(Translated by Eunice Gibson, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Preliminary report on the case of the cemetery of unidentified bodies
In the Municipality of La Macarena – Meta
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL SITUATION OF THE MUNICIPALITY
The municipality of La Macarena is located in the southern part of Meta Province, in one of the five regions in which the province is divided. Its exact location is in the Duda-Guayabero region, in the east central part of the country, only 275 kilometers from the capital of the country. This municipality has a population of 25,079 inhabitants, according to the 2005 census. Of those, 3,703 live in the “county seat”, and 21,376 live in the rural area.
In the decade of the 1940’s, farmers displaced by the bipartisan violence in the municipalities of San Vicente del Caguán (Caquetá Province) and San Juan de Arama (Meta Province) settled here. Nevertheless, its foundation was fixed in 1952 when the bipartisan conflict worsened in the region of Alto Caguán, and most of the farm population was forced to leave and settled on the banks of the Guayabero River.
Graphic No. 1
At the end of 1998, the national government, as a matter of policy in its Priority Program for Peace, sought to establish a better regional equilibrium so as to build a more egalitarian society. To do that, it decreed the setting up of a strategic zone for the country. They called it the Relief Zone. It covered 43,000 square kilometers in the southern part of the country, covering the municipalities of Mesetas, Uribe, Macarena and Vistahermosa in Meta Province and San Vicente del Caguán in the Province of Caquetá. The purpose of the free zone was to allow the participation of the groups who had taken up arms (FARC-EP) in a process of dialogue aimed at arriving at a peace agreement that would allow a negotiated end of the armed conflict that the country was suffering.
Once the peace talks with the FARC-EP broke off, a series of military operations aimed at recovering the territory occupied by the guerrillas started to develop in this municipality, as well as in all of the Relief Zone. It has been that way ever since the change of presidents in 2002. The implementation of the Democratic Security Policy was initiated by the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez and he started the Patriot Plan in 2004. These were carried out essentially as a military policy of recovering and consolidating those “old territories that were dominated by the insurgents”. The incidents of violations of human rights and breaches of international human rights began to increase with the beginning of this government policy. That could be a direct consequence of the warlike spirit of the plans being carried out by the Colombian state. It was justified by “the war against terror” where there is no room for the application of the principle of distinction between combatants and the civilian population, given that the operational necessities of these actions demand concrete results in order to justify the excessive military presence in the area.
In this region, just as in other areas of the country, this approach has resulted, in part, in the recurring extrajudicial executions of farmers, merchants, residents of “territories being recovered” who have been presented as “guerrillas killed in combat”. Yet, along with that, like the other face of this gruesome coin, policies of judicial persecution, headed by the same armed forces present in the area, have been carried out. People are accused, without any legal basis, of “aiding the guerrillas.” The phenomenon of forced disappearance is another of the cases of violation of human rights recurring in the area and it is found to be correlated with the extrajudicial executions of people who could not be identified by members of their families.
The pattern identified in the extrajudicial executions permits the conclusion that many of the individuals first reported as disappeared have been identified as cases of guerrillas killed in combat, because of the restrictions imposed on the communities keeping them from being able to investigate the identities of people killed in military operations, and because of the transportation difficulties in being able to get to an urban community.
PRESENTATION OF THE REPORT
In its July 30-31, 2009 edition, the newspaper Llano 7 Dias (Plains Weekly) which circulates in Meta Province, there was a headline reporting that there was a cemetery in the municipality of La Macarena, where the National Army admitted that there were at least 564 unidentified bodies buried as Guerrillas killed in combat. The report also stated that General Javier Flórez, commander of the Omega Joint Task Force, maintained that only bodies of guerrillas killed in combat in the jurisdiction of the municipality were buried in the cemetery. According to the general, “Every unit keeps its own corpses.” That is to say that the enemy’s losses within other municipalities would be transported to that municipality’s cemetery. Nevertheless, the newspaper concluded, based on the databases in the Mayor’s Office in La Macarena, in the hospital and in the Attorney General’s Office, there are unidentified bodies taken from nearby municipalities such as Vista Hermosa, Mesetas, La Uribe, San Vicente del Caguán and San José de Guaviare.
Graphic No. 2
According to figures compiled by this newspaper, in the time period between 2002 and 2009, the cemetery received 564 bodies of individuals presented as Killed in Combat. Of these, 403 could not be identified and the rest of them, 161 were identified and delivered to their families. It is notable that the Secretary of Government of la Macarena, Raúl Eduardo Hernández, believed at that time that his municipality might be “the largest crypt of unidentified bodies in Colombia”. Along the same lines, the Mayor, Eliécer Vargas Moreno, believed that there may be 2,000 bodies in the sacred soil, given the constant flow of bodies that have been brought to the cemetery by the Armed Forces, which has caused a budget deficit for the municipality, as noted in the local paper:
“The Mayor believes that there may be 2,000 bodies in the sacred soil, according to the calculations of the residents themselves.
“This represents a cost of some six million pesos every month, because we have to buy body bags and accessories for the necropsies,” said Vargas, who stated that it has already been necessary to expand the cemetery by 6,500 square meters in order to bury the unidentified bodies that are arriving every day from the war”.
The impact of these statements has been such that the local authorities of the municipality are hearing rumors that this could be a cemetery for false positives, and according to municipal officials there is a report of the formation of a committee of the Attorney General’s Office to verify the situation. This Committee has never arrived in La Macarena.
PREPARATION OF THE COMPLAINT
November 20, 2009. The country’s Inspector General, in statements made on November 20, 2009, requested the national and international scientific community to help create an identification laboratory in the Municipality of La Macarena, given the magnitude of the humanitarian situation. The laboratory could help carry out an investigation begun by his office in October 2009. The purpose of this laboratory would be the full identification of the bodies buried in the municipal cemetery of La Macarena. To do that, they would set up an interdisciplinary team of experts in anthropology, forensic medicine and genetics from the CTI, the Inspector General’s Office, and the National Police.
December 3, 2009. A British delegation of Members of Parliament, labor leaders, journalists and labor lawyers visited Colombia from November 29 to December 5, 2009, coordinated by the NGO Justice For Colombia. They visited the location of the Cemetery of Unidentified Bodies of the Municipality of La Macarena on a mission of verification, carried out December 3, 2009, as they set forth in their official report:
“We met with the Army, the Secretary of Government, the Public Defender and leaders of the community of La Macarena. We listened to dozens of testimonies about the terrifying and brutal treatment of the farmers and other civilians by the Army. The hundreds of unidentified corpses in the cemetery horrified us. In spite of contrary assurances, the dates on the tombs make it clear that the extrajudicial executions are continuing. We saw no evidence of any investment in social infrastructure.”
February 2, 2010. Once the authorities took an interest in the matter of the cemetery of unidentified bodies in La Macarena, thanks to the complaint presented by the different communications media, the Mayor, in a statement made on February 2, 2010, denied that a common grave of unidentified people, containing 2,000 bodies, existed in his community: “it is untrue that there is a common grave where two thousand unidentified bodes are buried, as the communications media have reported.” This assertion contradicted what the newspaper Llano 7 Dias (Plains Weekly) had reported in July 2009, when the Mayor was worried about the cost to the municipal budget of maintaining a cemetery with such a high influx of corpses. Continuing, the Mayor accused the international media and a sector of the national press of muddying the image of the municipality and of Colombia before the international community. Nevertheless, in spite of the retractions of the municipal officials, it is clear that there are a very large number of unidentified bodies in the cemetery of La Macarena and that that could explain many of the complaints about forced disappearance that organizations defending human rights have presented in this region.
February 12, 2010. As an official response to the complaint presented to the country’s Inspector General, Dr. Alexandra Valencia Molina, Director of the National Unit for Special Investigations, by means of a document dated February 12, 2010, reported that planned efforts to investigate the case of the Macarena Cemetery have been advanced. She also admitted that approximately 2,000 unidentified bodies do exist there and that efforts to identify them would be given high priority:
“The goal is to present the case to the National Committee for the Search for Missing Persons with a proposal to generate an inter-institutional project that would collect contributions, both national and international, to hasten the exhumation and the scientific studies to achieve the identities of all of the approximately 2,000 bodies; to do that, we propose the creation of a specialized laboratory to do the identification right there in La Macarena.”
