Salvatore Mancuso, former Colombian death squad leader, recounts squad's mayhem
Date: Tuesday, January 23 2007
As country tries to heal, testimony conjures memory of dark past
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan The Boston Globe
Published: January 18, 2007
BOGOTÁ: A former chief of Colombia's rightist death squads testified in court this week about his role and the involvement of military and public officials in scores of massacres and assassinations of perceived political opponents.
The testimony by the chief, Salvatore Mancuso, in the northwestern city of Medellín is a key step toward clarifying and assigning blame for atrocities committed during Colombia's long civil war.
In two days, Mancuso, 48, detailed collusion by army generals, police colonels, a state prosecutor and politicians in planning the murders of scores of alleged leftists, local politicians and peasant organizers, according to lawyers and victims who were permitted to watch the closed-door sessions.
Dressed in an expensive suit and reading quickly in a matter-of-fact tone from a prepared statement, they said, Mancuso testified that his men had paid the army and police in one region $400,000 a month for their cooperation, and that paramilitaries had coerced voters at gunpoint to support regional and presidential candidates who favored the paramilitaries' agenda.
Mancuso's admission so far of involvement in at least 70 crimes in northwestern Colombia is part of a peace deal that promises demobilized militia leaders a maximum of eight years' incarceration, no matter the severity of their crimes, in exchange for full confessions and payment of reparations to victims.
Mancuso is among about 30,000 members of rightist militias who have laid down their arms since late 2003, and one of more than 2,000 who are expected to confess to grave crimes to take advantage of lighter sentences.
A wealthy cattleman who studied at the University of Pittsburgh, Mancuso helped found civilian militias in the 1980s, financed by rich landowners to combat attacks and extortion by leftist guerrillas. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, morphed into shadowy armies that tortured and massacred civilians and became major drug traffickers.