Interview with Carlos Castano, Head of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Carlos Castano, head of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia [AUC],
spoke with the Washington Post's Scott Wilson on March 5, 2001 at
Castano's camp in the Nudo de Paramillo in northwest Colombia. Castano's privately funded army battles Colombia's decades-old leftist guerrillas on the
same side as the army, and will play a central role in the country's search for peace.
Q: The United States has a new president. What would you like to tell
[President Bush] about the situation in Colombia and what the US could
do to support peace
A: It would be wrong for us to tell an American president what he was
to do, especially when he clearly knows what is going on. I have no doubt
government knows who the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest leftist guerrilla group], the ELN [National Liberation Army, the second
largest], the AUC [Castano's army that battles the two guerrilla groups], and the narco-traffickers are in Colombia. Pastrana's visit proved this. The humiliation
Colombians had to suffer at the hands of President Pastrana was sad. We saw Bush give a categorical "no" [to Pastrana's request that he U.S. meet with the FARC]
The AUC has publicly recognized that in areas where the economy is coca,
we finance ourselves with it. But we are not processors or exporters of
drugs. We do not
defend any narco-trafficking interests and we think that best way to reduce the conflict is by attacking this problem. It might hurt us as well, but it benefits the country,
and what benefits the country, benefits us.
Q: What is your opinion of Plan Colombia [the $7.5 billion anti-drug
plan supported by more than $1 billion of U.S. military and social development
aid], and is it
serving its purpose in Putumayo [the heart of Colombia's coca industry]? Is it harming the guerrillas in the south? What does you intelligence say about this?
A: Colombians cannot really appreciate the important results that are
being accomplished by Plan Colombia in the southern part of Colombia. Later
on they will be
able to understand this situation, especially in Putumayo, where the first phase is under way. In respect to coca substitution, huge crops controlled by the AUC have
been fumigated. More than 20 thousand hectares [44,000 acres]. But there has not been any mass displacement to Ecuador. People prefer to be in Putumayo, with
war, that in Ecuador without war and poverty.
It is a lie that the conflict would be internationalized with fumigation
and any Colombian can see the benefits of Plan Colombia in our country.
The only ones who
oppose it are the guerrillas because they are the first to be affected by it, and they express this through their ideologues in Europe and United States. The military
component of Plan Colombia that comes from the U.S. is important because while [FARC commander Jorge] 'Mono Jojoy' [Briceno] continues to say that peace
talks should be held amidst war, he asks the Colombian government not to prepare the Armed Forces with electronic technology, air equipment and anything else
necessary to fight this war. It is a cynical attitude of the FARC because if they are getting ready for war, why shouldn't the other actors?
The social component offered by Europeans is also important, although
we have not seen any of it. It will give the possibility of taking the
attitude of the State, along with healthcare and education, where the guerrilla says the State does not exist.
Q: The AUC has doubled in size in four years [to 8,000 members]. This
is a phenomenon some people support and others fear. How do you explain
A: It is understandable that the intransigence of the FARC, their inflexible
attitude towards dialogue, and the lack of signs of peace to Colombians,
people to consider the best of all evils. Nobody has said that the AUC represents the best solution to Colombia's problems, but it is one, perhaps the only, that the
Colombian people see at this moment. Nobody here is unconcerned that Commander "Santander" [of the AUC Northern Bloc] has gone from having 700 men, to
1,400, or that Commander "Julian" [of AUC Southern Bolivar Bloc] has tripled his forces. The growth in the AUC is exponential, more than mathematical. We are
concerned that our fast growth does not give us enough time to train our commanders sufficiently well, and thus it could get out of our hands. Military excesses could
come about with such an accelerated growth, but it is also inevitable when Colombians do not perceive other solutions than the AUC. The only ones responsible are
the guerrillas and the Colombian government, which has made the people feel there is an undignified State defending their national interests.
Q: Such exponential growth, as your said, could lead to excesses. Is
the lack of preparation of your commanders what led to the massacres and
other "mistakes" you
A: It is hard to give you a generic answer, but I can say specifically
that in some cases we give a commander the control of a territory, but
it so happens that he was
not professionally ready for the situation. Another case could be like the one in Cauca [a southwestern province], where nine guerrillas, dressed as civilians, were
executed on the road, but a peasant from the zone had told us where they were coming from. He also told police and the next day we found their weapons and their
equipment to attack the people. About the Chengue case, what the Washington Post published [on Jan. 28] seemed more from the time of Torquemada. The day
something like that happens with AUC in Colombia, I will disappear. That was a terror novel that the Washington Post published.
