Vie. 14 Junio 2024 Actualizado 4:45 pm

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Salvatore Mancuso fue uno de los "comisarios políticos" de las AUC (Foto: Archivo)

Salvatore Mancuso’s Confession Reveals How Paramilitarism Emerged in Colombia

The war that has been raging in Colombia for the last seven decades has gone through various stages of violence, with different actors that often intertwine in terms of their interests and procedures, with the State playing a leading role – of course – in the equation. Historically dominated by local oligarchies, their interests have been imposed with tactics of extreme violence and strategies that have undermined any hint of peace.

Even researchers and academics have not hesitated to determine the terrorist character of Colombian government policy over the years, which has been systematic in its relationship with Colombian paramilitarism for half a century.

Thus, it has been demonstrated that the Colombian State has delegated a war against the guerrillas and society in general to the paramilitary armies, as confessed by the former head of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), Salvatore Mancuso, in a recent virtual meeting with the Truth Commission.

The forum ‘Contribution to the truth and recognition of responsibilities of Salvatore Mancuso’ also took place with Rodrigo Londoño, formerly better known as Timochenko (FARC-EP) and 18 direct victims of the armed and social conflict, where both recounted the origins of their activities, one when he was a paramilitary and the other a guerrilla, their vision of history, assumed guilt and shared forgiveness.

What is interesting in the case of Mancuso is that his privileged position during the period when paramilitarism took over provides a key testimony where, once again, the State appears as the main promoter of terrorist violence, with an essential role and without which the actions of these armed groups would not have occurred.


In his testimony, Mancuso recounts that the brothers Carlos and Vicente Castaño invited him to found self-defense groups that spread in the northern departments of Colombia, in regions where there were long-standing conflicts between the guerrillas, the state army and the landowning oligarchy. The conjunction of the latter two sectors would outline a political, military and economic project, he said.

He described the ties with various institutions and the Convivir: “There was always a direct coordination that allowed progress with the self-defense groups”.

It should be recalled that the Convivir, vigilante cooperatives that were used as a legal front for paramilitarism, were authorized to operate with Decree Law 356 of 1994, and were strongly supported by Alvaro Uribe Velez when he was governor of Antioquia (1995-1997).

In 2008, according to a bulletin of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, paramilitary leader Éver Veloza García, alias “HH”, told Colombian authorities that his armed groups had operated since their creation “until today” under the protection of the military forces, and that the Convivir Papagayo, in the region of Urabá, “always had its headquarters behind the XVII Brigade of the National Army, and that to reach its facilities it was necessary to pass through army checkpoints”.

Alias “HH” said that “all the Convivir were ours,” and the report explains his insertion into the paramilitary world:

“The Convivir Papagayo is just one example of what these ‘private security and surveillance’ associations really were: real paramilitary groups under the protection of the state, or organizations that acted in conjunction and coordination with paramilitary groups. This situation had been denounced for years by human rights organizations, by some state entities and by international human rights protection agencies that saw in these groups the legalization of paramilitarism”.

From a U.S. prison where he has served a sentence for drug trafficking, Mancuso affirmed that he himself was trained by the Colombian army. The State had coordinated with the self-defense groups, being this an illegal actor, to delegate to them the armed confrontation in Colombia against the guerrillas, and characterizing the relationship of the public forces with the self-defense groups, Mancuso said: “The role of the Convivir allowed to create a pivot between a legal self-defense and the illegal self-defense”.

What Colombia experienced in the last half of the 1990s was the transition of the AUC “from the military to the political side. And that is when the Self-Defense Forces began to take power of the State, making pacts, agreements, and what is known as parapolitics. We had mayors, governors, deputies, congressmen and even presidents, and we were able to help appoint them,” explained the former paramilitary chief.

This transition from the legal to the illegal was ideal for the covert actions of the Colombian state, which at least since 1968 urged the population to join the defense and public intelligence tasks with decrees, laws and orders. But the Convivir were just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the most important Colombian paramilitary chiefs confessed that paramilitarism in that country is “legitimate son of the State”

– MV (@Mision_Verdad) April 6, 2021


Tens and hundreds of Colombian politicians have come to power with the backing of paramilitary groups, something unusual if we compare the actions of this sector with the guerrilla, criminalized and even massacred as happened with the thousands of members of the Patriotic Union. On the other hand, the parapoliticians enjoyed immunity and gave protection to the power behind the shadows.

In his virtual testimony, Salvatore Mancuso used the term “political commissar” to refer to his role within the AUC since joining in 1995: “The political commissars had a fundamental role in the creation of the structures. I would meet with mayors, politicians and businessmen, I had multiple roles”.

So not only did they work with the Convivir, they also confirmed the various alliances to wrest territorial control from the guerrillas: “I stopped being Salvatore Mancuso and became alias Santander Lozada and I began to have agreements with the institutions, with the Army, the DAS, the Police, even with the Prosecutor’s Office in the cause of self-defense to jointly confront the enemy of the Nation”.

In effect, the “communist threat” was the common denominator of the Colombian security policy by U.S. mandate, which included the South American country in one of its most important centers of operations in the Western Hemisphere. And that ideological thread, quite violent in practice, led to the formation of paramilitary groups in view of the fact that the State could not cope with the war on its own, or so it was made to believe.

It is not surprising, therefore, that for ideological, political and profit motives (mostly from drug trafficking and other related illegal activities), especially among the extreme right-wing sectors, the paramilitary emergence has been so strongly supported. The former AUC member mentioned that at least 35% of Congress had links with them, noting that politicians, through the territorial control exercised by the group, benefited from being able to direct the local population in elections.

"When you become an actor of territorial control,” said Mancuso, “it leads you to have control over populations and that leads you to have social, political, economic, cultural control and you can influence elections”.

This testimony is consistent with what other former paramilitary leaders have said, such as the aforementioned alias “HH” and alias Don Berna, who in 2015 from a prison in Miami confessed that there were members of the illegal armed groups within the state, among politicians, military and police.

This is not the first time Mancuso has testified about the intimate relations between Colombian institutions and organized crime. At least since 2008, when he was extradited to the United States, he has been spilling some stories involving politicians, military and police officers, judges and also the landowning oligarchy, especially those most closely associated with Uribism.

In fact, he promises to reveal more details about the “false positives” policy, but to do so he prefers to testify before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a body that has refused the request because it considers Mancuso an “organic member of the criminal structure, developing a continuous combat function”, dismissing him. Even so, at this point Mancuso could reveal important information about state crimes in the near future.

It is for this reason that in these moments of crisis of Uribism some sectors do not want to hear this part of the story. Especially those who currently occupy the Casa de Nariño.

Translation by Internationalist 360°

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