URBAN ANALYSIS, Medellín, August 27, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
This third and last part of the report entitled “Genesis of the sale of legal weapons to the illegals” contains additional data on General Romero, but it also contains an invitation, an urgent call to investigating agencies to inquire, to drill down, to delve into the heart, into the interior of the Armed Forces and expose the network of corruption that courses through them and seems to have a life of its own. It’s not enough to unmask officials individually, and demand to have their heads; it’s also imperative, necessary, to investigate the institution without delay, until we find out the origin, the cancer that is eating away at it, and root it out completely.
A large number of military have chosen to explore the path of criminality. Yes, they are part of the government, they swear to defend the fatherland, they dress in camouflage, they are privileged public officials, but all of a sudden they are dragged away by “evil spirits” that convert them into the enemies of the ones who feed them and their families, and they end up pursuing narrow interests. It’s absurd. It’s because of ambition, some say. Others say it’s because of stupidity.
Seven soldiers were convicted this last August 1: Juan Camilo Morales Provea, Yair Stiven Gonzáles, Juan David Guaidia, José Luis Holguín, Óscar Eduardo Gil, Deyson Andrés Isaza, and Luis Fernando Mangareth; all of them are soldiers attached to the High Mountain Battalion in Génova, Quindío. The Branch 1 Common Pleas Judge of the Apía Circuit in Risaralda, sentenced the first six to 16 years in prison for the crime of aggravated abusive carnal knowledge of a 14-year-old minor. The last one will serve eight years in prison. The prosecutors established that those soldiers sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl in the Emberá Indigenous Community on June 21, 2020 in the district (corregimiento) of Santa Cecilia in the Municipality of Pueblo Rico, Risaralda.
This is a deplorable case, shameful. But we aren’t referring to this class of military.
There are more than a thousand former members of the military convicted of false positives, all committed between 2001 and 2008 in Colombia. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that was the period in which the most cases took place. The most lethal year was 2007, with 777 killings. In Antioquia, 297 extrajudicial executions were registered that year. That was during Álvaro Uribe’s second term; the Minister of Defense was Juan Manuel Santos, and the Commander of the Army was Mario Montoya Uribe. Of the latter, Attorney General Francisco Barbosa stated on August 1, 2021, that he would be charged with 104 homicides as the decision-maker. Five of the victims in this episode known as “false positives” were under age, children.
On July 15, 2021, the Single Specialized Court of Yopal, in Casanare, sentenced retired Colonel Juan Carlos Castañeda Villamizar to 40 years in prison for his participation in the acts of torture, homicide, and disappearance of 54 people between the years of 2002 and 2003.
According to the prosecutors, Castañeda Villamizar, then the Commander of the N. 44 Ramón Nonato Pérez Battalion, headquartered in Tauramena, Casanare, contrived a criminal plan together with the then-Mayor of the Municipality of Recetor, Flaminio Cocinero Costo. The plan was carried out by the Self-Defense Forces of Héctor Germán Buitrago Parada, alias Martín Llanos, against the population of Chámeza and Recetor, in Casanare.
This is one of the few cases where the legal system took action on the false positives and convicted a high-ranking Army Officer, as the vast majority of those convicted were low- ranking, commanders of units, of squadrons, soldiers. The officers are at the top and it’s very difficult for the prosecutors to pursue them. In 2012, the International Criminal Court (CPI in Spanish) issued a report pointing out that there are reasonable bases to believe that the false positives in Colombia were committed as a consequence of a policy adopted by high-ranking officers in certain Brigades of the Army.
That’s why we welcome the work being carried out by the JEP. An investigation by that tribunal came up with a preliminary figure of 6,402 murdered victims of the false positives between the years 2002 and 2008 in our country. For the Attorney General’s Office, that number barely reaches 2,248 cases, and for the Colombia, Europe, United States Coordination (CCEEU) there are 5,763. The provinces with the most cases are: Antioquia, Casanare, Cesar, Huila, Guajira, Meta, Norte de Santander, Arauca, Boyacá, Caquetá, Guainía, Guaviare, Sucre, and Putumayo. And the most compromised military divisions of the Army are the First, Second, Fourth, and Seventh.
