Colombia: paramilitary chief says he supported Uribe’s election

Through a closed-circuit satellite link from a US federal prison in Virginia, where he is facing drug trafficking charges, former Colombian paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso asserted to a panel of his country’s Supreme Court in Bogotá April 29 that his illegal forces supported Álvaro Uribe‘s election in 2002. He is now the fourth paramilitary chief to make the claim. Mancuso also declared that he participated in a plot against former Supreme Court magistrate Iván Velásquez, who was the leading judge investigating the Uribe government’s collaboration with paramilitary groups.

Mancuso also stated that he met with leading presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos twice in 1997, as part of a plot to overthrow then-president Ernesto Samper. Santos, he said, arrived at one meeting accompanied by prominent emerald dealer Victor Carranza, long suspected of being himself a paramilitary leader. (Semana, Bogotá, April 29)

Despite guarantees, only six of the fourteen former top paramilitary leaders who were extradited to the US two years ago have been able to participate in Colombia’s Justice and Peace process. Colombian officials working on the Justice and Peace process told Caracol Radio that the extradition of the paramilitary leaders has hampered the program’s efforts to offer justice to victims of paramilitaries.

According to the sources, of the fourteen extradited men, only Mancuso, Diego Fernando Murillo AKA “Don Berna”, Miguel Angel Mejia Munera AKA “El Mellizo”, Guillermo Pérez Alzate AKA “Pablo Sevillano” and Ramiro Vanoy AKA “Cuco Vanoy” have been able to testify via satellite from the US.

Last week, Colombia’s Supreme Court denied the US extradition request for Freddy Rendón Herrera AKA “El Alemán”, the justices saying they want Herrera to answer to Colombian justice first and make reparations to his victims. In March, Colombia decided to deny the extradition of El Alemán’s brother, Daniel Rendón Herrera AKA “Don Mario”, on the same grounds. (Colombia Reports, May 13)

See our last posts on Colombia and the paramilitary terror.

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  1. Extradited paramilitaries removed from public record
    Kudos to the Washington Post for covering this, but how frustrating that they don’t mention which paramilitaries’ cases have been sealed. This account is frustratingly vague (even somewhat garbled) in some other ways too. See our bracketed interjections. From the Sept. 11 edition:

    Sealed Colombian cases trigger debate
    Since 2006, more than a dozen of Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary leaders have been extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges in U.S. District Court in Washington.

    The extraditions stunned Colombians, who had hoped that testimony from the men, given as part of a national amnesty program, would help expose the truth about two decades of vicious murders, assaults and kidnappings. In videotaped confessions in Colombia, one had taken responsibility for more than 450 slayings.

    But outrage over the extraditions reached a boiling point earlier this year when U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton blocked public access to seven of the paramilitary leaders’ cases, erasing virtually every trace of their existence.

    There is no way to know if the men have negotiated lenient sentences—or if they are even still in custody. An eighth defendant, accused in Colombia of murdering a judge, was released on his own recognizance, records show, after his cousins in College Park vouched for him.

    The Colombian cases are drawing new attention to the practice of sealing entire court files, triggering a broader controversy over judicial secrecy.

    Though court policies discourage this degree of secrecy, a 2009 internal study showed that federal judges order it in thousands of cases a year, sometimes without justification.

    Some judges not only block public access but also remove file numbers and all other signs of a case from the record. In the D.C. district, there is no uniform procedure for sealing, leaving individual judges to decide how much to disclose, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth said.

    The cases against the Colombian paramilitaries show the stakes of a transparency debate that might otherwise seem academic.

    “More than anger, I feel powerless,” said Bela Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant. [Which one?—World War 4 Report] “We don’t know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?”

    The Supreme Court has ruled that public access to court cases is protected by the First Amendment because it is a crucial check on judicial power.

    But some factors—national security material, an ongoing government investigation, vulnerable witnesses or victims—can justify secrecy.

    The cases involving the Colombians were probably sealed to protect their safety, because they are cooperating with U.S. drug enforcement authorities, several former prosecutors said. “It’s very possible,” Lamberth said. U.S. prosecutors, defense attorneys and Walton declined to comment.

    An agreement involving secrecy would require authorization at the highest levels of the Justice Department. Prosecutors must obtain approval from the deputy attorney general before requesting, or agreeing to, the sealing of a criminal case…

    Roxanna Altholz, acting director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley, who represents Colombian victims of paramilitary violence, said the United States has broken a promise made on the day of the extraditions by Ambassador William R. Brownfield.

    [Refering to “the day” of the extradition implies that the cases at issue are those of 14 (not “dozens”) extradited on May 13, 2008. Has there been another single-day mass extradition “since 2006”?—World War 4 Report]

    “The victims, their representatives and the prosecutors of Colombia will continue to have access in the U.S. to the legal system, to the extradited individuals, and to their assets,” Brownfield said on May 13, 2008, in Colombia.

    “So far,” Altholz said, “none of those promises have been kept.”

    Human rights lawyers have been unable to track the status of at least 25 other Colombian paramilitary members being prosecuted in various U.S. courts because substantial portions of their cases have been sealed.

    [Meaning “25 other” than the 14 extradited on May 13, 2008?—World War 4 Report]

    Lamberth acknowledged that victims may feel deprived of justice when cases are sealed.

    “I honestly don’t know how we balance letting victims have a say,” he said. “If there is a way to do it without endangering” the lives of those cooperating, “we are open to that.”

    Given their brutal resumes, the whereabouts of the defendants are cause for concern, prosecutors said.

    “If one of them could be living in Bethesda, for example, down the street from the Jones family with a dog and 2.5 kids, then the public has a strong interest in knowing that information,” said David Weinstein, who prosecuted drug cases as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida from 1998 to 2009.

    One paramilitary leader, Hughes Manuel Rodriguez Fuentes, was released on bond in 2008. Reporters visited an address in College Park where one of Rodriguez Fuentes’ cousins lives, according to court records.

    “I don’t know where he is,” said the relative. “And good luck finding him.”

    Can Roxanna Altholz of the International Human Rights Law Clinic please clarify?