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Colombian Ex-Governor Admits Paramilitary Support in Elections


politics paramilitarism Elections Colombia

The so-called Aguilar Case has once again brought to light the alliance between politics and paramilitarism in Colombia. The former governor of Santander and head of the family clan, Hugo Aguilar, has admitted before the court of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), as he already did before the Truth Commission, that he received the support of the paramilitaries to become governor in the 2003 elections.

According to the former regional governor, he never received money from these illegal armed organizations of the extreme right, but he did accept that he reached agreements to allow him to run a political campaign and to pressure the population to vote for him as governor, a position he held between 2004 and 2007. In this sense, he has assured that his patrimony came from his salary as a policeman and the rewards he received after successful operations, among which the one that ended the life of Pablo Escobar in 1993 stands out.

The accused colonel testified before the JEP and explained that the authorities and Los Pepes, a paramilitary group that was an enemy of Pablo Escobar, worked together to find the whereabouts of the leader of the Medellin cartel.

The fallen hero

Hugo Aguilar became a national hero in the nineties, standing out above all, according to the official version, for firing the final shot that caused the death of the criminal leader of the most important cocaine cartel, who died on the roof of a house in the Los Olivos neighborhood of the city of Medellin in December 1993.

The fame of this major police and military operation went around the world, with the image of the Colombian drug kingpin of the time shot dead by the forces of law and order. Among those images was that of a young Hugo Aguilar posing next to Escobar’s corpse. On February 21, 2018, the star of the man who, ten years after the feat, chose to dedicate himself to politics, was extinguished. However, the investigations against Aguilar for paramilitarism began in 2011.

On that fateful date for Aguilar, the former colonel and ex-politician was arrested by the authorities and accused of illicit enrichment, money laundering and collaboration with paramilitaries.

These links were proven and were already common knowledge, but it was not until yesterday, January 23, 2024, that Hugo Aguilar revealed before the justice system, in a Single Hearing of Contribution to the Truth, details of his crimes. The retired colonel affirmed that the authorities worked together with Los Pepes (persecuted by Pablo Escobar) to find the whereabouts of the leader of the Medellin cartel.

“I admit that, out of a desire for power, for being governor, I was responsible for receiving the support of the paramilitaries of the Central Bolivar Block, (something) that today I regret along with the consequences that I have been paying, the suffering of my family and the shame that I have caused,” said the retired colonel.

A common alliance in the lead years

The case of Hugo Aguilar is important because it brings back to the collective memory the hardest moments of drug trafficking in the country, when powerful mafia bosses sowed terror and bombs in the cities of the time.

However, it is nothing new, since the alliances between paramilitary groups and politics in Colombia is an old story with many episodes to its credit. Paramilitarism supposedly emerged in Colombia during the 1980s, with the function of confronting the power of leftist insurgent groups, among which the FARC-EP and the ELN stood out. However, these illegal armed groups acted on multiple occasions hand in hand with the police and military forces to confront leftist insurgencies.

Los Pepes was a paramilitary group formed by people who were at some point persecuted by the head of the Medellin cartel. They were an illegal group, and yet today the main person responsible for the death of the cartel leader has confessed to the participation of this criminal group in the state’s operations to take down the dangerous drug trafficker.

State Rewards

The death of Pablo Escobar and the persecution of the members of the Medellin Cartel is a well-known story. However, until now it was a mystery what happened to the rewards offered by the state for the leaders of this criminal structure, but before the JEP, Aguilar revealed who received that money.

First of all, he denied ever having received money from the paramilitary structures, insisting that he only received his salary from Colombia and the United States, which were involved in the fight against drug cartels in Colombia. Regarding the death of Pablo Escobar, Aguilar explained that the uniformed officers who were part of the operation in which the drug lord was killed, received in exchange the 5,000 million offered by the State as a reward, but were asked not to publicly flaunt this money.

“The same with the 5,000 million that the national government offered for the capture or death of Pablo Escobar, as it was an electronic intelligence through the Thompson radio that I managed with 23 men, and these 23 men distributed the 5,000 million pesos between them. Recommendations were not to flaunt this money, but that is where the resources of my patrimony came from”, argued Aguilar.

Los Pepes facilitated Escobar’s location

Regarding his relationship with paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño and the members of Los Pepes, Aguilar recalled that it began after they informed on Escobar’s location in an operation in which the drug lord escaped. However this started a joint effort aimed at bringing down the leader of the Medellín cartel.

“They gave us the coordinates for the location of Pablo Escobar. I organized the operation, but when we arrived at the site he had already fled. That’s when a relationship began with the paramilitaries who were Don Berna and Carlos Castaño, who had control of the AUC in Magdalena Medio. The commander of the Search Bloc in Bogota knew about this,” Hugo Aguilar told the court.

The Pepes was made up of drug traffickers, former collaborators of Pablo Escobar, and was financed mainly by the Cali Cartel, the main competitor of the Antioquian leader in the drug trade at the time.

Blackmail to avoid prosecution

Aguilar also revealed that while he was in prison he received visits in which the 5,000 million pesos reward for the operation against Escobar were demanded, in exchange for him not being prosecuted for relations with the paramilitaries.

“She met with me there next to the court, normally it was the place we used to meet with the lawyers. And she said to me, Colonel, I have a message for you from Judge Leonidas Bustos. You are close to the ruling, you will see, you have the opportunity to leave now, and she extended five fingers. I told her, “five fingers?” She said, “no: five billion”, he affirmed.

The former governor indicated that Claudia Garcia Mendez and Martha Cristina Pineda, who visited him in La Picota prison in Bogota, demanded 5,000 million pesos, instructed by the office of magistrate Leonidas Bustos, in order not to condemn him for his links with paramilitaries. Pineda was the wife of magistrate Bustos, a member of the Supreme Court of Justice who in 2017 was involved in a corruption case known as the Toga cartel.

The case involved several magistrates and was a real scandal, as it was proven that these magistrates used their position to receive bribes and change judicial processes in favor of the accused.

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