By Colombia in Transition, EL ESPECTADOR, February 19, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Those who were affected by the phenomenon of the misnamed “false positives” are applauding the fact that the statistics produced by the Peace Tribunal show that for decades the public received an undercount that perpetuated the impunity. They are hoping that the military responsible, and also the former presidents and ministers will be forced to tell the truth.
This Thursday, February 18, the country learned of a new advance in Case 03 of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). Officially, it’s called Illegal Killings Presented as Deaths in Combat by Government Agents, wrongly called “false positives”. The Peace Tribunal indicated that, according to an analysis prepared from reports by social organizations and government entities, between 2002 and 2008, 6,402 people were killed, 4,154 more cases than the number registered by the Attorney General’s Office between 1988 and 2014.
After learning about that data, the victims of this scourge have mixed feelings. Some of them are optimistic, because they believe that the prioritization of the territories and the rigorous methodology used to reconcile the statistics from different social organizations will soon permit the understanding of more versions of what happened, and thus the JEP can prevent the impunity that, according to them, the ordinary justice system has been bringing about for decades. Another group sees little progress in the case, and says that, if there is not going to be more recognition in individual cases of those most responsible, it will be hard to believe that justice will be done.
That being true, everybody agrees that this new picture “proves that Democratic Security was a criminal policy.” Jacqueline Castillo, Director General of the collective Mothers of False Positives (Mafapo) is among the victims that believe that the document issued by the JEP “is gratifying, because it’s powerful evidence that those killings were systematic and generalized, under the murderous wing of a government that was selling false notions of security in exchange for benefits to those who delivered the horrifying results.”
The military murdered Castillo’s brother, Jaime Castillo Peña, and she believes that the victims of the “false positives” and the organizations of human rights defenders should be proud of their efforts, because, as she sees it, the consolidation of these statistics demonstrates that their accusations have reached the point that the government, which previously ignored their complaints, now will be prioritizing their cases. “Even though the Justices themselves have told us to our faces that they can’t take up case by case, because that would take the rest of their lives, this order marks a precedent so that we can map out a path toward finding out who gave the orders, and justice will be done. Obviously, we know that the undercurrent of these crimes is attributable to ex-President Álvaro Uribe and his criminal Democratic Security, but there is more and we want to get to the bottom of all of this,” she added.
Along the same lines as Castillo is Nora Pulgarín, sister of Humberto León Pulgarín, a campesino who was murdered by the 4th Brigade of the Colombian Army on October 23, 2006 in the town (vereda) of La Concha in the jurisdiction of Campamento (Antioquia Province). Pulgarín, who is also an active member of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movice), insists that the more than 9,000 cases registered by the JEP will serve as key inquiries that will result in a more precise number to describe the magnitude of this crime, which has been going on for 40 years.
“It was an open secret that these executions were systematic. Nevertheless, it’s different when I say it and when a legal body like the JEP says it. We understand that this did not begin with ex-President Álvaro Uribe, although we know that his responsibility for these crimes is clear, and that more of the crimes happened during his administration. They have been registered as early as 1980 and of course that assumes that the war left more than 10,000 cases of the misnamed ‘false positives’,” Pulgarín explains.
Specifically, the JEP announced that of the total number of cases of “false positives” that were reported to the Justices, 78% were presented during the administration of ex-President Uribe Vélez. In 2008 alone, 792 murders of this type were reported, while in 2009, the number was reduced to 172, meaning a downward trend from that year on for the statistics within the macrocase.
Organizations like the Colombian Jurists Commission, the José Alvear Restrepo Collective, the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination, Movice, and the Committee in Solidarity With Political Prisoners have assured that among the recommendations that they will make to the JEP will be a request that they first determine the responsibility of the high-ranking military commanders. In case they do not accept their responsibility, the groups ask that the JEP accelerate its process in the Investigation and Accusation Unit to start investigating from the moment of the Resolution of Conclusions, which is expected to be issued soon. The time, according to the human rights defenders, is short and the victims would like to have the results as soon as possible.
