El Espectador, February 7, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Social organizations have presented a report to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). It details 90 cases of forced disappearance, tortures, and extrajudicial executions, all committed by the Charry Solano Intelligence Battalion, later known as the 20th Brigade. In this document, they detail who were the high-ranking military commanders at that time and they ask that the JEP open a case for judgment of these crimes.
The Charry Solano Military Intelligence Battalion was created in 1964. It was part of a strategy to pursue and eliminate those who belonged to subversive groups, were part of the left, or disagreed with the government model of that time. In those days they were talking about the “dangers” of communism throughout the world, and the support and training by the United States to combat it was coming to Colombia. Military academies with training in spying and methods of torture were springing up to “eliminate the internal enemy”, according to a report that human rights organizations delivered to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace this Friday. That’s how the Charry Solano Counterintelligence Intelligence Battalion (Binci-Charry Solano) was born. In 1986 it came to be known as the 20th Brigade and reached the level of national jurisdiction.
Serious violations of human rights were committed in this military unit, according to the defender organizations that were starting to complain in 1965. The illegal use of the Armed Forces and the crimes they committed are part of the report titled “The role of military intelligence in crimes by the State”, prepared by Colombia- Europe- United States Coordination (CCEEU), the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, and the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace.
This document was delivered to the Truth Commission and to the Search Unit for Persons Given as Disappeared in December 2019. The purpose was to detail the political persecution carried out by the military in 90 cases of forced disappearance, torture, and extrajudicial execution that took place between 1977 and 1998. Today, at 8:00 a.m., the report reached the hands of the justices of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, with the request that they investigate these crimes.
According to Camila Galindo, a member of the Observatory for Human Rights and of the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination, what is new in this report presented to the JEP is the analysis of the responsibility of the men who were commanders of the Binci and the 20th Brigade until 1998. That was the year in which that military unit was dissolved, in the midst of multiple inquiries.
In an interview with Colombia2020, Galindo insisted that their intention is for the JEP to summon those members of the military for investigation and judicial proceedings, and also that they open a case on the illegal use of military intelligence, and that they join with the Search Unit for the Disappeared to carry out the procedures for searching, identification, and dignified delivery of the persons who were forcibly “disappeared”.
Who were the commanders and those alleged to be most responsible for these crimes?
In the report, we mention Retired General Iván Ramírez Quintero (also charged in the disappearances after the taking and retaking of the Palace of Justice); Retired General Álvaro Velandia Hurtado (responsible for the disappearance of Nydia Érica Bautista, an M-19 militant); Harold Bedoya Pizarro (now deceased, Commander of the Binci until 1980); Brigadier General Jaime Ruíz Barrera (President of the Retired Colombian Military Officers Association (Acore)); and General Miguel Vega Uribe (also deceased, Minister of Defense when the Palace of Justice events took place).
Some legal proceedings have been filed against them, but in the end, they were found not guilty. Ramírez continued his career until ’98, reaching the post of Commander of the Armed Forces, and being the Director of the National Intelligence Directorate. They continued their military careers and were decorated for those activities.
We also found Mario Montoya Uribe, who started out in the Charry Solano Intelligence Battalion around 1977 and is identified as the one responsible for the dynamite attacks on the magazine known as “Alternatives” at that time.
How did you find out those names?
The magazine known as “Alternatives”, which up to 1985 was a fairly important document source, because that’s where they printed the complaints. Up to ’79, members of the Charry Solano Intelligence Battalion that were in Mexico prepared a letter with their complaints. It was directed to the President of that time, and it was published in a Mexican newspaper. The letter contained proofs of what the Battalion was doing. They also collected information through testimony, like that of Retired Sergeant Bernardo Garzón Garzón, who was part of the 20th Brigade. He infiltrated the M-19 and created the complaints against their high-ranking officials. There were different complaints that they mentioned, that talked about their activities, what orders they gave, and how the two units operated.
In which regions, principally, were those cases of forced disappearance?
The Charry Solano Battalion and the 20th Brigade had jurisdiction at the national level. However, the majority of cases that we are presenting in the report took place in Bogotá, as this was their center of activity. The cases come from both units.
Among the cases we are presenting, there are three survivors of forced disappearance: Guillermo Marín, who is still in exile, Carlos Uribe and José Cuesta. They have been located and turned over to their families. There are at least three people.
There are other people who, after they were forcibly disappeared, were executed extra-judicially and abandoned on vacant land, with signs of torture. We have approximately 14 such cases and right now the location of the others who were disappeared is not known.
Who were these people?
They share one characteristic: they were people who did not share the political ideology that was being pushed in the country at that time. They were people identified with leftist ideologies, alternative ways of thinking, students, members of social movements, and sometimes of insurgent movements, of M-19, ELN of FARC and EPL; but also I want to remind you that the cases that we are detailing in this report are of people who were disappeared and murdered, not in combat, but while they were in civilian clothes and all alone. In those times, they were pursued by these intelligence agencies that took advantage of them to carry out the forced disappearances and the murders.
Which were the years with the most cases of forced disappearance?
Some coincide with the growth of social movements and protests. We can prove how, beginning with the civic march in 1977 and all of the legislation that strengthened the State of Siege—those extraordinary powers that were given to the Armed Forces to carry out judicial investigations—it was a breeding ground for taking the kinds of criminal actions that were taken by the intelligence apparatus.
There were some cases between ’85 and ’86. We have shown, for example, how after the theft of weapons from Cantón or the taking and retaking of the Palace of Justice there was a forceful wave of repressive actions and everyone that smelled even a little of M-19 was arrested and tortured. We have the case of Olga López de Roldán, a doctor who at one time in her practice attended Justo Sánchez Lara, a member of M-19. So they said she was a guerrilla. She was tortured; her 3-year-old daughter was even tortured, but she never belonged to M-19.
Has there been any legal action on these cases?
In Olga’s case, it’s important to mention the decision of the Council of State. It’s one of the first decisions that consider the responsibility for torture. And even that turned out to have repercussions in the future, with all of the pressures on the Supreme Court of Justice in the period of the events regarding the Palace of Justice.
Unfortunately, however, forced disappearance was characterized by high levels of impunity. At the time the events happened, the military justice system had a lot of authority. There was no way to guarantee an impartial investigation and there were a lot of employees in the Inspector General’s Office who were involved in manipulating the investigations.
It’s very rare to find witnesses who can identify who it was that took them away. It was a time of terrorism and of very powerful government terror. People went around with a lot of fear and it was very difficult to file a complaint.
Why was it concentrated in those battalions?
Charry Solano has a lot of cases. We collected 90 cases of forced disappearance, 60 cases of extrajudicial execution, and more or less the same number of torture cases. It was the hallmark of that time, the same with the 20th Brigade. There were two intelligence units that were the most important part of the Colombian Army. They could count on overseas training and on financial support from the United States to carry out these activities.
Why are you requesting the JEP to open a case?
This report will be one of several reports that will detail the illegal use of military intelligence. The others could be on the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and other intelligence units. That’s why we believe that a case should be opened on the illegal use of intelligence as part of the armed conflict.
According to this report and to your findings, what do you think about the Museum of Memory of the Conflict having a space for members of the military as victims?
For us, it’s hopeless what’s going on at the National Center for Historical Memory. We are really worried about the ideological orientation that Darío Acevedo shows for the preparation of reports such as the Memory Museum, because, unfortunately, the victims of the crimes by the government have always had to struggle to be recognized as victims. We are seeing that the few vindications that we have achieved by our constant struggle are being lost again. Acevedo’s inclination has been to make invisible the crimes by the government and the role that the armed Forces have played as victimizers in the armed conflict.