him to get elected through terror. A shining, white ligth in the middle of a cesspool. Jesus could only spend 40 days in the dessert been tempted by the devil. He succeeded, resisted temptations and moved on, but it was only 40 days. Instead Uribe spent 30 years surrounded by scoundrels and never succumbed. You do the math.

  7. Brian O Says:

    Adam, what do you make of the contrast between the images of Mancuso before and after his extradition? Not too long ago, we saw him at his “version libre” wearing expensive suits and arrogantly justifying the actions of the AUC as he read from a laptop computer. Now, wearing prisoner garb inside of a high security facility in DC, his bald head and tired face tells a different story. It is one of a man who realizes he can no longer threaten, extort, and massacre as he pleases. Though he will be tried for narcotrafficking and not his more heinous crimes, it is at least comforting to see this once powerful and arrogant man be faced with the reality of his actions as he stands before the American justice system.

    It is fascinating to see the changes in human behavior that come about when an individual leaves the microcosm he once ruled and encounters a larger reality outside of Colombian society.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    This is a quote from the same interview that Adam overlooked: “If the self defense militia, that supposedly were friends with the Government, and Mancuso, Uribe’s personal friend, are treated like this, what would not they do to the FARC, that assassinated the President’s father.” It’s the fist time Mancuso admits to be a close friend of Mr Danger, though probably that the FARC killed his father is not so clear as one might believe.

  9. Camilo Wilson Says:

    El comentario del Sr. Bustos amerita una respuesta, la cual me atrevo a dar. For English speakers, let me say that Mr. Isacson’s excerpts do capture the essence of what Mancuso said in the interview. However, as Mr. Bustos points out, there is an interesting question and response not included in the excerpts, which I shall take the liberty of translating for interested readers.

    Question: Has the peace process failed or has it been successful in some stage?

    Mancuso’s response: The process has been abandoned in its judicial stage. Not included are men whom the Government has offered only jail, extradition, or the cemetery, and such proposals are not attractive to the conflict’s actors. If this is what is offered to the paramilitaries (i.e., the “self-defense” forces), who supposedly are friends of the Government; and offered to Mancuso, a personal friend of Uribe, then what will the Government offer to the FARC, who murdered the President’s father. My case mirrors what will happen to Cano, Jojoy, the ELN, and the emerging [delinquent] bands in any future peace process. In any case, today I ask that [the Government] tell all of those demobilized to move forward and honor their commitment to victims.

    With regard to the death of Uribe’s father, the facts are less than clear. The late FARC chief Manuel Marulanda, when asked whether the FARC killed Uribe’s father, said that the FARC were not involved so far as he knew. The subsequent discussion then turned on who Uribe’s father was. The father was a man with a mentalidad pistolera (a pistol mentality), who went about with a pistol in plain view. Divorced from Uribe’s mother, the father was a macho type whose business at the time was acting as broker in the sale of large agricultural estates. And at this time and place, only the narcos had the money to buy these estates. One credible theory is that one of the father’s deals that went sour, and that his murder was payment. Things are so often–so very often–not what they seem in Colombia. Uribe blames the FARC, which squares with his own politics as a member of the landed elite, virtually all of whom hate the FARC.

    As for Uribe’s relationship with Mancuso, it is hard to believe that the Uribe family, with large estates in Cordoba (and elsewhere), did not have a congenial relationship with the paramilitaries, including with Mancuso. Other reports, which I haven’t the time to ferret out, also point strongly to a Uribe-Mancuso relationship.

  10. maremoto Says:

    You know, I’d like to respond to those North Americans who referred to Uribe in a derogatory way.

    Uribe is your country’s creation; this society brutalized by the violence brought forth by the Congress of the United States’ black market, what some call the “War on Drugs”. He is your Frankenstein and you have raped the peace and welfare of the people of Colombia’s. Colombia is the Chicago of Prohibition except on steroids. Except now it is a “tool of statecraft” for the CIA and for this grotesque security apparatus it is this country’s policy to enforce domestically and seeks to export; we are talking about “civil asset forfeiture” (an oxymoron), of course. These self-financing group of thugs which prey off the population and creates the good old boy network that leads to all kinds of abuse and which they can count on to control the population.

    It is a vision of hell.

    So the next time you complain about Uribe (and I agree, he is a thug) remember: he’s your progeny and the apple does not fall far from the tree.

    The Dark Side of Plan Colombia: How the U.S. is Subsidizing Death and Drug Trafficking on Stolen Lands
    By Teo Ballvé, The Nation. Posted June 2, 2009.

