Colombia: Ex-Paramilitary Leader Testifies About Alleged Assassinations

Colombia: Ex-Paramilitary Leader Testifies About Alleged Assassinations
Last updated May 19, 2023
Image credit: Reuters [via Al Jazeera]


  • Former Colombian paramilitary leader of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Salvatore Mancuso, testified this week before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal, where he discussed alleged assassination programs orchestrated during the country’s decades-long internal conflict.[1]
  • As commander of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), Mancuso described how the group murdered and disappeared political activists and others seen as sympathetic to left-wing groups and causes, calling them "assassinations."[1]
  • Mancuso, who testified virtually from a US prison where he is serving drug trafficking sentences, claimed that he and the head of the AUC, Carlos Castaño, along with "some Venezuelan politicians," conspired to overthrow and "assassinate" former Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez.[2]
  • However, he added that Castaño rejected the Venezuelan opposition proposal but did offer to send AUC troops to train their Venezuelan counterparts to carry out the coup. Around 50 Colombian paramilitaries were later caught in 2004 for allegedly plotting the murder.[2]
  • The self-professed assassin-turned-whistleblower, who said he "ordered the assassination of hundreds of people," said his forces built crematoriums to burn the bodies of those killed while others were disposed of in the Catatumbo River, separating Colombia and Venezuela.[1]
  • In response, alleged members of the paramilitary group AGC, which was formed by former commanders of the AUC between 2006 and 2007, threatened to kill JEP magistrate Alejandro Ramelli and his assistant Hugo Escobar. The AGC denied sending the threat and blamed Colombia's intelligence services.[3]


Pro-establishment narrative

As Colombia seeks justice for the victims of its decades-long civil war, the South American nation should go even further in allowing more highly qualified human rights lawyers to represent the hundreds of thousands killed and millions of displaced Colombians. Since 2016, the government has completed commendable work on this front, which is why such a request is not too much to ask of this new, forward-thinking regime.

Establishment-critical narrative

To seek justice for Colombia and its regional neighbors, the role played by the US State Department and CIA must not be left out. As far back as the 1960s, government records show the US planned and trained rebels on how to conduct assassinations and coups d'état. South American drug wars and civil conflicts are often part of US strategy to ensure US-friendly politicians are in power, and the CIA was willing to sacrifice innocent lives to achieve its geopolitical interests.

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