EL TIEMPO, April 1, 2019
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Editor’s note: “Paras” are right-wing paramilitary groups aligned varyingly with corporations, drug traffickers, landowners, and the Colombian government to carry out counterinsurgency. They are responsible for a considerable proportion of the human rights abuse and political violence committed during Colombia’s armed conflict.
The Truth Commission is already planning meetings to hear their testimony. There is mention of assassination of public figures.
Separately, two groups of convicts and ex-prisoners who have carried out direct actions in the armed conflict promise to reveal the truth about certain events that could make Colombians shudder if, as they request, their stories are received and corroborated in proceedings under the system of truth, justice, reparation and no repetition that was designed as part of the peace agreements with the FARC.
In the first place, at least 200 convicts in the La Picota Prison sent a letter to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP in Spanish), to the Truth Commission, and to the Unit for the Search for Persons Who Have Disappeared. In the letter, they ask to be heard because, as they say, they don’t want “to go to their graves” without relating the truth they say they know about some of the most awful events of violence that Colombia has suffered.
A copy of that leter, dated March 21, was furnished to the International Criminal Court (CPI in Spanish).
In the second place, 17 paramilitary ex-commanders who are part of the Collective of Demobilized Combatants of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia also stated their desire to tell the truth, truth that has been hidden up to now, to the Truth Commission and to the National Center for Historical Memory.
Among the signers were Fredy Rendón, alias el Alemán; Ramón Isaza, el “Viejo”; Rodrigo Pérez, alias Julián Bolívar; Edwar Cobos Téllez, known as Diego Vecino, and Iván Roberto Duque, alias Ernesto Báez.
The convicts in La Picota, who had already sent a letter in February and among whom were ex-paramilitaries, ex-guerrillas, and drug traffickers, stated flatly that they wanted to tell what they know about cases that are sensitive for the country, such as the 1995 assassination oftheconservativeleaderÁlvaro Gómez Hurtado. They insist that they can proved the names of the actors, the accomplices, and the circumstances of the assassination.
They also say that they want tell the truth about other violent chapters in the national experience, such as the explosion of the Avianca plane 29 years ago, and the carrying out of the military operation Orión that took place in Medellín in 2002 against guerrillas militias and in which there were murders, disappearances, and tortures.
Besides that, they insist that they want to talk about their relations with the Armed Forces, business owners, local politicians, industrialists, and land owners.
“We want to let you know, as well as the whole country and the entire world, the truth about the events that we experienced over the many years of the national conflict, a conflict that is continuing and that we have been part of, both as actors and as eyewitnesses,” they said in the letter that the Committee of Prisoners for Truth submitted.
The acts of violence that they promise to describe took place in the midst of what they called the internal conflict between the years of 1984 and 2016 and involving paramilitaries, the guerrillas of the FARC and the ELN, criminal gangs, and drug traffickers.
According to the convicts who signed the letter, they have carried out the work of “a rigorous preliminary sweep relative to the phenomena of the armed conflict and of the violence in Colombia”, in which they were protagonists, so that they will be able to “contribute by identifying some of the true actors in the conflict who are not yet known.”
They claim that their interest “is not only genuine but also has legal support.” They also bring up an Order of the Appellate Section of the Tribunal for Peace, the highest stage of the JEP, to show that that Court has broadened its jurisdiction exceptionally in order to guarantee the rights of victims to the truth.
In answer to the letter from the convicts, the JEP stated that it would evaluate one-by-one the applications that they have filed officially with the justices. If they are able to obtain some kind of benefit from that Court, they will not get a benefit from the Truth Commission or from the Unit for the Search for the Disappeared.
Among the convicts who signed the letter were Francisco Javier Zuluaga, alias Gordo Lindo, a well-known drug trafficker; and Juan Crlos Mesa, alias Tom, the head of the criminal organization “La Oficina” (“The Office”) that operates in the Valley of Aburrá.
In case they are eventually accepted as third parties before the JEP, they could receive benefits such as conditional liberty or even delaying petitions for extradition until they “finish telling the truth”, according to a Decision by the Constitutional Court on the procedural statute governing the JEP.
Patricia Linares, the president of the JEP, clarified that the jurisdiction over their cases would be decided after a “detailed analysis” and “depending on the level of full truth and the satisfaction of the rights of the victims, and on effective attribution of responsibilities—particularly of those with most responsibility—that they are able to offer.”
Fr. Francisco de Roux, President of the Truth Commission, confirmed to El Tiempo that he had received the letters. [One is] from the convicts on March 27 and the [other] one
from the former paramilitary commanders during one of the listening meetings that the Commission is conducting. “They are a normal expression of the growing decision that exists in this country that people want to hear the truth. In many areas of the country we are meeting with groups and with individuals who want to talk to us,” stated Fr. de Roux.
With regard to the convicts, he says that not only the Truth Commission but also the JEP and the Unit for the Search for the Disappeared have already contacted them and told them that they are ready to listen to them.
“We warned them that we want them to do it without any vengeful attitude, but rather to help the Colombian people understand what has happened to us. We take that very seriously,” emphasized the President of the Truth Commission.
De Roux says that that meeting is already being coordinated with the Corrections Agency management. The Commission is planning to “take every case, take it person by person, and establish which of the testimonies are really relevant. We are aware that we have to compare those versions with what the victims have told us, with the versions of protagonists in other territories and with other information that the Commission has.”
The Director of the Unit for the Search for People who have Disappeared (UBPD in Spanish), Luz Marina Monzón, states that the signers of the two letters will not face any restriction on their ability to provide information.
She adds that the possible truths that the former paramilitary commanders and the convicts are offering may be very useful for the Search Unit and for the country, but most of all for the victims. They have been waiting many years for information about their loved ones who have disappeared. She warns that, even so, all of the information, as in all other cases, has to be corroborated.