Imprisoned Colombian paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso fingered the nation’s vice president, defense minister and two of it’s top conglomerates as collaborators in an explosive judicial hearing. He also said the paramilitaries, branded “foreign terrorist organizations” by Washington in 2001, were aided by top army brass in training and logistics. Mancuso said he would offer details later. In press interviews last week, he promised details of how multinational companies including all banana exporters helped bankroll the paramilitaries. President Alvaro Uribe said in a radio interview that he had “every confidence in the honesty and moral fiber” of Vice President Francisco Santos and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
Mancuso said Postobon and Bavaria—beverage companies then belonging to two of Colombia’s richest men—also paid paramilitary bosses. Bavaria was purchased by the South African conglomerate SABMiller PLC last year. The companies had no comment on the claims.
Mancuso especially accused Juan Manuel Santos, a cousin of the vice president, of seeking paramilitary help in 1997 to overthrow then-President Ernesto Samper. The Santos cousins are members of one of Colombia’s most powerful political families. Both have acknowledged meeting with paramilitary leaders back then, but say it was only to promote peace talks.
In Washington, leading Democrats are asking tough questions. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) said he expects Congress to review foreign aid to Colombia in June, but adds: “What I’m hoping is that there will be less military aid and more aid for social and economic development. To be blunt, I wouldn’t trust this military to tell me the correct time given what’s been revealed in the past few months.” (EFE, AP, May 16)