Colombia’s Petro offers ex-AUC’s Mancuso role as “peace emissary”

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Former AUC commander Salvatore Mancuso during a an audience with JEP. Screenshot/JEP

In an official statement from a maximum security prison in Georgia, USA, the former paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) responded to President Gustavo Petro after the leftist leader announced he would designate the inmate a “peace emissary”. Mancuso who has been a prisoner of the US justice system over the last 17 years was responsible for heinous crimes committed against civilians during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In the latest political controversy for President Petro and his “total peace” objectives, the decision by Colombia’s head of state to appoint a convicted warlord to facilitate talks between the government and illegal armed groups in the country has sparked a heated debate over the future and legal ramifications of the former paramilitary leader.

Should Mancuso return to Colombia to help President Petro “achieve complete peace”, he still faces over 20,000 criminal charges brought against him confirmed Attorney General Francisco Barbosa.

“I shall continue my unwavering cooperation with the justice system, as I have done for the past 17 years. My commitment to truth, reparations, and non-repetition remains steadfast. Accompanying Colombia’s transitional justice system, both judicially and extrajudicially, is a responsibility I hold toward the victims,” wrote Mancuso.

The notorious paramilitary commander who was extradited to the US in 2008 on drug trafficking charges gained infamy during the height of the internal conflict between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla for orchestrating many of the massacres committed by the AUC against vulnerable populations. Mancuso and other AUC leaders, engaged in peace negotiations with the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

More than 11,000 AUC combatants demobilized during Uribe’s first presidential term (2002-2006).

Despite his status as US federal prisoner, Mancuso has managed to cooperate with Colombian authorities, providing information and testimonies about the AUC’s criminal activities. “My commitment to truth, reparations, and non-repetition remains steadfast,” he states in the letter.

During a live streamed audience back in May before magistrates of JEP, Mancuso claimed that the paramilitary group buried approximately 200 bodies along the Colombia-Venezuela border, and many of the Catatumbo bloc’s victims were cremated inside the neighboring country. As a result of Mancuso’s affirmations, Colombia’s Foreign Ministry has opened an investigation to locate and identify the missing persons. The Italian born commander also declared to President Petro his willingness to cooperate with High Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda.