INTER-ECCLESIAL COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND PEACE
Never Forget #173
The torture and extrajudicial execution of Marino Lopez Mena by Operation “Génesis”
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Thirteen years have passed since “Operation Génesis” was undertaken on the lower Atrato River in Chocó. General Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas was responsible for it. Today he may remain at liberty because of the expiration of a statute of limitations. Thus he continues to walk down the path of impunity for a crime against humanity.
Forced Displacement of Communities in the Lower Atrato River in Choco
Justice and Remembrance
For our land and for our lives.
In his testimony, Jhon Fredy Rendón, “El Alemán” (The German), under Law #975, after denying on several occasions that the armed operation was part of a criminal strategy by the Government, admitted that there had been a planning meeting with the 17th Brigade. According to “El Alemán”, paramilitary commander Carlos Castaño ordered that the chiefs of the Chocó bloc of the Farmers’ Self-Defense Group of Córdoba and Urabá (Accu is the Spanish acronym.) assign 12 of their men to join the Army’s Special Forces who in February 1997 would be carrying out Operation Génesis. Génesis, ordered by Rito Alejo del Rio and watched by the office of Governor Alvaro Uribe Vélez, caused the forced displacement of the communities of Salaquí and Cacarica.
Thirteen years have passed since the torture and the extrajudicial execution of MARINO LOPEZ MENA, a man of African descent. Thirteen years of resistance and of affirmation of the rights of men and women of African descent, who stubbornly speak the truth that the 17th Brigade has tried to twist and distort.
But on September 4, 2008, this assertion of the truth reached a new point with the capture of retired General RITO ALEJO DEL RIO ROJAS by detectives attached to the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General charged the General with responsibility for the crime of “aggravated homicide in the capacity of perpetrator by means of his authority”. This was the determination adopted by a prosecutor from the National Human Rights Unit, which had investigated the murder of MARINO LOPEZ MENA, a man of African descent. The crime was committed on February 27, 1997, in the town of Bijao, under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Riosucio (Chocó Province), when members of the paramilitary group known as the “Elmer Cárdenas” bloc made a raid, while the General was the commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade, headquartered in Carepa (Urabá region of Antioquia Province).
The Prosecutor concluded that the murder of Marino López was a Crime Against Humanity and that a common plan existed between the paramilitary groups and the Colombian Army. At the moment in which the paramilitaries murdered Marino López, no regular Army forces were present. The absence of the Army was part of a plan orchestrated by the paramilitaries and General Rito Alejo del Rio.
In spite of the Prosecutor’s efforts, paradoxically, the Inspector General appealed the decision. On January 22, 2009, LUZ MARINA AVILA SOTOMONTE, acting in her capacity as an agent of the Inspector General’s office, appealed the charges formulated by the Attorney General’s office. Up to now, her actions have been entirely passive. She has never sought evidence and neither has she made any effort whatsoever to find the truth about what happened.
In order to see more details about what the Inspector General’s Office intended by this shameful and frightening decision, consult http://www.justiciaypazcolombia.com..
The trial stage was undertaken by Branch 8 of the Special Circuit Court in Bogotá and on August 14, 2009, the preliminary hearing was held. There Rito Alejo del Rio’s defense attorney offered a statement by President Alvaro Uribe Vélez as evidence. Uribe stated that, as Governor of Antioquia at the time of the incident, he was well aware of the carrying out of Operation “Génesis” and that Rito Alejo and he had communicated with each other while it was being carried out.
At that same hearing, both the Inspector General and the defense argued that the entire action was null and void. They argued that the court lacked jurisdiction because of the constitutional immunity supposedly enjoyed by General R. Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas. But the presiding judge refused to dismiss the action, holding that a violation of human rights cannot be protected by immunity. The Inspector General and the defense appealed this decision, and the court suspended further proceedings until such time as the appeal could be decided.
On September 10, 2009, the case reached the Criminal Section of the Bogotá Court of Appeals and Dr. JORGE DEL CARMEN RODRIGUEZ CARDENAS was assigned to decide the issue.
Ever since that time, the Court has not made any decision and as a result, the action against retired General Rito Alejo del Rio is suspended.
It has been more than a year since this formal complaint was filed. On February 24, it was 12 months since the complaint was filed and it has been more than five months that the case has been waiting for a resolution of the appeal.
This delay could result in retired General Rito Alejo del Rio Rojas being set at liberty from pretrial detention, because of the expiration of the limitations period. Article 36B, Section 5 of this procedural statute allows six months (a year for crimes within the jurisdiction of special courts) for the preparation and filing of the indictment. After that time, if no indictment has been filed, the defendant is to be freed from pretrial detention.
Impunity continues, this time because of delays in judicial proceedings that could result in the release of a person responsible for crimes against humanity in Colombia.
Humanity continues to suffer from this kind of crime and we will pay attention to the results. With the attitude of the Inspector General’s Office and with the delays on the legal proceedings, we can see where the defense and the Inspector General are going and where they plan to arrive. Because of that, while justice is being accomplished, MARINO’s memory remains in his family and in his community. We express our resistance to impunity in this Never Forget, in which we remember what happened 13 years ago.