March 24, 2010. After this communication and in view of the request in the report that supports the previous investigation efforts that were carried out by the Inspector General’s National Investigation Unit, this unit explained, in a document dated March 24, 2010, the manner in which they had reached this conclusion.
“The displacement of the cemetery at La Macarena was preceded by a forensic physician and a support team from the National Office of Special Investigations, and through them, the preliminary conditions of the grounds and the manner in which the burials must have taken place were established, as well as an approximation of the quantity and location of the remains.”
April 16, 2010. The Inspector General, by means of a press release published on his web page, stated that he had received a report from the Director of the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI), Dr. Marilú Méndez Rada, in which she also admits the existence of “individual graves” scattered here and there:
“What is more, she states that “In effect, what we found was individual graves containing the bodies of unidentified persons in a location in the cemetery. They had been buried in a controlled manner and according to documentation found in different municipal agencies (Police Inspection, DIJIN, CTI, Municipal Hospital). In the same manner, we could establish the existence of individual graves distributed in different locations in the cemetery, which had been made hastily and wherever there was space available at the time.
“The foregoing was part of the activities carried out by Prosecutor Jaime Alirio Díaz Gamboa, attached to the support subunit of the Peace and Justice Unit.
“As a result, the Inspector General stated his decided commitment to create an inter-institutional work group to carry out activities that would clarify the events related to the cemetery known as the La Macarena Cemetery.”
On the other hand, we have the information furnished by the Mayor of the Municipality, by the Secretary of Government, by General Javier Flórez, Commander of the Omega Joint Task Force, as well as the site visit carried out by members of the OFB Collective on several occasions. We can support our notes characterizing the situation and the elements of a pattern systematically applied in the treatment of the corpses brought to the municipality, thus: In the first place, persons killed in combat are the responsibility of the Omega Joint Task Force, which is headquartered at the military base in La Macarena and operates in the municipalities of La Macarena, Vista Hermosa, and Puerto Rico, among others. Second, the removal of the bodies is carried out by the DIJIN – Office of Judicial Intelligence and Investigation – part of the National Police, and they carry out these operations in conjunction with the Army. Third, this removal of corpses is done at the scene of the event and later, it is approved by the Attorney General’s Office. Fourth, there is no certain and reliable accounting of the number of cadavers buried there. Fifth, the cemetery borders the military base. In fact, the road leading to the cemetery is controlled by the Army headquartered in the municipality. Finally, many of the bodies have been reported as “guerrillas killed in combat”, as Colonel Yunda admitted to the British delegation that visited the area.
Because of the situation set forth above, the Orlando Fals Borda Collective considers that we must request the national authorities responsible for public order, such as the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry, the Human Rights Program located in the Vice President’s Office, the Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office, the Inspector General, the Meta Regional Public Defender, as well as the national Public Defender to act immediately to:
1. Implement interim equitable relief necessary to obtain the information recorded in the official documents recording the acts of removal of the cadavers, the relevance of each, and the battle plans, among others;
2. In the same manner, impose the interim equitable relief necessary to secure the perimeter of the Cemetery of La Macarena to prevent alteration of the site, exhumation of the bodies and the destruction of the material evidence;
3. Create a Forensic Identification Center in La Macarena in order to achieve the individualization and complete identification of all of the unidentified bodies buried there.
In the same manner, we solicit the aid, vigilance and cooperation of national and international organizations, of friendly governments, of members of European parliaments, and of the scientific-forensic community, in order to begin and complete the process of exhumation and identification of the unidentified bodies. In addition, it is imperative that the international community demand of the Colombian government that it commit itself politically and economically to this process, which is unprecedented in the history of our country, and that the government permit the independence and professionalism of the officials that participate in the investigative effort.
 The Ministry of National Defense has informed the public that there are 25,000 men or soldiers fighting in the region; so that, with a population of approximately 73,136 in the area of operations, distributed in the municipalities of Puerto Lleras, Puerto Rico, Vistahermosa and la Macarena, we would be talking about a military presence averaging one soldier for every 3 inhabitants.
 AP, February 3, 2010.