EL ESPECTADOR, May 1, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Faced with the heartbreaking testimonies by ten soldiers and one civilian in the JEP, it’s unacceptable to continue denying that these atrocious crimes happened. Their wounds are still open.

The denial that some political sectors have adopted when referring to the extrajudicial executions, falls of its own weight. It has to fall of its own weight, especially after hearing the harrowing testimonies of ten soldiers and one civilian before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) this week. It’s unacceptable that the official attitude being pushed by the current administration is an attitude of continuing to minimize the occurrence of a high treason against this country, of atrocious crimes whose wounds are far from being healed.

Navigating through the words of the soldiers in the hearing for admission of responsibility at the JEP in Ocaña, Norte de Santander, is to step inside an account of terror that goes beyond what this country has known in its violent history. It’s about representatives of the government who deceived innocent people in order to kill them, dress them up as criminals, and present them as the big success of a security policy  bloated to the point of causing suffering to thousands of families. Paying attention to what was being said this week in the transitional hearing casts a shadow on those official speeches that, ever since the Presidency of Álvaro Uribe, have tried to minimize those events. What’s important then, is to open those spaces, and that that opening be supported by the institutions themselves, because the open question remaining is an urgent one: What are we going to do to resolve all of that pain? How can we talk about reparation when we acknowledge that unthinkable horror?

“I executed, I murdered families of people here, having brought them here with lies, deceitfully. We fired at them heartlessly, as cowards, and stained their names and those of their families. We left children without a father, mothers without sons. I beg for God’s pardon. We created a theatrical to show supposed combats. I want to explain that here: the people we killed were campesinos,” said Néstor Guillermo Gutiérrez, then a Corporal in the Army.

“We got that young fellow out of the house one day by lying to him. We told him he could find a career, because he was driving a motorcycle taxi, and by deceiving him we got him out of the town of Ocaña and turned him over to Major Rivera so the vile murder that we committed could proceed,” said Rafael Antonio Urbano, a Sergeant in the Army.

“Your loved ones who lost their lives in these faked combats were never combatants, or criminals, nor did they belong to any criminal organization. They were decent people, campesinos, laborers, that were stalked, kidnapped, and taken to sites where the troops killed them while they were defenseless, and they only then put weapons on their bodies, so they could demonstrate operational results,” admitted Retired Colonel Gabriel de Jesús Rincón Amado.

We repeat: What can we do, as a country, with all of that pain, with the confirmation of a betrayal that has been hidden for years? To begin, let go of the denial speeches. In answer to the hearing before the JEP, President Iván Duque said, “It’s really important to distinguish between those individual acts from what has always been the institutional norm, based on honor and service.” In other words, it was some “rotten apples”. But what the transitional justice has been able to demonstrate is that we aren’t seeing isolated cases, but rather a systematic pursuit of innocent people so as to present them as “combat kills”. Now we know, for example, that the victims of these executions were mainly men between 25 and 35 years old, living in rural areas, mostly farmers or merchants, identified, without any evidence, as belonging to the guerrillas. All of them taken away from their families by deceptions. It’s painful that the Colombian Army is in the center of such terrible actions, but hiding that, minimizing or denying that, won’t make the truth disappear. To heal, to turn the page, justice has to reach every corner of this country. And what has to come first is admitting the truth. There is no other way.

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