By Alfonso Cuéllar, SEMANA, December 21, 2019


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Instead of applauding the discovery of a mass grave in Dabeiba as a promising action by the JEP, the government has tried to let it pass unnoticed.

The term “false positives” was invented by the media to describe killings that were not in combat. Its origin sounds trivial. Some say that the term makes the result seem banal and insignificant. The same applies to the use of “extrajudicial executions”, an equally mistaken and imprecise term, since Colombia prohibited the death penalty many decades ago, death by assassination.

One of the errors was to use the term false positives for all of the crimes. That suggests that they are all the same, but they are very different. And it’s fundamental that the separation be made, in honor of the truth.

We have to understand that every murder described as a false positive ought to be punished according to the level of culpability, and not all measured by the same yardstick. There are soldiers who kill by mistake. For example, they attack a location that unexpectedly contains civilians, but to prevent an investigation they dress the civilians in enemy uniforms, a desperate gamble by a group of soldiers to avoid punishment. This could be called the “fog of war” where actions are hard to measure.

  • Hassan in the ring

But Colombia’s false positives are another thing entirely, darker, and not defensible under any circumstances. These are acts of terror intended to generate fear and trembling while making points with the bosses in Bogotá.

As a counter-guerrilla tactic, this was useless; the victims were chosen according to the ease with which they could be made to disappear. They posed no danger or threat to national security. A sinister rationale! Poor men were deceived by others and taken to towns. There they were turned over to soldiers who later murdered them and set about creating a deception so as to leave no clues. The reward for abandoning the most minimal precepts of humanity? A few days off and some minimal recognition.

It is terrifying to think that some seek to legitimize these actions. God will not forgive this. This is not a way to defeat the guerrillas: worse, it deprives the soldiers of their honor. It was an evil policy that affected the battalions and produced nothing at all. In the future, we have to avoid the repetition of the practice. It is the worst thing that could have happened to us.

One of the most common mistakes is trying to minimize the crimes or insist that the FARC also operated that way. Delegitimizing the adversary is not acceptable. Our Army is better than the guerrillas; it is neither necessary nor appropriate to fight dirty wars. The battle is not won by dehumanizing the ranks; on the contrary. The honor of our Armed Forces is strengthened by the greatness of the majority of the troops who have not given in to such criminal acts. And that explains our victory in the war against the FARC.

But that does not justify the false positives. These must be punished. They are acts of cowardice, not of heroism.

The government party—Democratic Center—has tried to find a justification for the extrajudicial executions. That the number of false positives may really be less does not remove their true impact. One such death stings bitterly and can never be accepted.

  • Colombia is more and more alone.

President Iván Duque’s government dithers in the same confusion. Instead of applauding the discovery of a mass grave in Dabeiba as a promising action of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, it has tried to let it pass unnoticed. I can’t understand the low profile. It is fundamental for the reputation of the government to be on the side of the good. A position of ambivalence or indecision in the face of a crime against humanity cannot be permitted.

This crime existed in Colombia. We cannot deny it. A 2005 decree gave free range for the military to implement the false positives. The political responsibility for this dark episode in our history rests on President Álvaro Uribe Vélez and his Defense Ministers Camilo Ospina and Juan Manuel Santos.

Burying it cannot be accepted; we Colombians deserve to know what happened. There are hundreds of mothers who are in limbo because they have not learned the truth of what happened to their children.

This column opposed the Truth Commission for years because it would open the wounds of the past that could not be resolved in the present. Today I think that perhaps Colombia will be an exception. Our history has been so violent that it deserves a second look.

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