The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Paramilitary Leader Confesses His Crimes

Jun 12, 2023

This article is translated from the June 9th issue, #2862 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Salvatore Mancuso was the leader of one of Colombia’s paramilitary groups, the far-right militias responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths during the sixty-year civil war. In order to benefit from a reduced sentence for his crimes, he decided to confess.

In 2003 and 2006, during President Uribe’s right-wing government, paramilitaries including Mancuso were demobilized and given reduced sentences in exchange for confessions. But in 2008, Mancuso was extradited to the United States. He is nearing the end of his sentence in the USA, and would now like to benefit from the peace agreement signed in Colombia in 2016 with the FARC guerrilla group. This explains his new confession.

The civil war in Colombia pitted the guerrillas, supported by the poor, predominantly Indian population, on one side. Their leaders sometimes tried to reintroduce themselves into official political life, but were usually assassinated. On the other side, the property-owning classes, determined to cede nothing, had at their service the police, the army, the paramilitaries and a political class whose complacency extended to drug traffickers. Uribe’s father’s private plane was even used to deliver drugs for the notorious trafficker Escobar.

Today’s confessions are upsetting for many people, as they remind us of the collusion between the official authorities of the time and the paramilitary groups of killers. The Colombian police and army certainly perpetrated massacres. But when they were reluctant to do certain dirty work, the paramilitaries took over, having benefited from the same training as the police and army.

In this way, the military could hand over lists of opponents to be eliminated to the paramilitaries, who would turn up at their homes to kill them.

These massacres eventually worried the paramilitaries themselves, who decided to make their victims’ corpses disappear, either by burning them in crematoria or by burying them in mass graves, including in neighboring countries such as Venezuela.

These confessions confirm what is well known. The vast majority of the massacres committed were not the work of the guerrillas, as the Right claims, but of paramilitary forces of repression, with the active support of the State apparatus; a complicity that the Colombian Right, led by Uribe, still refuses to admit.

After 2016, a commission was set up to take stock of sixty years of civil war. It came up with an overall figure of almost 9 million deaths in this country of 51 million inhabitants. Peasant communities paid the heaviest price, with 80% of the dead being civilians. A paramilitary told the commission that it was acceptable to shoot twenty people to get one “subversive.” In other words, there were no limits on killing suspected guerrillas, which explains the staggering number of victims.