In Colombia in the 2000s, during the government of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), the Army had the habit of taking the bodies of murdered civilians and dressing them up as guerrillas, in order to count them as enemy casualties in scenarios set up to simulate combats, and thus achieve their goals, in addition to hiding the fact that innocent people had lost their lives. This Tuesday (3), the Army asked for forgiveness.

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Uribe’s hard-line policy provided for cash rewards, promotions and other benefits for effective officers. They set up traps that often killed civilians instead of guerrillas. This is how the so-called “false positives” emerged, possibly the biggest scandal involving the military in more than half a century of armed conflict in Colombia.

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In 2008, an operation of this type was unmasked. Relatives of 19 young people murdered denounced the military officers responsible and proved that the victims were not part of armed organizations. Similar allegations began to emerge and today it is known that at least 6,402 people were murdered as part of this strategy, according to the JEP (Special Justice for Peace), a court created as a result of the agreement between the Colombian State and the extinct FARC guerrilla ( Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

Of those 19 victims, the youngest is Deiby Julián Pisa, a boy who was 14 years old when he was killed. His mother, María Teresa Gil, does not accept apologies, especially if they do not come from the mouths of those who she considers to be mainly responsible: Juan Manuel Santos and Álvaro Uribe, respectively, Minister of Defense and President of the Republic at the time of the crime.

Like her, women detailed the cases of other victims during the forgiveness request ceremony, which took place in Bogotá. Those present, including government officials led by Defense Minister Ivan Velásquez, members of social organizations and representatives of the international community, listened in silence. Shouts coming from behind the fences that surrounded the place revealed that more people wanted to have their testimonies heard in this unprecedented event.

False positive nothing

After giving their testimonies, the mothers, sisters and daughters joined the stage to sing with the artist Diana Ángel and the singer César López. None of them abandoned the slogans that identify them: “They are not here, they were killed”; “They are neither false nor positive”, the latter a criticism of the euphemism of calling something that is actually a state crime a “false positive”.

Relatives of the victims demanded to know who gave the order to murder the civilians. Human rights organizations demand this investigation. Army commanders deny that the action was systematic. Some military personnel even said that the reports were inventions by left-wing organizations to delegitimize the security forces.

In confessions to JEP, retired military personnel told how they seduced young people with job offers and then killed them hundreds of kilometers from their homes. Most of the victims from Bogotá and Soacha were taken to Santander, a state on the border with Venezuela.

Some claim that they were pressured by their superiors and accuse General Mario Montoya, head of the Army from 2006 to 2008, of encouraging the crimes.

Tarnished legitimacy

“It’s not an easy day,” declared President Gustavo Petro, who formally asked for forgiveness on behalf of the Colombian State during the event. “We must never again speak of ‘false positives’, an expression that hides the truth,” he said when referring to these facts.

“We recognize that there were painful events committed by members of the National Army and that they should never have happened,” said General Luis Ospina, commander of the force. The soldier said the killers and their accomplices “tarnished the legitimacy” of the Army.

With information from El País and Folha de S.Paulo

Editing: Leandro Melito


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