  11. maremoto Says:

    a little perspective for the “Drug Warriors”:

    Its probably too late.
    [Report this comment] [Ignore this user] Posted by: texsocalist on May 28, 2009 6:10 PM
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    Unlike the days of the Volstead act’s reversal. I’m afraid there is just too much invested in perpetuating the insanity of a war on Drugs that really is a war on poor and minorities. Face it, there is a big difference between poor drug users and children of privlege or politicians or celebs. Rush rages about invasion of his privacy when he is discovered obtaining enough of a schedule 3 narcotic illegally to send a person of color or lesser means to a minimum of 15 years in prison in Fla.(read the statutes) But he gets to do rehab and whine about the unfairness of it all. Rehab is way too expensive for all but the wealthiest. About as much as prison, but we pay for that luxury for those of us unlucky enough to have a criminal habit (one fed in small increments in poor neighborhoods). Then there is the prison industrial complex which needs customers and has lobbyists. Or law enforcement fiefdoms not easily abdicated by the political donors in high positions that run them. Then there is the ancilliary benefit of removing lots of liberal voters from the rolls, the easy straw men to beat on each campaign season. The bogeyman dealer that is second only to a terrorist as a excuse to gut the constitution. C’mon, everybody knows the hypocrisy is glaring. But as long as we accept the different outcome of drug use based on income this war will rage on.
    [« Reply to this comment] [Post a new comment »] [Rate this comment: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5]
    » RE: Its probably too late. Posted by: Bill4
    » Hegemony Posted by: aahpat
    abstinence only
    [Report this comment] [Ignore this user] Posted by: Cory.Goodman on May 29, 2009 2:46 AM
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    “You can’t have zero drugs any more than you can have a zero sex policy but you can have a safe sex policy.”

    yeah well, we haven’t quite figured that one out either so…….
    [« Reply to this comment] [Post a new comment »] [Rate this comment: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5]
    There is no political opposition to
    [Report this comment] [Ignore this user] Posted by: aahpat on May 29, 2009 5:05 AM
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    the war on drugs in America. Just Democrat controlled organizations designed to be a pain in the ass for the GOP when they are in control but then those organizations work to shut down and silence activists and advocates when its inconvenient for the Democrats.

    There can be no reform of the authoritarian drug war laws because its America’s leading tool of social and political repression in the world and in America.

    There will especially not be any reform while the Democrats control the U.S. government. The Democrats encourage drug policy reform ONLY while the Republicans are in power. It is a tool to distract the Republicans and to indoctrinate youthful voters into the idea that the the Republicans are bed drug warriors.

    But then, when Democrats get control of the government, drug policy reform goes by the wayside as the Democrats work to escalate and militarize the drug war both in America and around the world.

    Drug policy reform groups in America are co-opted and controlled by the Democrats. The groups get big money from Democrat fat cats while the GOP is in control of the government. But the groups all fall and shut down their activists when the Democrats get control. After all, we can’t rock the Democrat boat.
    [« Reply to this comment] [Post a new comment »] [Rate this comment: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5]
    » RE: There is no political opposition to Posted by: Cory.Goodman
    » should have been clearer Posted by: aahpat
    The modern war on drugs
    [Report this comment] [Ignore this user] Posted by: aahpat on May 29, 2009 5:24 AM
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    Was created by Richard Nixon in collusion with the Dixie-crats, to subvert American democratic institutions. At this the war on drugs has been a huge success.

    As a result of this success the war on drugs is so entrenched in American governance and has so corrupted American democracy that the war on drugs will not be dislodged or diminished, in America, by democratic means.

    I have watched the development of the war on drugs since its inception and cannot escape this conclusion. A nation simply cannot use democracy to restore democracy once democracy is gone.

    Democrats and Republicans simply will not give up this means to their undemocratic authoritarian control of America. No matter how many citizens in the states vote for reform. No matter how many citizens sign petitions.

    Democracy is a failed in America. And that means that the war on drugs is a success.

  12. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Thanks Camilo for clarifying the matter at hand, and maremoto, do you think all americans are to blame for Colombia being a narco state? American politicians are to blame, and of those only the ones who planned it this way. The rest do what they can, some are mesmerized with the media, some are just indifferent. But you can’t blame Adam that glides in and out the politicians arena, I know he knows tons of things he does not dare to publicly state, but he has a family, kids and must live a life as everyone. The monster is out of reach, and you know it, as much as it might hurt.

  13. Will Says:


    Doesn’t some responsibility go to sectors of Colombia’s establishment? Its landed elite, its cattle ranchers, its GRUPOS for the emergence of Uribe? Repression and violence as opposed to social and land reform have long been the choice of Colombia’s elite (see what happened to Colombia’s peasant movement ANUC in the 1970s or to peasants/unions during LA VIOLENCIA), long before the illegal drug economy became institutionalized. The U.S. was not far from much of this history, but its not as if U.S. leaders are pushing buttons in D.C. and Colombia automatically becomes a repressive state.

    By the way drugs definitely need to be decriminalized, no argument from me on that subject. However, in regards to the Democrats militarizing the war on drugs, recent history supports this idea, but we came closest to decriminalizing Marijuana during the Carter administration when Carter himself publicly voiced support for such measures, something thats not going to happen with our present president…

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