Manuel Salvador Ospina Cifuentes
Manuel Salvador Ospina Cifuentes, alias ‘Móvil 5’, is a native to Amalfi in the region of Antioquia in Colombia. He is a former senior paramilitary leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (‘AUC’), and was subsequently a member and alleged commander of the neo-paramilitary group ‘Clan Úsuga’ or ‘los Urabeños’ after the demobilization of the AUC in the 2000s.
Ospina Cifuentes is known for his proximity to the infamous Castaño brothers, Fidel Castaño being the founder of the AUC. According to Verdad Abierta, an online journalistic portal aimed at unravelling the truth behind the Colombian conflict, Ospina Cifuentes is one of the few survivors of the armed factions that carried out the first massacres in the region south of Cordoba and north of Urabá during the mid-1980s. As a result of the trust between Ospina Cifuentes and the Castaños, he had taken the role of ‘deed-holder’ of large areas of land in the region that had been usurped from the farmers or purchased using funds acquired through drug-trafficking. These areas were subsequently donated to the farmers in the early to mid-1990s, only to be forced to sell them back for very little in return some years later.
Ospina Cifuentes is alleged to have been involved in the Pueblo Bello massacre that took place on 14 January 1990, when some 40 people fell victim to a band of around 60 heavily-armed men, known as the ‘tangueros’. The band ransacked some of the houses in the town of Bello and an unspecified number of men were dragged out of their homes and the evangelical church, segregated in the main square of the town and forced to lie face down on the ground. Witnesses stated that, based on a list that the ‘tangueros’ brought with them, around 43 individuals were separated, gagged and bound, loaded on to trucks and driven off in the direction of San Pedro de Urabá.
Evidence indicates that the detainees were taken to the Santa Monica ranch in the Region of Cordoba where they were subjected to torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Testimonies claim that some had their wrists cut, their eyes punctured and their ears and genitals severed. To date, only six of the 43 bodies have been identified. At the time, the ’tangueros’ stated that this was in response to the failure of the villagers to prevent the theft of cattle belonging to Fidel Castaño.
Following the disappearance of Fidel in the mid-1990s, Ospina Cifuentes created a close alliance to the third Castaño brother, Vicente.
After the internal split of the AUC and the new leader’s (Carlos Castaño) peace talks with the Colombian government, Ospina Cifuentes is also suspected of being the principal architect of the assassination of Carlos on 16 April 2004. This is believed to have taken place at Rancho Al Hombro, where 30 or so men surrounded and cornered Carlos Castaño and several of his bodyguards, with Ospina Cifuentes striking the fatal shot at the AUC leader.
On 26 May 1997, after a trial in absentia for the Pueblo Bello massacre, the Regional Court of Medellín sentenced Ospina Cifuentes at first instance to 30 years imprisonment.
On 26 May 1997, after a trial in absentia for the Pueblo Bello massacre, the Regional Court of Medellín sentenced Ospina Cifuentes at first instance to 30 years imprisonment, as part of the process against Fidel Castaño and 11 others. The counts against the accused involved numerous crimes including multiple counts of murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and illegal possession of weapons. In an appeal on 30 December 1997, the Sentencing Chamber of the National Tribunal partially annulled the proceedings concerning the murders of the inhabitants of Pueblo Bello whose corpses have not been identified. It thus reduced some of the sentences.
On 23 March 2004 the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights filed a petition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the Republic of Colombia to hold it responsible for the violation of various rights of the victims of the Pueblo Bello massacre including the right of life of the 43 detainees, in addition to finding a violation of the judicial guarantees that should have been accorded to the victims and their families. The petition included a request to carry out adequate and impartial investigations and to hold accountable those tried for the massacre and ensure their adequate sanctioning. On 31 January 2006 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Colombia had indeed failed in its prevention, protection and investigation obligations, but also in ensuring adequate and effective right of access to justice for the victims and their families. It awarded damages and costs to the families in addition to ordering the effective investigation to be carried out.
As a result, following months of surveillance operations carried out by the Police and the Dijin (the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Interpol of Colombia), and with the help of numerous testimonies of other arrested paramilitary leaders, Ospina Cifuentes was arrested on 12 May 2014, detained and was due to be transferred to Bogotá.
From 1948 to 1953, Colombia experienced a civil war of rare intensity. Known as “La Violencia”, the conflict opposed the Catholic conservative party with the liberal party, radicalised following the assassination of their leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitan. This conflict is at the origin of the creation of liberals and communist guerrilla movements and of the emergence of self-defense militias of farmers, created in response to abuses committed by the military and the conservative armed groups. They thus gave rise among others, to the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which emerged as a military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) a Castroist group. In the beginning these groups received strong support from the rural population especially during the period of the National Front (1958-1978) the Conservatives and Liberals agreed to alternately hold power, leaving no possible alternative political representation. This negation of democracy by a ruling elite created great frustration resulting in violent confrontations between the guerrilla movements and the government.