First you have to understand this is an irregular conflict. You have
to understand the guerrilla, not us, determined the conflict's characteristics.
Very rarely do two
irregular armies fight each other. Our statistic demonstrate that many more guerrillas and members of the AUC die as civilians, but history and the press register them
as such. We have more than 300 ex-FARC members, more than 300 from the EPL [Popular Liberation Army], and almost 200 from the ELN who identify some
guerrillas. We would do wrong if we only took their information, but we always have an independent source confirm it. When the order is given to take over a region,
the guerrillas dressed as civilians or in uniform are a military objective. The times they have accused us of decapitating, dismembering, killing children, drinking their
blood are false. I do not think any sensible man would order the death of an innocent man.
With those testimonies, I beg you to explain to me how you could give
the only version you gave. I believe in your objectivity and your good
judgment, but how
could you believe the versions of the people who remain in that town once the AUC has left, if the only people who remain are guerrillas in civilian clothing, and they
are the only ones authorized to give those testimonies? With that I do not want to reject that we have committed excesses, because he have. But I will tell you one
thing: Find me just one body that has been dismembered, and that day I am willing to hand myself over to the authorities. Now this is on tape and I honor my word.
There are civilian collaborators, those who do it because they have no choice, but they are respected. Who would not give shelter or food to a guerrilla or AUC who
has a weapon? But a spy is an undercover guerrilla.
Q: But what about the use of stone and hammers in Chengue. I saw stones with blood and brains on them?
A: Who was in that place? The AUC was no longer there when the press
arrived. The AUC commanders are sensitive people, educated people, with
a family and
Q: But you said you had new commanders without the proper training.
A: It is possible that in some cases there has been excesses due to
the fast growth of the AUC. We do not pretend to be the Mothers of Charity.
It is an irregular
war. But we are not willing to accept what the Washington Post published. If that were true, I would personally say I am harming humanity, but I am not concerned
because we investigated in full detail for 20 days and the only thing we could find is one of our men killed a person with a blow to the neck. The rest is propaganda
by the guerrilla. The guerrilla has infiltrated people who say this, like NGOs [non-governmental organizations], whether it is Human Rights Watch or Amnesty
International. I do not think they are subversive but they have been assaulted in their good faith by guerrilla members and Colombian NGOs that have links to these
Q: You have said that the civilians you kill are guerrilla collaborators. How do you define one of them and what parameters do you use to do so?
A: That is not the commander's criteria. It is by statutory reasons
that every commander takes that decision. Collaborators are defined in
three categories: In group
one you have the collaborator for obligation, the one who gives food or shelter to the guerrillas. They were an objective the first three years of the conflict, because
we were entering the war and because if it hadn't been that way we would not have survived. Then there is the collaborator out of convenience. We tell them to leave
the territory until someone is in complete control. If he does not leave, he becomes a military objective. And last is the subversive in civilian clothing. He is always an
Listen, to take over a town which has an average of 30 policemen, you
need 150 guerrillas. They cannot be too close or move together, so they
do something called
an approximation, which is a slow movement, calculated and silent, throughout three or four days. They pack their weapons in wooden boxes and three or four move
them on a mule, as if it were bananas or potatoes. The rest of the guerrilla dress in normal peasant clothing, and an hour before they attack, they put on their military
fatigues, and take over the town. An hour later they are once again peasants.
This is not a conflict like those in the Cold War, rich against poor.
Here we have a guerrilla with helicopters, Toyota 4 Runners, satellite
everywhere, cocaine, technology, air weaponry, and boats. Some expected the gringos or French to come and save us, but we realized they were not going to do
anything about it.
On the other hand we have a lying State, which has become the biggest
accomplice in the dirty war the FARC is carrying out. Is the President
[Andres Pastrana] the
FARC's ambassador or one who defends the rights of Colombians?
The Colombian conflict is not the remains of those of the 20th century.
It could be the first manifestation of a new kind of conflict that other
countries will have to deal
with. If this is so, it is very concerning.
Q: What is the role of the Armed Forces and police with the AUC? Do you receive support, equipment, or troops?
