The United States justice has recognized what has been documented in Colombia for years: the relationship between state forces and paramilitary groups that have terrorized the South American country. Last week, a federal court in Florida held Carlos Mario Jiménez, Macaco, a feared former paramilitary chief, 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 multiple victims.
Federal judge Edwin Torres cited “abundant evidence” that the Central Bolívar Bloc (BCB) headed by Jiménez “operated in a symbiotic relationship with Colombian state actors” in the Magdalena Medio region, in the north of the country. “State actors actively supported the operations of the BCB through the exchange of intelligence, weapons and military uniforms,” he wrote in his ruling, considered a milestone. To reach this conclusion, he relied on declassified reports from the CIA and the State Department, published by the National Security Archive information portal.
The testimonies of experts during the process cited a wide series of reports, memos and declassified diplomatic cables that give an account of the collaboration between these squads and the Colombian State. Among others, an analysis by the embassy in Bogotá assures that “the Colombian Armed Forces have not actively persecuted the members of the paramilitary groups because they see them as allies in the fight against the guerrillas,” according to National Security documents. Archive. The ruling orders the payment of 12 million dollars to the families of the victims.
It has been difficult for Colombia to turn the page of the war. Paramilitary leaders illegally fought the guerrillas, controlled drug trafficking networks, massacred entire populations and, in many cases, did so with the collusion of state forces. Macaco 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 extinct United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which demobilized between 2003 and 2006 under the government of Álvaro Uribe. as part of the Justice and Peace process. In 2008, Uribe extradited a dozen paramilitary leaders –among them, the first was Macaco, who continued to commit crimes from prison– after a long legal debate that confronted the Executive with the victims.
“This decision 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,” Gustavo Gallón, director, told EL PAÍS. of the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), which 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.
The case resonates at a time when Colombia seeks to overcome its convoluted armed conflict of more than half a century, with nine million victims, without avoiding the truth of the war. The Colombian authorities, however, have not managed to stop the incessant murder of all kinds of social leaders after the signing of the historic peace agreement that disarmed the FARC guerrillas five years ago.
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“Eduardo Estrada was a very valuable community journalist, a leader who founded and chaired different organizations that sought to promote communication in Magdalena Medio and in the South of Bolívar,” recalls Jonathan Bock, director of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP ). “It was the profile of a journalist who, because he was so recognized and visible, immediately became the target of paramilitary groups. Among the topics he investigated was the theft of money from public health resources. It was also put at risk by the process of establishing the community radio station, which if it had been achieved would surely have had a high local impact ”, he points out. He did not manage to establish the station, as the bullets from the Central Bolívar Block silenced his voice.
Already extradited to the United States, Macaco served 11 years in prison – from 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 participated, with a balance of at least 250 victims, according to the Prosecutor’s Office. A process that continues. Between 1997 and 2006, only this 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 its responsibility in the case of Eduardo Estrada, Macaco’s defense has requested that the investigation be closed, since more than 20 years have passed since these events occurred, explains 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.
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