Bogota – The former military chief of Colombia's AUC militia federation, extradited four years ago to the United States on drug charges, said Friday he and his now-demobilized organization supported and financed the 2006 re-election campaign of then-President Alvaro Uribe.
"I backed President Uribe's re-election, both with the support we provided in the communities and with money," Salvatore Mancuso said in an interview with Caracol Radio from a U.S. federal prison in Warsaw, Virginia.
The funds were allocated so "they could hire buses, do advertising, for food, for all these things in President Uribe's campaign," Mancuso said, adding "of course we did it."
A U.S. State Department cable disseminated by WikiLeaks blamed the AUC, which was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government in 2001, for more than 250,000 deaths in Colombia.
Uribe was re-elected in 2006 after his allies pushed through a constitutional amendment ending the ban on a president's serving two consecutive terms.
Mancuso said he had already acknowledged his and the AUC's support for Uribe's re-election in testimony to prosecutors since 2007.
In the same interview, the former paramilitary leader admitted that he also had meetings with Uribe but declined to provide specific dates and places.
"These are issues I'd rather not discuss," said Mancuso, a former cattle rancher who rose to become one of the AUC's top commanders along with brothers Carlos and Vicente Castaño, both killed by rival members of the paramilitary federation.
Mancuso reiterated previous accusations that multinational companies such as U.S.-based Chiquita Brands and Dole and domestic firms like Postobon helped fund the militia organization.
He also said rancher Santiago Uribe - Alvaro's brother - and Pedro Juan Moreno, a close associate of the former president who died in a helicopter crash, both had ties to the paramilitaries.
Mancuso said Moreno, acting at Uribe's behest, advised the militiamen on creating security cooperatives when the latter was governor of the northwestern province of Antioquia, enabling the AUC to "continue expanding the fight against subversion, combining all elements of struggle, legal and illegal."
The AUC disbanded in mid-2006 as part of a peace process with Uribe's 2002-2010 government.
The talks led to the gradual demobilization of more than 31,000 members of the organization, which was formed in the mid-1980s with the ostensible aim of protecting farmers and ranchers from leftist guerrillas but degenerated into a loose alliance of death squads whose commanders grew wealthy from drugs, extortion, cattle rustling and land seizures.
Mancuso and 12 other erstwhile AUC leaders were extradited in May 2008 to the United States, where they were prosecuted on drug-trafficking, money laundering and terrorism-financing charges.