A: The truth is that there is no such thing as paramilitarism. The crime
of anti-subversion has not been codified, thus if subversion is a crime,
anti-subversion must be a
right. They prosecute us for crimes related to narco-terrorism legislation, while guerrillas hide their atrocious crimes under the umbrella of impunity for rebellion or
sedition. They get 3 to 6 years, while we get 30 to 60 years. So how can they say there is such a thing as paramilitarism? If you ask me if there is ex-military
members in our ranks, yes there are, or ex-policemen, yes there are, and even personnel from the Attorney General's office. I accept any member of the Armed
Forces who was not kicked out because of corruption. But if he is out because subversion members who penetrated the justice system unjustly persecuted him, I will
accept them here.
There is a civil war here because the guerrillas are fighting self-defense
civil units. But there is not civil war legislation. How can they be investigating
as irregular actors if they cannot fight a regular actor? For example, there have been times when Commander "Julian" found a lieutenant with 150 men being attacked
by more than 300 guerrillas of the FARC and ELN together. The AUC fired at the guerrillas because otherwise the soldiers would have all been killed. Four hours
later the guerrilla retreats and the army took a few casualties and so did we. Did you expect that lieutenant to attack Commander "Julian" because the law says so?
That is called pure love. There might be some degree of tolerance on the terrain, and there is no way to avoid it, but that does not mean paramilitarism or a State
policy benefiting us exists.
Q: How many men that once belonged to the Colombian Armed Forces or Police do you have in the AUC?
A: There must be some 35 officers, more than 100 lower rank officers, and at least 1,000 professional soldiers or policemen.
Q: How many of the 338 militaries that were retired last year are now in the AUC?
A: I am glad you asked that because the government accuses most of those
388 of having relations to the AUC, when the truth is only about 30 had
some kind of
relations to us and the rest were retired because of corruption. It is very irresponsible that our government presents these people as paramilitaries to satisfy the
gringos or Europeans.
Q: And from the 30 that you say were retired for having relations with the AUC, how many are in your ranks now?
A: I think 23.
Q: Does the military filter intelligence reports to you?
A: The question is whether we filter reports to them. Our intelligence works, theirs does not. Our intelligence is superior to that of the army or police.
Q: General Fernando Tapias, commander of the Colombian Armed Forces,
said the AUC would be the greatest threat to the state in two to three
years. Do you
think that is true?
A: His attitude offends me. He affirmed that paramilitaries, meaning
the AUC, are composed of thieves, delinquents, and narco-traffickers and
that some people still
see us as a solution. He wrongly says we will become a danger to Colombia because the AUC exists because he and his Armed Forces have not done their
institutional duty of guaranteeing Colombians their lives, property, and honor. He has not done his duty. Then, if we become a threat or get out of hand, he will have
to respond. We are doing a patriotic duty that the military did not want to do or were not able to do. With all the respect I owe to General Tapias, not everything he
said is true because the AUC has played an important role in keeping this nation from a failed government. While he has had to comply with government authority,
the AUC has prevented this country from falling into guerrilla hands. But it is very painful to us in the jungle, while they are in Bogota, riding around in a bulletproof
vehicle, and going to the US to say things that are not true.
Q: Has your attitude towards the Armed Forces changed?
A: The fact is that the army is changing its attitude toward us because
the Constitution orders them to. I think a member of the AUC is never going
to encounter a
soldier because when they see each other, when they look into each other eyes, they understand they are not going to shoot because an officer says so. They are like
brothers. Our enemy is the guerrilla and that has not changed.
Q: If one day you accept a peace process, can you tell your forces to leave their weapons?
A: Before I can accept a peace process, they need to accept that we
are the AUC, which cannot be unrecognized militarily, politically, or socially.
We started out as
a reaction to the guerilla, but we have evolved and now represent the social interests of big sectors of this country. We now have a concept of what the state should
be in terms of the economy, human rights, and justice. We have a concept of how to get rid of narco-trafficking, what policy the country must have, and how to
modernize it. We are now in the big scene because there are no rulers who think this way.
Q: Do you need a seat at the negotiating table with the FARC and ELN?
