SEMANA, June 6, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Fifteen soldiers who belonged to the La Popa Battalion were summoned to the transitional justice system to admit their responsibility for false positives in Cesar. Their stories are terrifying; they murdered civilians and passed them off as guerrillas to earn rewards.
“Those were crimes they didn’t have to commit against civilians, against anyone.” That’s just one of the phrases coming from the hearing that was carried out this Monday before the JEP. It’s about what took place with the false positives by the La Popa Battalion in Valledupar, one of the chapters that has documented the highest number of civilians murdered to make them look like combat kills.
Some of the soldiers who were called to account, according to what SEMANA has learned, are: Juan Carlos Soto Sepúlveda, Manuel Valentín Padilla, Yeris Andrés Gómez Coronel, Eduart Gustavo Álvarez Mejía, Efraín Andrade Perea, Elkin Leonardo Burgos Suárez, Elkin Rojas, Guillermo Gutiérrez Riveros, Heber Hernán Gómez Naranjo, Álex José Mercado Sierra, Carlos Andrés Lara Cabrales, and José de Jesús Rueda Quintero.
One of them, Yeris Gómez, surprised the Justices with the bluntness of what he had to say: “The stars worn by General Mario Montoya Uribe, General Justo Eliseo Peña, General Juan Pablo Rodríguez Barragán, General Raúl Antonio Rodríguez Arévalo, and Colonel Monsalve Hernández are stained with blood, just like my hands are.”
According to Gómez, these high-ranking officers were the ones that handed out the rewards and time off for those operations. He added, “All the way up to the President at that time, Uribe Vélez, they all demanded ‘results’. The troop that didn’t furnish ‘results’ never got time off. That was ‘democratic security’, murdering innocent people.”
In reviewing the information that made up the investigative file, the JEP determined that every one of those charged, the 15 members of the military, “played an essential role in the configuration of the criminal pattern, and participated in particularly serious and representative activities, without which the criminal plan would not have been developed and perpetuated,” the JEP concluded.
Gómez went further in telling his story and pointed out that many times they had to take innocent boys, campesinos, and make them look as if they had been ELN guerrilla fighters. “They gave us trips to Cartagena, to San Andrés, they gave us a pistol as a reward, parties, and hookups with sex workers.”
Sometimes, says Gómez, they had to make it look as if there had been a battle. “The only bullets fired were those fired by the Army; there wasn’t any combat. All of the professional soldiers were in it. When they gave us the order to find somebody, we found three victims that had been dead for six or seven hours. The victims were the civilians Joaquín Bolaño, Donaldo Gamero, and Jaider Hernández Jiménez. That day, I insist, there was no combat. It was a false positive like a lot of those that were done by the La Popa Battalion. They were innocent, and they had absolutely nothing to do with the armed conflict. They were brought there by deception,” he said. Gómez also asked the families of the victims to forgive him for what happened. “Their families were not guerrilla fighters; they were campesinos, and that’s what they looked like. They were civilians that the members of the La Popa Battalion dressed up to look like guerrillas. I ask for your forgiveness because these were crimes that should never have taken place.”