It seems that the name of Salvatore Mancuso will linger long in what is the present Colombian history. From a jail in Washington, the former war lord of the Paramilitary groups known as AUC, makes that many tremble in the South American nation. Many of them, victims, relatives and friends of victims that will know the true, many others as supportive or perpetrators of infamous crimes against humanity.
Last Friday, Mancuso admitted responsibility for four massacres committed by his paramilitary forces in La Gabarra, El Salado, Cucuta and Pichillin. Ninety civilians were killed in cold blood by paramilitary forces in these massacres.
The Prosecutor General holds the former AUC head responsible for the forced displacement of 480 people and the recruitment of 138 minors.
According to the Prosecution, many of the crimes Mancuso is now tried for were committed with the consent and participation of the Colombian Armed Forces. Mancuso’s personal bodyguards were members of the National Police, the Prosecution claims.
But who is Salvatore Mancuso? Let us try an approach.
A literate man
Paradoxically, it seems as a common element that leaders of infamous crimes against humanity are well-prepared and intellectual men in those places of the planet where thousand of persons have been condemned to mass killings by some military factions.
Then Salvatore Mancuso fit perfectly the figure of such kind of lords of war. His Italian surname is due to his father, while his mother is a Colombian of the northern Caribbean region in the Cordoba State.
A family of middle class in a fortress of agriculture and cattle of the extensive Cordobean plains near to the sea, those who can be described as the Colombian cowboys, risen in a context of work and business. Young Salvatore Mancuso finished civil engineering in the Catholic Javeriana University (PUJ), farming administration in the Technical Formation School of Agriculture of Bogotá (EFTA) and English at the University of Pennsylvania.
AUC from the plains
Why the Colombian conflict developed the reality of Paramilitary groups is a question of current analysis of unpredictable social and political consequences. As for its roots as for its consequences, no many conclusions can be taken neither by foreign observers nor by national scholars, also because many things still to be said and explain.
Technically, AUC, the Spanish acronym for Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Colombian Self-Defense Groups), was created by the land owners who, oppressed by the permanent attacks and bribes of the Communist guerrilla groups like FARC and ELN and the lack of presence of the Colombian authorities (military and police), decided to take action by themselves.
What is not fully clear is why, if there was a lack of presence of the State in the protection of the properties and safety of those land owners of the Córdoba, Sucre and Antioquia states in a special way, military ranks, policemen and politicians ended to be involved with the development of the AUC and the committing of their serious crimes against civilians, especially farmers from poor communities under the pretension that they were supporters of the guerrillas.
The development of the Paramilitary groups in Colombia coincided at the same time with the frontal declaration of war waged by the Colombian government against drug dealer cartels since the presidency of Virgilio Barco Vargas (1986 – 1990)
Colombian government was incompetent. The attacks by the guerrillas to the large state owners in the region brought as a consequence the formation of illegally armed self-defense groups to confront them. This new situation had the sympathy of some sectors of the Colombian state such as politicians and some security forces, including then current and former members of the Colombian National Army. The group was back then under the command of Carlos Castaño, to which Mancuso became second in command. Salvatore Mancuso, for example, joined the Paramilitary groups in 1995, two years after infamous Colombian drug dealer Pablo Escobar was shot down by official security forces. Link between the development and fights of Colombian mafias with Paramilitary groups are easily traced to understand for example how middle class farmers could get so amazing military power to combat the Communist guerrillas and follow policies of extermination of entire towns in several Colombian regions from the Northern Caribbean coast to the Eastern Plains (Llanos Orientales).
The last confessed massacres
La Gabarra, El Salado, Cucuta and Pichillin are those kind of names that you do not use to listen too much around in Colombia. Such names became famous only after the bloody actions of the Paramilitary groups in those places. The reason why those places were not well known before is because they belong to regions of poor family farmers, often surrounded by the long standing Colombian conflict and its armed groups of right or left wings.
Therefore, the Colombian history will associate such names to massacres, at least more hopeful events will happen in places like that or their names will change for other with a best future to run.
El Salado Massacre (the Spanish name Salado means Salty), was a massive killing in a village of María Mountain (Montes de María), near El Carmen de Bolívar town. The María Mountain has been traditionally a place of refuge of Communist guerrilla. In such context, is understandable that Paramilitary groups intended to conquer the region.
Between 16 and 19 of February 2000, a group of AUC arrived to the village under the guidance of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, known by his ‘nom de guerre’ as Jorge 40. The complicity of the National Army have been denounced by survivals of what is known as the biggest massacre committed by AUC. Among the victims there were a girl of six and a woman of 65 years old in a number of more the 100 persons murdered in a event that other sources say expended a entire week of impunity and terror.
Excavations became already a fashion in a country used to see realities of mass killing fields far as Unganda and Cambodia. The prosecutor found 14 bodies buried in grieves in El Salado with signs of torture. Executions were made in the Church and the playground of the town, according to witnesses.