A: We are thinking about how we can win this war, without leaving aside
politics. We are preparing ourselves to win this militarily and to force
the guerrillas into
negotiating. We cannot believe that a new model of a state can rise from the transactions between two delegitimized political parties and the narco-guerillas. That is,
how can the AUC be thinking about the negotiating table, when it is not the moment? There is nothing to do there.
Q: Do you have the power of ordering your troops to give up their weapons when the war is over?
A: The AUC has a unity of command in the political sense, but it acts
as a confederation. It is integrated by the Autodefensas of Puerto Boyaca,
of Ramon Isaza, of
the Llanos Orientales, of Cesar, and of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU). The ACCU has 80 per cent of the total number of men and we have presence nationwide.
The other forces are local. What keeps us together is the existence of the guerrilla in Colombia. Once the guerilla does not exist, I do not think they will be the nicest
people and just say, "Thank you very much." In the particular case of the ACCU, our promise is that the day we are listened to, we will demobilize. About the rest, I
can only promise to sit them on the table to negotiate.
Q: You mean to say that if they satisfy certain demands, you will demobilize 80 per cent of the AUC, which corresponds to the ACCU? What if they do not?
A: We are going to ask for social investment, for infrastructure. We
would be an asset to the next president [to be elected next year]. We would
the guerrilla will want to destroy. We would be an extension of the government against the guerrilla.
Q: But the guerrilla has demanded similar things from the government and they have not gotten very far on these accords?
A: That is not true. They are negotiating and that is how diplomacy works.
Q: What do you think of the peace talks in Caguan [the FARC's demilitarized
zone] that will held March 8 with ambassadors from other countries attending
A: I do not know how it is possible that the facilitator countries of
the process can talk in a sea of coca [the key ingredient in cocaine].
Statistics demonstrate the
increase of coca plantations in the demilitarized zone of Caguan [since it was created for peace talks two years ago.] Where is the dignity of these countries? They
are friends of President Pastrana, who has convinced them, through lies, of his sick and untrue policy.
Q: About the southern Bolivar province [where President Pastrana is
moving to turn over a demilitarized zone to the National Liberation Army,
largest guerrilla army, to begin peace talks], what is going on there and what is your current thinking about the possibility of a demilitarized zone?
A: I was just talking with the southern Bolivar commander ["Julian"]
about what is happening there and what we are supposed to do. We all agreed
demilitarized zone cannot be in southern Bolivar. I can enumerate many good reasons for that. It is in front of Barrancabermeja, the largest oil complex in Colombia.
The rural area of Cantagallo, one of the municipalities they are asking for, ends where the city of Barrancabermeja starts. There, they have a union controlled by
subversives dressed as civilians, as a legal subversion inside the union. They could paralyze the refinery and Colombians know that 48 hours after that 70 percent of
the oil production would be paralyzed.
The guerrilla always applies pressure with those and other methods so
that the government gives into their absurd pretensions. It [southern Bolivar]
is a territory that
is not controlled militarily, politically or socially by the ELN. The AUC and the precarious presence of the State with administration and security do that. In fact, in
this area, the population fears the ELN because it betrayed them. The AUC have asked for a popular vote in these counties, and the surrounding ones, and we will
respect whatever the people decide. But the ELN does not accept it through a popular vote.
Liberty is healthy for a democracy and if the possibility of the people
making their own decisions about their future does not exist, then where
is the political validity of
asking for this territory disputed by the FARC y AUC? What role would the guerrilla play in the area? At the end, they would be demilitarizing the territory for the
FARC [which is far stronger than the ELN.]
We have a president with a negotiating policy that has not yielded any
of the fruits of peace. That has been demonstrated in the demilitarized
zone of Caguan. We
have a president who has ceded unilaterally and who has not offered the Colombians any tangible consequence of peace from the guerrilla. He is a president without
time [because he cannot seek a second term next year.] He has to step down in 15 months, but in Colombia one does not govern in the last year. That is, in four
months, the president will not be ruling. It would be very serious if he demilitarizes this territory without consulting with the people. That would be equivalent to
imposing the problem on the next president, who ever he is. This is why we have offered the ELN some counties in Cordoba, pacified by the AUC, where we are
willing to respect them. That is, they can choose any territory for peace, but not one for war and economic strengthening.
About the narco-traffickers in southern Bolivar, we have said that if
you eradicate all drug plantations, you get rid of opposition to the demilitarized
consequently the request to have the demilitarization in this area would also disappear. This is a war that has become economic, although its origins are political, and
we will have to continue saying its economic, because the Colombian economy is closely related to narco-trafficking.
