On September 27, during a trial against Carlos Mario Jiménez, Monkey, a feared former paramilitary chief, declassified documents from the CIA and the State Department came to light in a federal court in Florida confirming that in Colombia there was a “symbiotic relationship” between State forces and paramilitary groups.
“State actors actively supported the operations of the Bloque Central Bolívar BCB (led by Jiménez) through the exchange of intelligence, weapons and military uniforms,” wrote federal judge Edwin Torres in his ruling, considered a milestone. The ruling held Macaco responsible for the murder of Eduardo Estrada, a social leader and journalist shot in 2001 in the department of Bolívar, and for the torture of his wife, as part of a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of several victims. The justice also ordered the payment of 12 million dollars to the families of the victims.
To reach this conclusion, Torres relied on at least a dozen declassified reports from the CIA and the State Department, which have been published by the National Security Archive information portal at different times. It is a series of reports, memos and diplomatic cables that give an account of the collaboration between these squads and the Colombian State, an open truth in the country that was also known by the US Government, as is now demonstrated.
“The Army treated them ‘well”
In 2001, the CIA reported that months before Estrada’s assassination, the Colombian Army “treated well” the BCB paramilitaries and another AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) bloc. The document indicates that due to a state operation the paramilitaries were “temporarily forced to relocate,” and some were detained. However, “those captured during the operation were later released, along with their weapons.”
“This decision (the ruling against Macaco) is the result of the tireless struggle of the victims for their right to truth and justice, when this right was almost taken away from them as Macaco was extradited exclusively on drug trafficking charges,” he tells EL PAÍS Gustavo Gallón, director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), who accompanied the case together with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). “The decision demonstrated what Macaco denied for many years in Colombian courts, his participation and responsibility in the murder of Eduardo Estrada, since he argued that he was not in the Magdalena Medio region at the time of these events,” explains Gallón.
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“They are not actively pursuing them”
Another of the documents released by the NSA is an analysis of the United States embassy in Bogotá dated 1999 that assures that “the Armed Forces of Colombia have not actively persecuted the members of the paramilitary groups because they see them as allies in the fight against The guerrilla”.
The same report indicates that paramilitaries control illicit crops in the southern region of Bolívar, Macaco’s area of operations. The former paramilitary chief began his criminal life hiding behind the cattle ranch trade, and rose to head the Central Bolívar Bloc, one of the most powerful of the defunct AUC, which demobilized between 2003 and 2006 under the Álvaro Uribe government.
Military and their version of the terrifying massacre of El Salado
Documents from the same year reinforce the idea that the high command of the Colombian Army did not see it necessary to fight the paramilitaries. General (Néstor) Ramírez said during the meeting that it was not the Army’s business to pursue them “because they were apolitical criminals and therefore did not threaten the constitutional order through subversive activities,” the cable reads.
While the Army turned a blind eye, thousands of Colombian populations were hit by the massacres. One of the most cruel was that of El Salado, in which 450 members of the AUC murdered 60 people after torturing them for 6 days without the Army or Police intervening. The press called this massacre a “blood festival” because of the macabre details of how they forced the inhabitants to play drum music before executing them on the town’s soccer field; or the cruel lottery in which they were forced to count to 30 to define the order of the murders.
In 2009, the NSA portal published a cable from the Embassy that showed its concern about the role that the military forces had in this massacre. “The Army knew from intelligence that the paramilitaries were in the area, but they left before the massacre,” a source tells the Embassy in the text. Of the 450 paramilitaries, they were barely captured 11. Years later, the Supreme Court of Colombia sentenced a captain and other officers of the First Marine Infantry Brigade for “allowing the violent actions of the paramilitary groups that took over El Salado.”
General Del Río and “cooperation” with the paramilitaries
In a 1998 document, it was recorded that an Army official told the Embassy, in a confidential capacity, that General Rito Alejo del Río, commander at that time of the 17th Brigade in the Urabá region, was one of the two most corrupt military personnel in the Army. “The source affirmed that Del Río told the Brigade personnel to cooperate with the paramilitaries when he was physically absent from the area,” the cable said. Also, that the general now retired and sentenced to 25 years for the murder of the peasant Marino López Mena had diverted “a plane loaded with arms and ammunition to the paramilitaries in the Magdalena Medio Region in 1985.”
Currently Del Río submits his version to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) for the Mapiripán massacre, which occurred in 1997, in which 120 paramilitaries of the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (Accu), traveled in two military planes from Urabá Antioqueño, headquarters of the 17th brigade, to San José del Guaviare, in southeastern Colombia, to assassinate 49 people. Before the JEP, which investigates the crimes committed in the armed conflict, Del Río denied his participation.
Macaco explored a new paramilitary alliance from prison
Between 2004 and 2006, the paramilitary leaders demobilized under the government of Álvaro Uribe. In exchange for surrendering their weapons, offering the truth about the crimes and not repeating crimes, they could access a type of transitional justice and pay an eight-year prison sentence. However, in 2008, by order of Uribe, several of the most bloodthirsty were extradited to the United States. During the process for his responsibility in the murder of Eduardo Estrada, another cable from 2007 was quoted indicating that this former paramilitary chief had continued to commit crimes from prison.
In the United States, Macaco served 11 years in prison – out of an original 33-year sentence – on charges related to drug trafficking, not human rights violations, and in 2019 he was repatriated to Colombia, where he remains in custody. At the beginning of this year, it recognized sexual violence, homicides, displacement, disappearances, torture and other illicit behaviors in which the Central Bolívar Bloc had participated, with a balance of at least 250 victims, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. A process that continues. Between 1997 and 2006, only that paramilitary structure, the largest of which was grouped under the umbrella of the AUC, operated in 13 of the 32 departments of Colombia, according to the National Center for Historical Memory.
Despite acknowledging his responsibility in the Estrada case, his defense has requested that the investigation be closed, since more than 20 years have passed since these events occurred, explains Gustavo Gallón. “In this way, the sentence issued by the South Florida District Court should be a reference for the prosecutor in charge of the investigation in the Colombian case, since it shows that the murder of Eduardo Estrada occurred in a context of systematicity and generality. , thanks to the help and tolerance of the Colombian armed forces, classifying this homicide as a crime against humanity and therefore, an indefeasible crime ”, he points out.
You can read the ten declassified documents (in English) here
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