In an interview with a Colombian radio station, paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso said that he had personally met with ex-President Alvaro Uribe, but declined to give further details. The question now is whether Mancuso's version of the truth can be corroborated.
On May 11, Mancuso (pictured) remarked to Caracol Radio, "Yes, I met with Alvaro Uribe, but I prefer not to give any details about it." He also said that he donated money to Uribe's re-election campaign in 2006, which was used to purchase advertising, food, and transportation.
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This is among the most explicit testimony that Uribe had face-to-face interaction with paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), implicating him directly in paramilitary activity. Many other former AUC warlords -- Mancuso included -- have testified that many of Uribe's associates like his younger brother, his vice president, his intelligence chief, and chief of staff met repeatedly with paramilitary groups.
[See InSight Crime's profile of the AUC]
But while many of Uribe's closest political allies have been accused of (or in the case of his cousin Mario, imprisoned for) paramilitary ties, allegations that directly implicate Uribe himself are more unusual. The most prominent case involved a former paramilitary fighter, Francisco Enrique Villalba Hernández, who said that Uribe personally thanked the perpetrators of a massacre that took place in 1997. Villalba's testimony was filled with inconsistencies, but when he was assassinated in 2009, this helped feed the perception that powerful interests wanted him silenced.
When participating in Colombia's Justice and Peace program -- created to give demobilizing paramilitaries reduced sentences in return for truthful testimony -- Mancuso had provided many damning allegations involving Uribe's political allies. When the Colombian government abruptly extradited 14 paramilitary leaders (including Mancuso) to the US in 2008, critics said that Uribe was trying to sabotage the Justice and Peace process by silencing warlords who had spoken against him.
Uribe has, unsurprisingly, issued a strong denial of Mancuso's statement. But aside from Mancuso's claim that he met personally with Uribe, there was little new about his assertions. One of Mancuso's associates has previously testified that the AUC supported Uribe's 2006 presidential campaign, while several warlords have spoken under oath about the alleged involvement of Uribe's younger brother, Santiago, in running his own paramilitary group.
Uribe's primary defense is that warlords like Mancuso have a political agenda of their own, and that their allegations are likely to be inaccurate or false. Mancuso has hinted that he cannot reveal everything he really knows, because then his family would face reprisals in Colombia. It is likely that the only other witnesses who can corroborate whatever direct interaction took place between Uribe and the AUC, if any, are the 13 other warlords whom Uribe extradited to the US. But like Mancuso says, they have little capacity to protect themselves from reprisals should they again begin sharing information about paramilitary collaboration with the Colombian government.