Q: In a letter you sent to president Pastrana you said you would not
allow another "demilitarized" in the country and that you were going to
fight the subversion, or
anybody else, who tried to open one. What specifically does this mean?
A: The extensive letter we sent to Pastrana is open to free interpretation,
and when we said that, we were not referring to the ELN, but to the negotiation
the government. We have measured it by survey with the hundreds of Colombians who visit our web site daily [www.colombialibre.org], and they do not agree that
the government continues ceding land to the guerrilla. We told the President he must have wisdom and honesty at this moment. We only told him it was a mistake to
demilitarize this territory for the ELN, unless the guerrilla decreed a cease of hostilities, and that includes the liberation of all kidnapped people, ceasing terrorist
attacks against the State's infrastructure, energy and of communications, and vow never to kidnap again. Only then would we be able to consider that demilitarized
zone there. So we are telling the president we are willing to fight against the subversion, or anyone else, as long as we impede a mistake like that from being made.
We are not willing, under any circumstances, to allow this without consultation with the people of this region, who should have the final say. But if the president does
not consult the population, we would have to oppose, even with military actions, because we think this will harm Colombia. We do it for the good of the country.
Q: Your troops in southern Bolivar are under attack now. Are they being hard pressed?
A: Logically. We have had to retreat due to the attacks ordered by the
president. But we can go on doing guerrilla warfare, avoiding any encounters
with the army.
We are still in the zone.
Q: The situation on the border with Venezuela is very tense. What are
you doing in the border region with the FARC? What is the role of President
Hugo Chavez? Is
he sending weapons or money to the FARC?
A: Let me go back a bit because what is happening now in the border
is only the last representation of a very serious problem that is coming
from Caracas, Havana
and San Vicente del Caguan. Those three gentlemen [Chavez, Fidel Castro and FARC leader Manuel Marulanda] have been talking for a while. It is clear that when
the peace negotiations started, the FARC were getting prepared to negotiate, but when Mr. Chavez went into power [in early 1999] in Venezuela, the Colombian
conflict changed completely. The guerrilla knew it was a utopian dream to take over the country or to fragment it, but Chavez's expansionist pretensions gave hope to
the FARC. For them it is once again a reality the possibility of fragmenting Colombia and annexing it to his territory.
First of all, we have to ask Mr. Chavez to be respectful of Colombian
internal politics, national problems, and of our sovereignty. He is being
tolerant of and an
accomplice to the FARC with some of his attitudes. There are specific cases like the kidnapping of Richard Boulton [a Venezuelan tycoon's son], which could not
have been carried out without help from security forces that Chavez loaned to the FARC. In the border you can find Venezuelan weapons on the FARC.
The border has been washed away. Sometimes it is 500 meters into Venezuela,
sometimes into Colombia. In that case you can refer to the FARC as the
forces of Chavez. When the FARC encounter the AUC, and they retreat, they pass the border into Zulia [a Venezuelan border state] and there is no way to follow
them because the Venezuelan helicopters fire at our lines. Then the FARC are permitted to disappear into Venezuela. This is why we have to appreciate that the
FARC and Chavez represent a threat for the region. They kidnap oil workers and multinationals employees in Ecuador; they convince Peruvian authorities to export
weapons; they kidnap bankers in Panama; they continue exporting drugs from the Darien [region] and [Panamanian] President Mireya Moscoso passively accepts
this, although I can not blame her because Panama does not have an army. So tell me who is exporting the Colombian conflict, if not the guerrilla.
Q: What can you do to counter this situation? There are people in [the
western Venezuelan states of] Zulia and Tachira who want to create their
own version of the
AUC. Are you talking to them or supporting them?
A: First of all I have to say that the numbers of displaced Colombians
in Venezuela, due to fumigation [aerial spraying against drug crops], are
not real. For poor
Colombians on the border, Venezuela still offers better living conditions, but that does not mean they emigrate because of fumigation. The commander of the North
Bloc has sent me important cattle ranchers and landowners who are being exploited by the FARC and ELN, but not in representation of the ranchers in general. I
have initially recommended that the solution to their problems is not a self-defense force because one can only resort to this measure once they have spoken to the
state, the Armed Forces, and other institutions.