In the 1980s, the conflict took another dimension with the rise of drug trafficking and the emergence of the first paramilitary groups funded by drug traffickers’ production of cocaine to protect themselves from the guerrillas attacks. In 1984, a ceasefire was declared between the guerrillas and the government but only the FARC made any attempt to comply. They thus formed a political party in 1985, the Patriotic Union (“La Unión Patriótica). However, this party was eventually decimated by paramilitaries and security forces. The FARC resumed the armed struggle in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to coordinate some guerrilla movements and peace agreements with the government, the only active guerillas that remained were the FARC, ELN and to a lesser extent the EPL, which had emerged out of a Maoist branch of the Communist Party of Colombia.
In December 1991, the weakening of the Communist Party and the taking by the army of the FARC secretariat headquarter in La Uribe, a town in the center of the country in the Meta Department forced FARC leaders to change their operating mode. They adopted a military strategy, particularly between 1993 and 1998 with the taking of several villages and military bases during operations involving several hundreds of freedom fighters. The conflict then moved to a phase of warfare in which the government armed forces no longer seemed to be able to control the guerrillas who started to conduct roadblocks, kidnappings, sabotage etc.
Faced with the ineffectiveness of the army, paramilitary militias were constituted with the creation in 1997 of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) under the leadership of Carlos Castaño. Various vigilante groups were also created, and one of their operating modes was to kill civilians in villages who were believed to be favorable to guerrilla movements, as happened during the Mapiripan massacre.
In 1998, President Andrés Pastrana arrived to power and opted for a new strategy. He created a demilitarized zone in order to promote peace talks and to exchange prisoners. Unfortunately, while it has led to some beneficial developments, it has also been used as a way for the FARC to demand ransoms or to recruit new soldiers. The area was finally declared again under government control in February 2002.
President Alvaro Uribe was elected in 2002. Under his mandate in July 2005 the Justice and Peace Law (Ley de Justicia y Paz), which purported to provide a legal framework for the demobilisation of the guerrilla fighters, was adopted. Under the already existing legislation, that of law 418, all fighters participating in the demobilisation were granted amnesty from criminal investigation and prosecution. Only those who had committed the most serious crimes, including acts of barbarism, terrorism, kidnapping, genocide, and killing civilians, were excluded from the amnesty. The Justice and Peace Law was adopted to deal specifically with those fighters who fell outside the scope of the existing amnesty law. According to the new framework, they could still benefit from judicial benefits if they contribute to the justice and reparation process. Therefore, in exchange for truth telling and a promise not to return to lawlessness, the demobilised fighters could obtain sentence reductions. Soon after its adoption, this law was highly criticised as the narrowness of its scope largely hampered its objectives of peace and justice. Indeed, of the more than 30’000 fighters who demobilised between 2003 and 2006, fewer than 10% fell within the purview of the Justice and Peace Law, the rest qualifying for the amnesty under law 418 which did not require any truth telling.
From 2002 to 2010, during his two terms in office, President Uribe adopted a policy of “democratic security”, and implemented “Plan Colombia”. Uribe decided to increase drastically the military response to the guerrillas with the objective of restoring the presence of the state throughout Colombian territory. The army’s budget was raised and this new operational capacity combined with a strong offensive against the FARC by the AUC before their demobilization in 2006, lead to a significant reduction in the number of FARC forces. Here again, while “the democratic security” strategy adopted by Uribe had some success, it also had limitations. The guerrilla movements intensified; they were fewer but were more mobile than ever before. They continued to inflict severe losses to Colombian government’s forces. In addition, cocaine production still provided large funding to guerrilla movements.
In 2010, the mandate of Juan Manuel Santos began with an upsurge in attacks by the FARC. The government replied with violent counter offensives including that of 23 September 20110, Operation Sodom, which dealt a major blow to the FARC. The FARC military chief Jorge Briceño Suarez was killed in the operation, as well as a significant number of members. After many arrests, the government considered in early 2011 that the FARC were decreasing in size and operations and set the priority to the fight against the heirs of paramilitaries and criminal gangs.
On 27 August 2012, President Santos confirmed that he would meet with the FARC in order to begin peace talks and try to end the conflict. Although controversial, dialogues were conducted during ceasefires, also thanks to the mediation of Hugo Chavez requested by Santos. The peace talks have so far helped to reach an agreement on land reform as well as on political participation and representation of the opposition in the Colombian parliament. The next priority in these dialogues concerns drug trafficking as well as the possible allocation of funds previously associated with the defense budget for the victims in a post conflict Colombia.
Although officially still ongoing, major advances have been made in the Colombian conflict during recent years. So far, the conflict has generated a large number of victims: approximately 180,000 civilians killed, 40,000 combatants killed, 25,000 missing persons and more than 4.7 million displaced. This context of generalized violence has mainly affected the civilian population. Massacres, killings, enforced disappearances, kidnappings have been the everyday life of tens for thousands of people during the conflict.