SEMANA, February 11, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
SEMANA reveals the request that the Inspector General investigate five Colombian Army Generals on active duty who ordered the attack on the “coca-growers bazaar” in which 11 people killed. Some of them were civilians.
The scandal broke out in the country after then-Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, in March of 2022, announced a powerful blow against the Dissidents of the Segunda Marquetalia. Eleven people were killed who were supposedly carrying long guns, but now there is a stiff backlash in the upper echelons of the Armed Forces. Five Generals are being targeted by the Inspector General because, as was reported at the time, some of those killed were civilians.
SEMANA has seen a conclusive document by the Inspector General’s Office official assigned to the case; his decision is a severe one. He recommends that the commanders who ordered the military operation, Army Generals on active duty, be investigated.
They are General Juan Carlos Correa, currently the Inspector of the Army, who at the time was the Chief of Aviation and Aerial Assault; General Freddy Marlon Coy, now the Command Staff’s Chief of Operations, who at the time was the Commander of the 6th Division; and General Walther Giraldo, now Chief of the Quirón Task Force in Arauca, who at the time was the Commander of the Narcotics and Transnational Threats Command.
There’s more, according to the document in the Inspector General’s Office. There is General David Leonardo Gómez, who at that time was the Commander of the 13th Brigade, and is now the Commander of the 5th Division. However, the Army has explained that he had no jurisdiction in that area of Putumayo. Also Colonel Carlos Mauricio Salgado, who at the time was the Commander of the Special Anti-Drug Trafficking Brigade.
According to high level sources, one of the principal supports of the official’s recommendation is that “they ordered the attack knowing full well that the principal objective, Carlos Loaiza Quiñones, alias Bruno, who was in charge of marketing the drugs for the criminal organization, was no longer present at the location, and that there was a civilian population, men, women, some of them pregnant, and children, taking part in a community bazaar.”
The order for the operation that was carried out in the town (vereda) of El Alto Remanso, in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo Department, was called “Mahlon 005”, issued by the Command of the Anti-Drug Trafficking Battalion, no.3. It was also accompanied by a patrol report from March 29, signed by the Commander of the reconnaissance team.
The report that went up from the men on the ground to the Commanders was definitive in their decision to issue the order to initiate the operation. It stated that at “6:40 the PVT (Tactical Patrol), commanded by SS (Second Sergeant) Quiñones, reports to the Battallion commander that there are plainly identified illegal armed combatants of the Gaor-E-48, carrying long guns.”
Later on, this operational report indicates that at “7:05 the weather is verified to be in good condition for the support of the troops; the TAP (High Precision Sharpshooter) team sees illegal armed combatants from the Gaor-E-48 organization on the pier, intending to board launches and leave the area. Request permission to fire, using a Harris type radio, and with simultaneous coordination between the teams.”
When it was “7:13 the TAP fired, taking care only to fire on a legal target; we report that we neutralized an armed illegal combatant from the organization.”
The Inspector General’s Office, which immediately sent a team of special investigators to the location where the events took place, worked for months accumulating testimony, documents, operational orders, forensic evident of ballistics, and other evidence to put together the puzzle of what had happened in the town of El Remanso. They found the records of how the commandos on the ground who carried out the operation requested authorization for the attack, and that the requests went up the ladder to arrive at the highest level, i. e. the Generals.
Particularly in one of the documents, directed to the Commander of the Drug Trafficking Battalion No. 3, to then-Colonel Andrés Cadena, there is this reference: “On March 28 at 7:20, the TAP team reports armed personnel in the sector of the riverbank. At that moment, we requested authorization to fire (. . .) The first shot was fired by order of our superior.” This is the crux of the investigation that is taking the backlash to the highest level. According to the document that an official of the Inspector General’s Office showed to SEMANA, “this office observes that you can see in these events how the responsibility of military officers of General rank and equivalent is compromised.”
The decision touching the highest officers in the military’s top echelon is not the only one that the Inspector General’s Office has made about this operation. Right at the start, they opened the investigation and formally made contact with some of the men that were participating on the ground, a Captain, a Lieutenant, and three noncommissioned officers. They summoned them to furnish their explanations voluntarily, but they kept silent, invoking their constitutional rights.
The coca growers bazaar
One of the most critical points in the investigation that the special team from the Inspector General’s Office is working on, besides establishing possible haste at the time of ordering the attack, has to do with the verification of whether the persons who were present at the location were really members of the Dissidents, as was stated in the first report, sent from the ground, at 6:40.
The issue becomes more delicate, because even though it’s clear that they were going after a legal objective, no more and no less than Carlos Loaiza Quiñones, alias Bruno, the main individual responsible for marketing the drugs for the Segunda Marquetalia, he ultimately fled and they had lost the principal purpose of the mission. In addition, in the operation, in which 11 people died, according to the results of the first investigations, not all of the dead were members of that criminal group, and they had injured civilians, violating the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law.
And that’s the issue that created a gargantuan debate in the media and in the Congress, while in the area where the operation took place, some of the inhabitants insist that it was an indiscriminate attack on the civilian population, and that it had nothing to do with criminals, but rather with some people who were enjoying themselves at a bazaar. But the other side, not only the Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, but also the highest military echelons, have their own version, and affirm that the people who were there were criminals.
Molano said that at the location where the action took place, “there were no innocent campesinos, but rather it was FARC Dissidents. According to intelligence sources, they were dressed as civilians, but they were dedicated to drug trafficking and extortion.”
That position was supported then by General Correa, who said, “the military maneuver deployed complied with all of the protocols and guidelines stipulated in the military doctrine for carrying out offensive actions.”
The crosscurrent versions state that there really was a gathering, a festival. Those who complained that it was just an attack on the civilian population say that the event was for the purpose of raising funds for a historical marker. On the contrary, Minister Molano called it a “narcobazaar”, lasting three days, organized by the Segunda Marquetalia, for the marketing of the coca paste that would be sent out on launches from El Alto Remanso and sent to laboratories and sent to international markets.
Besides that, in investigations and testimonies collected by the authorities, there are records showing that, after the operation, when the Armed Forces entered the town, the people that live there took some of the weapons from those who were at the coca grower bazaar and threw them in the river.
What’s true is that this military operation isn’t over yet; a year later, the investigations are progressing steadily. But now, with Colombian Generals involved, it will be the disciplinary investigation by the Inspector General’s Office, recently undertaken, that will have the last word. It will decide if they are going to be defendants or if they will be cleared of disciplinary responsibility for the deaths that took place in the town of El Alto Remanso.
Faced with the seriousness of the findings by the Inspector General that bring to the table the alleged responsibility of Colombian Generals for the deaths of civilians in this operation, they responded with a terse statement, saying, “After consulting the Army’s agencies in charge of such matters, up to now they are saying that they have not received any notice about this. As is our institutional policy, we will comply with the requirements of the judicial authorities so as to collaborate harmoniously and comply with the law, as we have been doing.”