But I have no doubt that if they do not find protection from the Venezuelan
government, they will surely resort to defending themselves through other
methods. It is
only natural. When they take that step, they can count on us. We already have some Venezuelan receiving military instruction and the conditions to create some
self-defense forces in the border are definitely there, but I cannot interfere in Mr. Chavez's internal politics, when I am asking him to respect the sovereignty of
Colombia. I have the right, though, as a Colombian and as commander of an important actor in this conflict, to interfere in what concerns us and the conflict we are
Q: In a letter you sent to High Commissioner of Peace, Camilo Gomez,
you told him that if the peace process failed you would hold him personally
responsible for it.
That was considered a threat. Is that true?
A: No. That is syndrome we have in Colombia. Every time anybody speaks
it is considered a threat. I only wanted to say for the record that we
do not agree with
many things. As I understand it, when the people give someone a mandate and it is not carried through, someone has to respond.
Q: Two years ago information was released that you had a plan to kill the president and the High Commissioner of Peace.
A: That comes from a supposed document from an AUC summit where we had
supposedly said we were going to kill the Attorney General, [Liberal Party
presidential candidate Horacio] Serpa, some American politician I cannot remember, and others. But that is ridiculous. Even the president said we were going to kill
him. We respect the legitimate institutions; we have never attacked a representative of the State; even if we do not agree with them. And even if we wanted to do so,
we would not leave written evidence of it.
Q: About the international community and the countries that will be
doing the monitoring with the ELN and consulting on the FARC talks. Could
they ever become a
A: How respectable is an international commission that includes Cuba
[which the ELN commission would]? That is shameful. It is a humiliation
for Colombia. They
have to reconsider that.
Q: An international commission loses respect because Cuba is in it?
A: It does not lose respect. We respect all members of the international
community, but we do not consider a Venezuelan or a Cuban to be part of
community. We would not be able to respect them. We respect a friendly country, not one that is trying to harm Colombia and help the guerrilla. The others are
welcome, but one has to look very carefully at who they are. Why not the United Nations or the Organization of American States? And let's not fool ourselves. The
United States delegitimized the process, and negotiations, and president Pastrana [by refusing to meet with the FARC] and we cannot speak of a process because it
does no exist. Whatever the U.S. does not legitimize is a lie for Colombia.
Q: Is there any possibility that the international community might be declared a military objective?
A: I have answered that already. We respect the international community,
but not a Cuban or Venezuelan delegate. They are enemies of Colombia. That
is where I
draw the line and I have made my position clear.
Q: Some versions indicate the AUC might be included on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations [which already includes the FARC and ELN]?
A: I think that would be unfair to us. How can they consider us an international
threat, like Cuba or Venezuela, who really are? I can respect what the
U.S. does, but
I think it is very unfair when we are nothing like international terrorists.
Q: What can you tell us about the upcoming presidential campaign? Tell us about what role you and your group may play in it.
A: It is irresponsible for President Pastrana to try to endorse a blank
check for the next president with accords harmful to the nation [regarding
the peace process and
demilitarized zones.] We are respectful of the free development of democracy and as an armed actor we are not supporting any candidate. We will permit political
campaigns in our territories, but no populism or rhetoric. Later on we might decide there is one candidate that works for Colombia and another that would be a
disaster. Possibly, without any pressure, or military action, through our social work, we would orient Colombians who believe in us, but not in the candidate, to vote
for one of them. It would be irresponsible if we did not. But for now, we are waiting.
Q: How do you analyze the problem facing coca farmers in this country?
A: The guerrilla taxes, their terrorism, made the agricultural economy
of Colombia an anti-economy. The norm is that wherever there is a coca
farmer, there is or was
a guerrilla front. Those who win from coca plantations are the narco-traffickers first, and then the conflict itself. The coca farmers do not win anything. But we are in
favor of solving this problem. We do not attack fumigation planes or the troops that protect them. With the AUC you can eradicate coca. The narco-traffickers and
the guerrilla are interested in convincing the world that the drug problem has no solution, that crop substitution does not work. The conflict's problem is
narcotrafficking. You cannot solve one thing without the other.
Q: Then what can be done? Clean the entire government?
A: If you get rid of corruption in the whole government you would be
left without leaders and institutions. You have to put a stop to their
tolerance of the dirty money
that keeps them dependent, and that will not happen unless you have international verification [of the peace process and drug eradication.]