In July of 2021, the JEP charged “actions and conduct” by General Paulino Coronado Gámez, Commander of the 30th Brigade, Colonels Rubén Darío Castro Gómez, Santiago Herrera Fajardo, Álvaro Diego Tamayo Hoyos, and Gabriel de Jesús Rincón Amado, Major Juan Carlos Chaparro Chaparro, and five more members of the military. The objective is to recognize their participation in 120 murders of defenseless persons, registered in Catatumbo, Norte de Santander, that were presented as combat “kills” between 2007 and 2008. Those members of the military were assigned to the 15th Mobile Brigade and to the N.15 Francisco de Paula Santander Infantry Battalion.
Days later, the JEP requested the appearance of Colonels Publio Hernán Mejía Gutiérrez (2002-2004) and Juan Carlos Figueroa (2003-2005), commanders of the La Popa Battalion, and Majors José Pastor Ruiz Mahecha, Heber Hernán Gómez Naranjo, and Guillermo Gutiérrez Riveros. There are 15 members of the military in all that were involved in the murders of 323 people in the Province of Cesar.
Nevertheless, if these members of the military admit their participation in the events, they will receive a light penalty. If they refuse to admit it, every case will be turned over to the Unit for Investigation and Accusation in the JEP, and they will be subjected to an adversarial trial that, if they are convicted, means that they would be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
It is a wicked, sick, bloody, and lamentable stage in our history as a republic, but we are not referring to that class of the military either.
We are talking about those officers and noncoms in the Army who are cloaked with the authority to manage a budget. They shouldn’t be allowed to handle money. That ought to be done by a civilian, an individual outside of the institution, an entity like the national government. And not because the public administration is immaculate, but because the military have the weapons of the government and they “are robbing” legally and they are armed and dangerous.
The cases in which members of the military have been convicted for this kind of activity you can also count on your fingers. For example, last February 21, a judge in the Criminal Circuit at Villavicencio, Meta, sentenced retired Colonel Roberto Dussan Mejía to 15 years in prison for the crimes of criminal conspiracy, bribery, for giving or offering to give an impermissible interest in certain contracts.
When Dussan Mejía was the Director of the Logistics Agency of the Armed Forces in the Eastern Plains region, together with a lawyer at the agency, in exchange for cuts of 5% and 7%, they took part in the awarding of contracts for supplying provisions, goods, and services for several battalions in the middle and eastern part of the country. The contracts, when analyzed by legal experts, reached the amount of 9,000,000,000 pesos (roughly USD $2,350,000). For those contracts, the retired Colonel and other persons received bribes of 800 million pesos (roughly USD $208,000), as demonstrated by the Attorney General’s Office. There are indications of irregularities in 40 other contracts. The former officer admitted responsibility for the acts of corruption.
Another case came to light in April of 2021, but it’s only in the prosecution stage. It involves retired Colonel Juan Manuel Ordóñez Vallejo, whose arrest was ordered by a judge at the request of the prosecutors. They alleged that he is responsible for the crimes of criminal conspiracy, taking a bribe for the commission of a criminal act, embezzlement, material falsification of a public document, and fraudulent administration.
Ordóñez, as Deputy Commander of the Rifles Battalion of the Colombian Army, was involved in alleged irregularities in the furnishing of security services. The prosecutors found that between December 30, 2016 and June 14, 2017, he had ordered the troops of his military unit to keep watch over deposits belonging to two mining companies in Puerto Libertador (Córdoba), as well as their administrative offices in Medellín (Antioquia).
It appears that those activities were supported by an alleged contract signed between the Colombian Army and the companies that needed accompaniment. However. Colonel Ordóñez Vallejo was not authorized by the Defense Ministry, nor was he permitted, to make this kind of agreement. Neither could he make use of soldiers, vehicles, weapons, and munitions for such activities.
The then-Deputy Commander allegedly received seven million pesos (roughly USD $1,800) for the illegal services he had agreed to provide. At the same time, there are indications that this contract was one of the 18 phony agreements he carried out illegally to watch over mining areas.