Antioquia, Meta, Caquetá, Cesar, Norte de Santander, Tolima, Huila, Casanare, La Guajira, and Cauca were the provinces with the most cases of “false positives” between 2002 and 2008, according to the JEP, in coordination with statistics gathered by entities such as the Oral Accusation Criminal System (SPOA), the Legal Information System in the Attorney General’s Office (SIJUF), the Observatory for Memory and Conflict at the National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH), and the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (CCEEU).
However, the fact that the prioritization has revealed that 66% of all of the victims are in ten provinces doesn’t add very much to honoring the memory of the victims and to the struggles of the families, according to Jhoana Cortés and Luz Atehortúa, spokeswomen for the victims of “false positives” and the disappeared in Soacha (Cundinamarca Province) and Puerto Berrío (Antioquia Province).
Both women say that even though any support from the JEP is welcome, “it won’t necessarily be a key to increase the willingness of those most responsible to tell the whole story.” For her part, the leader of Mafapo believes: “I hope the day comes when we learn the whole story of what happened all over the country, and that the responsibilities don’t just rest on the mid-level officers. We want the high-ranking members of the military, Ministers, and Presidents that were involved in this, to pay. We don’t want impunity like the ordinary justice system has permitted. Or if they don’t look at the case of Marcos Pinto Lizarazo, who at the time, supported the death squads in the Atanasio Girardot Battalion and is now is part of the Armed Forces general staff.
There are voices like that of Martha Giraldo, the daughter of José Orlando Giraldo, who was murdered by members of the Rodrigo Lloreda Calcedo High Mountain Battalion No. 3 in a rural part of Cali. She mentions this to show that this scourge had a national reach for a long time and for that very reason, all of the regions are equally important. Even though the murder of her father is not one of the regional sub-cases prioritized by the JEP, the spokeswoman for Movice in the Valle del Cauca section hopes that in the second phase of the investigation, when provinces like Arauca, Boyacá, Putumayo, Caquetá, Guaviare, Sucre, and others are studied, they will soon begin to find out about the cases in the organization that they represent. “For 14 years there has been disrespectful under-reporting and government intentions that the guilty parties pay no price,” she complained.
Giraldo, like the other spokeswomen, wants all of the high-ranking military officers from the divisions involved to be required to answer to the JEP, to piece together the accounts that, she is convinced, would help in healing: “The ones responsible for the murder of my father are fugitives that don’t want to tarnish their superiors, but they want to go before the JEP. There are not enough truthful accounts from people like Bayron Carvajal, a signer of the tactical mission in the homicide of my father, or from Carlos Enrique Sánchez Molina, commander of the 3rd Brigade. Not only in El Valle, but also in other places, we deserve to have these personages explain what happened so that the JEP can put together judicious records. We hope that the Justices will have strategies to make them stop covering up and evading justice. They were State criminals and they are shielding themselves with a supposed security policy; they are deceiving the country.”
Attorney Pilar Castillo has gathered together many of the victims’ concerns. She believes that the JEP’s consolidation “is finally starting to investigate some real statistics that will put aside the shading by the undercounts.” This lawyer is optimistic about the outlook left by this high Court decision, because she believes that it will be more effective in eradicating the cases in the ordinary justice system that were investigated under Statute 906, and that left a toll of impunity in 99% of the cases.
“The JEP showed today that they won’t get away with it, all of a sudden, those that are hoping that the JEP will overturn their convictions in the ordinary justice system. Those that are responsible will certainly have to think twice if they want to tell only part of what happened and expect to avoid a penalty. The time left for the Jurisdiction is a concern, but we dream of a second phase of prioritization to be carried out in a reasonable way, just like this one. The JEP has to join forces with the Attorney General’s Office; they need to reach the high-ranking military and the JEP has to work closely with the Investigation and Accusation Unit to show this country that the victims will indeed have answers, and that there are places like Putumayo that had 171 extrajudicial executions, or Arauca, with 180,” she concluded.
The JEP has been emphatic in that the data are just their commitment to prioritize the cases and so advance quickly, and that they are not yet filing charges. It’s expected that the charges against the military high command will be ready in the second half of this year.