Q: How much does the AUC earn from illicit drugs?
A: Half a million dollars each trimester [three months] from the northern part of Colombia.
Q: And from contributions from people who support you?
A: Some 80 per cent of our income comes from contributions. But we had
to change our methods. Now we are extortionists because we have to be.
We send our
contributors a note with the amount of money that they have to give us because if they do it voluntarily they are put in jail [by the government.] If they give the money
to the guerrilla, they do it because it is extortion.
Q: Do you think the government underestimates the amount of coca under cultivation in Colombia?
A: I have not seen any bad intentions from the government when it comes
to statistics. I think fumigation works, accompanied by social policies.
community has to pressure the government, but it has to be aware of the corruption that exists in this country. The government has not fought big time drug traffickers,
only the United States has, and that is whom they fear.
Q: Is it true the military uses the AUC to do the hard work against the guerrilla in Putumayo [where the first phase of Plan Colombia is under way]?
A: Anywhere in Putumayo where we are present it is because the military
is not there. There are not enough troops to control all of Putumayo or
the rest of the
country. We wait for the military to leave, and then we go in to act irregularly.
Q: Some time ago the ACCU admitted having kidnapped the brother of 'Alfonso Cano', a leading member of the FARC ruling secretariat. What happened to him?
A: I personally had him here and assumed personal responsibility. I
also had 10 other guerrilla family members. All we wanted to do was to
stop a kidnapping wave
the FARC was conducting, not justified by an eye for an eye, but to make them feel the mortal nature of kidnapping. He was with us for five months and they were
treated with the best conditions. I did not ask for one cent. But now I have an arrest warrant for extortive kidnapping. I only wanted to reduce kidnapping and I did
for five months. We returned him because it was inhumane to have a person kidnapped when I am not fighting him.
Q: Nonetheless, the ACCU asked for the same amount in ransom that the FARC had asked for when they kidnapped and killed your father [in 1981].
A: I only wanted to remind them they had kidnapped and killed my father and not returned his body or money.
Q: Some say your counter-guerrilla war is rooted in a personal grudge you hold because they killed your father.
A: I have to accept that when they killed my father and we turned the
person responsible into the police, they let him free in three days. We
invoked justice, we
trusted justice, but when it did not respond, we felt we could take justice into our own hands. And I am not ashamed to say it was for vengeance.
Q: And how much did you pay for your father?
A: Back then, it was like 7,500 dollars. But that was a lot of money.
We only had a 200-hectare farm in wild lands. We were 12 brothers and sisters
working in that
farm. My father sold cheese and milk. We collected among friends and from a loan, half of what they wanted, but it was not enough.
Q: And how many of your brothers and sisters has the FARC killed?
A: Four brothers and one sister. They have been eradicating my family.
Q: Is it worth fighting the war then?
A: Well it is not worth it for what has happened to my family, but it is from the point of view of stopping many more deaths.
Q: Has Fidel, your brother and co-leader of the AUC, died?
A: Yes. I have said that already.
Q: Why are you here in this campsite, in the middle of the Nudo de Paramillo?
A: The persecution towards the AUC is a mistaken policy of Pastrana.
That doesn't mean that we are isolated, though. With the advances in communications
everything is a lot faster from here. We have a satellite phone, VHF radios. That is, we are in a place that represents more security and where we can manage the
AUC at the national level.
Q: The FARC attacked the Nudo de Paramillo, where we are now. Were you in danger?
A: No. They encountered an exploratory mission. The combat lasted two days and we lost 24 men, and the guerrilla 12.
Q: Have you ever been wounded?
A: Four times, in three different occasions.
Q: Are you still participating in battles?
A: That would be irresponsible and the statutes forbid me to. In a war, the fallen are statistics, the commanders are the ones who have to be protected.
Q: Do you have doctors?
A: Yes, in every battle, at every front.
Q: And in case you are injured?
A: We have a surgery room, laboratory clinics, intensive care units, and everything you might think of.
Q: What will you do if Colombia achieves peace?
A: I want to become a professional because I am not prepared to assume
public position. I made myself in the jungle. Living here, I have forgotten
about living with
my family. I want to study, to be with my family, and return to my country so I can contribute something.
