The Fight for Justice and Truth of Alberto and Federico*
( Translated by Dan Baird, a CSN volunteer translator)
[*The two men’s full names have been omitted at their request as have the names of the places where the events took place]
Wednesday 21 October 2009
An investigation by the Peace and Justice Unit is the remaining hope for brothers Alberto and Frederico that one day what happened to them– that they survived an attempt to behead them – will be made known and that those responsible will be punished.
Truth and reparation are still owed in justice to brothers Alberto and Frederico. Their story symbolizes the long and difficult legal struggle of thousands of victims in Colombia. Alberto, a 37- year old Antioqueño who had a miraculous escape, told Verdad Abierta [Open Truth, a website dedicated to reconstructing the historical memory of paramilitarism and armed conflict]: “With the help of attorneys of the Peace and Justice Unit [la Unidad de Justicia en Paz] in Medellín, we are seeking to have the investigation , closed almost ten years ago, reopened so that what happened to us is not covered by immunity and those responsible are punished.”
He comes from northeastern Antioquia, a sub-region that for a good part of the 1990s and into the new century was the scene of bloody actions by guerrillas from FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and ELN [Army of National Liberation] and by paramilitaries from a number of groups: Metro, Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (Accu), Central Bolívar, and Mineros y Héroes de Granada de las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (Auc). Alberto can often be seen, like many victims of this war, going from office to office in the corridors of the fifth floor of the Justice Building in Medellín, where the attorneys of the Peace and Justice Unit work. Some of these victims are seeking support in stopping the legal process from coming to a halt, others are looking for help in their uncertain economic situations or for advice about their health problems.
Always, Alberto carries under his arm a small black plastic bag containing his documents: certificates from the Presidential Agency for Social Action [la Agencia Presidencial para la Acción Social], medical assessments, and records of twelve years of reports given to the authorities. As he says, these old papers contain his history.
In his conversation with Verdad Abierta, Alberto recalls what happened to him: “On 13 March 1997, at six o’clock in the morning, there was a raid on the house where we were living by the District Attorney, together with his Secretary, and Lieutenant Mauricio Cárdenas Romero – the commander of the police station – and several policemen. They told us they were looking for weapons, because someone had told them that we had them. After ransacking the house and finding nothing, Lieutenant Mauricio told us, ‘We’re leaving but others will come for you tomorrow.’ “About midnight the next night, there was knocking on the door. I asked who was there and the reply was that it was the police. I felt relieved and opened the door. It was Lieutenant Mauricio
again, with a policeman called Herney Quintero, an army sergeant and another soldier whose names I don’t remember, and three paramilitaries from the Metro Group: one I knew as Gustavo Giraldo and the other two as ‘Balazo’ and ‘Tiber’.
“I was in the house with my two brothers, and with the wife and daughter of one of them. The youngest brother they only hit and robbed – they took several jewels, at that time worth more-or-less a million pesos. My brother Federico and I they hit quite a lot and tied our hands with ropes. The Lieutenant threw me on the floor, put the barrel of his carbine in my mouth and pushed it as if he was going to shoot, but it had no bullets. All this left me totally confused.
“After beating us, they took us from the house in the direction of the main highway. The neighborhood where we lived at that time was five minutes away from the main park in the town.
They took us to the entrance to the town and we had to wait there for more than an hour
until we were collected in a white van. I remember as if it was today that when it came, and they put us in, Lieutenant Mauricio said to the policeman Quintero, the sergeant and the three paramilitaries that they should ‘do the thing right. Then he went off on a motorcycle, heading in the direction of the police station. “The took us in the van along the main highway to the Northeast and, when we had been going for about fifteen minutes, the van stopped and the sergeant ordered them to take me out. Some meters from the van, one of the soldiers made me lie facedown on the ground. They repeated to him the order that Lieutenant Mauricio had given: ‘Do the thing right’.
“The soldier began to cut my throat as if I was a piece of meat. I felt that he was doing it in fear . He wasn’t hitting me with the machete but cutting me. He made three attempts When the sergeant was getting ready to get out of the van, the soldier said, ‘That’s it done’ and pushed me into a ditch. I think it was about two o’clock in the morning.
“A friend of mine, a miner, told me long afterwards that when he was going to work that day, about ten o’clock in the morning, he saw me tied up in the ditch and heard me shouting. But he was afraid to come and get me up and he just went on. Afterwards, however, he eventually showed other people from the town the exact place where I was and they collected me in an ambulance and took me to hospital. By now it was about five o’clock in the afternoon. “They gave me first aid there and sent me on to San Vicente de Paúl hospital in Medellín. The back of my neck was wide open but they told me that the wound was full of sand and that had stopped me from bleeding to death.
“Some time afterwards, my brother Federico told me that that they took him further on and tried to do the same to him, but he struggled a lot. They struck him in the neck with machetes and tried to cut his throat. They threw him into a gully but he didn’t die there, because a woman found him and took care of him. He ended up, like me, in San Vicente de Paúl hospital. When the rumor spread that we were alive, our family realised that we were in the same hospital.
“As soon as I recovered, I lodged a report with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Government’s Internal Affairs Office. I reported the Lieutenant and the other policemen and the soldiers and the paramilitaries. Two months afterwards, the policemen of the town were transferred. Much later, the three paramilitaries were killed. I managed to get a lawyer but he didn’t only let time limits go past, he also robbed me of a lot of money.
“As well as that, a specialist attorney from here in Medellín had me running back and forwards until he closed the investigation , which wasn’t until 2000. Every time that I came from the town to find out here how things were going, that specialist attorney sent me to the IVth Brigade because the paperwork was there. But when I went there, it never appeared. He made me go to the Police Department in Antioquia, and there was nothing there. Three times he made me go to the IVth Brigade in Puerto Berrío, but there was nothing there either.
“Who did investigate the case very well was a woman official in the Internal Affairs Office, but I don’t know what happened to the investigation in that office. I know that that official sent some documentation to Bogotá so that proceedings could be taken against the policemen and soldiers who attacked us. But again I didn’t find out anything.
“The wounds they gave me affected my spine. My nervous system has been affected and that’s why my hands shake so much. I’ve got to take all sorts of medication, otherwise I’d be an invalid. I’m 53 per cent disabled. I’ve had 21 operations and I’m to have two more. I’m given the operations through Sisben [a means test for social programs], but subject to legal compensation. I applied for an operation a month-and-a-half ago but this time it hasn’t been authorized..
“Think of it: 12 years have passed and very few people have helped me. It was only this year, on 19 Sptember, that Social Action [Acción Social, a strategy to help minority groups] gave me what they call humanitarian aid. But in order to get it I had to apply for Government compensation under the law, because they didn’t want to classify me as a displaced person.
“I haven’t been able to go back to stay in my hometown, because I’m greatly afraid, particularly of the police, who’ve always worked with those paramilitary groups. I’ve had to stay in Medellín, trying to restart my life, selling pirate CDs in the street here. When my brother recovered, he went back to the town.
“I come here often to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, because the attorney of the Peace and Justice Unit, who knows my case, is working to bring about justice and so that impunity doesn’t apply. That’s my hope. I’m not afraid of the investigation being reopened, if God wills that to be done. If anything happens to me, my brother or my family, it should be clear that the police are responsible.”
Wednesday 21 October 2009, 17:35.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621