In the verifications carried out, it was shown that the companies involved had stated in their accounting reports that they had spent 904,712,878 pesos (roughly USD $235,000) on “contributions to the Colombian Army for security”. It has been established that the Colombian Army never received that money, nor was it represented in donations of encampment and quartermaster materials, logistics, vehicle maintenance, communication equipment, or construction of military installations.
Dusan Mejía refused to plead guilty to the charges. Ten more people, including military and civilians, have been charged in connection with that situation.
We won’t mention the illegal wiretapping that the Army did of politicians and directors of the opposition, of journalists, and of human rights defenders. A year ago, in August of 2020, Colonels Milton Eugenio Rozo Regado, Hugo Armando Díaz Hernández, Juan Pablo Prado Torres, Julio Tobías López Cuadros, and Helmont René Ramos Naranjo, as well as Majors Eduardo Torres Diaz, Hernán Rolando Villamil Ortegón, and Mauricio Quintero Arias were retired from the Army for that.
President Duque then ordered the acceleration of a rigorous investigation of the Army’s intelligence work in the last ten years. The now former General Nicacio Martínez, Commander of the Army at that time, was involved. However, the Attorney General’s Office has interviewed only six officers. Nothing has happened since then.
It turns out that the Colombian Army is one big pot of stink. And we aren’t staining the name of the institution. Its own men have done that.
“They were issued before I ever got to the Fourth Brigade,” said former General Romero.
Going back to the Romero case, when he first got to Medellín, the former General was the protagonist in an event that caught the attention of some of the business owners in the city. The former official had called them together to make an important announcement regarding security. He didn’t attend, but he left them a message: he himself would handle all permits to carry weapons. The reason was that there had been some major chaos in the Fourth Brigade, and he, General Romero, would be heading the investigation, which would be cheaper. Apparently, the General knew that the “mafia” had been manipulating the permits and that they wanted to hold onto the business. Now there would be an intermediary between the Commercial Weapons Control Department (DCCA) with authority to control and authorize the sale of weapons, munitions, and explosives, and the business owners.
The then-Commander was accused of using national security information to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the merchants, and thus offer them packages that would include between five and ten firearms. This situation put the integrity of the business owners and their families at risk, according to the complainant, to the point that it was the former official himself that generated the danger so that his “clients” would understand the necessity of obtaining a firearm.
Another significant event has to do with a shipment of coca that was to be delivered to a criminal gang located in Buenaventura, and which had branches in Tolima, Caldas, Antioquia, and Bogotá. Soldiers from the Army in Medellín discovered from members of the gang, called “The Business”, that they had carried the shipment to the city of Cali. Those that were implicated were transferred to the Attorney General’s bunker in the Caribe neighborhood of the capital of Antioquia. General Romero Pinzón had been present at the bunker and had challenged the official who was in charge of the arrest about the way he was carrying out the mission. But the ones that were arrested, who had been set free, were not carrying drugs, but rather cash, nearly 400 million pesos (roughly USD $103,800). What interest could General Romero have had in that errand?
The prosecutors had not been able to obtain evidence in those cases, perhaps because General Romero was very cautious, or because those events didn’t happen.
Faced with the accusation for selling firearms permits to the leaders of “The Office”, the former General told the communications media that, in his position as Commander of the Fourth Brigade, he did not have authority to order or issue firearms permits. That function belonged to “a committee that can study and substantiate the applications under applicable law”. He also said that the special permits that were mentioned in an important newspaper in the country, “were issued when I was in the Third Division in Cauca and Nariño.”
The committee that the former General was referring to is made up of the Commander of the Brigade, the Chief of Staff, the Chief of the section in charge of controlling trade in weapons, an Intelligence Officer, and the Legal Counsel. This group meets once every 15 days, and is that one that can approve or disapprove issuance of weapons, passes, and the permits.
More relevant events
** On July 9, 2019, the former official was required to justify his service record.
** During the morning of Thursday, August 8, 2019, in Bogotá, former General Romero was arrested.