FROM GÉNESIS TO THE HUMAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION IN CACARICA. Early in the morning of February 24, 1997, the so-called Operation 004 “Génesis” was initiated by the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army, with the pretext of being an action against the 57th Front of the FARC EP. One of the survivors gave his testimony about the murder of MARINO, in the presence of other members of the community:
“Once again the bombing. I was there in Bijao on February 27 and a group of paramilitaries and a soldier arrived, around 9:00 in the morning. MARINO LOPEZ told me that he was scared. He didn’t know if he should start out for Turbo. The paramilitaries and also some soldiers surrounded the whole town, with the people who had already left a little higher, and others at the gate. They rounded us all up and they threatened us.
They ordered MARINO to go up in a tree to get some coconuts, he who was already scared, and they told us, ‘We’re getting going now.” MARINO asked them if they would give us three days, and one of them said “you’re all going today”. Two of the twelve soldiers grabbed MARINO, and after he gave them the coconuts, he put on his boots and his shirt and he asked them for their identification documents. One of them said: “So you want an identification document, guerrilla, ask you mother for it.” And they went back to accusing him of being a guerrilla. He said, “you know I’m not a guerrilla.”
“They jeered at him and hit him. One of the criminals picked up a machete and slashed his body. MARINO tried to run. He dived into the river, but the paramilitaries threatened him, “if you run, it will be worse for you.” MARINO came back, reaching out his left arm to get out of the water. One of the paramilitaries chopped off his head with the machete. Later they cut his arms in two and cut off his legs at the knees. Then they started to play football with his head. All of us saw it.
I don’t have anything more to say, or to tell. Everything has been said. They are devils, without any faith, without any morals. Everything went gray, my soul, the sky, the earth. Everything went silent. Everything was terror. The bombing of the body, the bombing of the soul. Death was made into a game.”
From that time until today, there have been 86 victims of murder, disappearance, and torture.
The operation was commanded at that time by retired General RITO ALEJO DEL RIO ROJAS, who was released—freed from criminal responsibility—for his systematic violations of human rights and his crimes against humanity. In March 2004 he was acquitted of responsibility for this military action in 1997 by the then-Attorney General of Colombia, LUIS CAMILO OSORIO.
Thirteen years of absolute impunity. The sworn statements of witnesses were held for naught. Those responsible walk free in the streets, along the rivers, in public offices. Those who took part in the covered-up military strategy enjoy the privileges of Law #975, known as “For Justice and For Peace”.
In his formal complaint, the Prosecutor concluded that at the moment in which MARINO LOPEZ MENA was murdered, there existed a common plan between paramilitary groups and the Colombian Army. He supported his conclusion to charge the former general by relying on the statements of paramilitary commanders such as SALVATORE MANCUSO, EVER VELOZA, alias H.H., CARLOS GARCIA, alias “Double Zero”, and CARLOS CASTAÑO. Their statements indicated that between the latter and the general there was a personal friendship, and that del Rio actively collaborated in the consolidation of paramilitarism in Urabá.
The Attorney General’s Office argues that General Rito Alejo carried out positive actions, such as meetings with the paramilitary chieftains and transporting troops both legal and illegal in the helicopters belonging to the Brigade under his command. He also, by omission, facilitated the carrying out of the murders; his troops were nowhere near those locations. He failed to repel and confront the paramilitaries of the Farmers’ Self-Defense of Córdoba and Urabá and of the Elmer Cárdenas bloc. He facilitated the carrying of out of crimes against farmers of African descent. The Attorney General’s Office admits, furthermore, that the murder of MARINO is a crime against humanity, an offense against all humanity, and one that is closely related to the forced displacement of thousands of people of African descent in the lower Atrato River area.
Out of the ashes of “génesis”, comes the Creation in Cacarica. People of African descent, people of mixed ancestry, and indigenous people in their territories are asserting their rights to Remembrance and to Justice, and to their territories, in spite of the silence, the oblivion, and the terror. They have ten years of honest assertion of their rights, ten years of civil resistance by the people, ten years of their idea of life in wartime, ten years of solidarity and brotherhood, ten years of building alternatives to impunity and to market globalization.
They insist on their right to remembrance and their right to exhume the bodies of victims and to bury them decently. On February 26, 2007, the exhumed remains of MARINO were able to be buried. His family, his friends, and his community asserted the right to bury and to hold a wake for their dead, to weep over their loved one, to commemorate them out of the ashes of the operation “Génesis” and move toward the creation of a life-giving proposal based on the Truth, on Liberty, on Justice, and on Solidarity and Fraternity. From that they will forge Self-Determination, Life, Dignity, and Affirmation of Remembrance. The INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR ETHICS is a proposal born out of the interchange of experiences from international meetings of victims. All over the continent they are asserting their rights in wartime, through the Network of Alternatives to Impunity and Exclusionary Globalization. The ETHICS COMMITTEE acts as the rescuer of Remembrance. The ETHICS COMMITTEE today is one of the goals of the Victims’ Movement Against State Crimes.
Bogotá, D.C. February 27, 2010.
Inter-Ecclesial Committee for Justice and Peace