Q: Would you talk a little about your family?
A: They live in a country in Europe. I have a wife, a 14 year-old daughter
and a nine year-old son. It is sad I have not lived with them. The last
time I saw them was
last year. They do not accept the fact their father has to do what the State should be doing. But they do not understand why I have to. There is nothing special about
them. I talk to them every day on the Internet.
Q: But do they understand exactly what you do?
A: They are still too young.
Q: Who are your heroes?
A: I am an admirer of [19th Century independence leader Simon] Bolivar,
although Venezuela's president has tainted his image. I also admire pacifists
Teresa of Calcutta. From the U.S., Nixon is an idol for me. President Francois Mitterand of France also.
Q: What are the last three books you have read?
A: Diplomacy, by Henry Kissinger. He is a pragmatist. Also any kind
of philosophy, especially Kantian theory. I read the classics, but I am
an empirical man. Also
journals like El Clarin, of Argentina, El Universal, of Venezuela, The Miami Herald, and I watch the History Channel to try to apply it to my way of thinking.
Q: Are you religious?
A: I am Catholic, but not fundamentalist. I have differences with the
church, especially as an industry. I do not share my concept of God with
anybody, but I
understand it as a frame in which I can move in to be happy with myself, more than with God.
Q: Do you receive movies here?
A: I am not a man who likes fiction. Sometimes, to distract myself, I watch "Betty, la Fea" [a popular Colombian soap opera.]
Q: Are you a fan of any soccer team?
A: Only of the national team, although to watch a match between Argentina and Brazil is spectacular. We are not doing very well right now, anyway.
Q: Have you been to the United Stares?
A: I had the opportunity to go once. I was in Disneyworld, Hollywood,
in Florida, and Los Angeles. It is my favorite country and it is where
I would like to study, if I
get the chance.
Q: How long ago?
A: Back in 1989.
Q: Do you drink or smoke?
A: I occasionally smoke, but I am not addicted to anything. I like a
cup of cognac or whiskey every once in a while. But my position does not
permit me any vacation
or to loose control. I have to be aware permanently.
Q: Do you miss anything when you are in the jungle?
A: The city. I am country boy in love with the city. In here I have
the possibility to talk to whomever I want, but the fact is that one loses
track of a lot in here. One
must make en effort to me in line with the world. I miss the city.
Q: Where do you expect to be in 15 years?
A: I suppose somewhere serving Colombia, with my family. As a sociologist or political scientist.
Q: Given what happened to Gen. Pinochet, Are you scared of leaving Colombia and being taken before international tribunal?
A: I am not afraid of anything that might happen to me, but only for
the AUC. I do not have time to think about my future, but I am not afraid.
What we need is a
country with authority. The day we find some justice is the day we will not have conflict. I respect authority but I understand it cannot be biased. I welcome any
tribunal where the FARC leaders go first. We will be there, too. What I cannot conceive of is seeing the FARC in power, when they tried to destroy the country, and
us in a tribunal, when we tried to save the country from the FARC.
Q: Who controls the FARC?
A: Alfonso Cano, undoubtedly. Marulanda is a symbol, a great figure
whom they show and hide at their convenience. Although Marulanda deserves
some of my
respect, right or wrong, for having been born a guerrilla and living his life like that. He should have been a great Liberal leader, but unfortunately he was infiltrated by
the Communist Party and destroyed.
Q: And 'Mono Jojoy'?
A: He is important, but what good is an angry, brainless man? He destroys himself.
Q: Does your intelligence tell you the FARC is still united or fragmented?
A: Any big organization starts getting fragmented, and there can be
war-mongering parties. There probably is some kind of fragmentation, but
there is general unity,
although I think they are more united for war than for peace.
Q: Can you imagine Marulanda in Congress, or 'Mono Jojoy' giving speeches
in a public plaza, or Alfonso Cano as a political leader, or guerrillas
in public positions
or incorporated into the army, as happened in El Salvador?
A: It is hard to say how Colombia will be in the post-conflict period.
But if they gain power democratically, I will accept it. A democracy needs
liberty and that is
something the FARC does not offer at the moment. If someday they are in a political campaign and they win their way into power, we will accept them as the
authority they are. We have to build a country where we all fit. What I cannot permit is their rise to power through the use of arms. I will not accept this nation
fragmented. I accept this nation with a political order.