Editorial, EL ESPECTADOR, June 28, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The transitional justice system continues to stir us with its capacity for creating settings for raw admissions of responsibility. The 49 extrajudicial executions that were the object of the most recent public hearing by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) demonstrated the horror of the conflict, the seriousness of the accounts that have been censored for years, and yes, the importance of having Justices dedicated to bringing out the truth, telling the country what happened, and offering just a little reparation to the victims. The political speeches can’t survive the power of what the soldiers said: the forces of the Colombian government were used to murder people in cold blood and later present them as combat “kills”, with the objective of convincing the country that we were winning the war.

This is a painful moment. Hearing the soldiers admit to the horrors they committed clashes with the idea of the Armed Forces as protectors of Colombians. We need to be clear in order to be able to turn the page: what happened in this country, with particular frequency during the Presidency of Álvaro Uribe, was a betrayal of the Constitution and of human dignity. Retired Colonel Efraín Enrique Prada, who at that time was in charge of the Brigade in Dabeiba, echoed that sentiment. “It’s very hard to look in the faces of the people for whom we caused so much pain, of people whose children we took away, children who now can’t see their parents or share a Christmas, a Mother’s Day, or birthdays with them. They were innocent victims because we deceived them. For the rest of my life, I will never tire of begging their forgiveness.”

It would take, in effect, a whole life and maybe more to beg forgiveness, because their methods were terrible. The whole process implied deception and manipulation. They looked for “people that lived in the street or drug addicts, poor and vulnerable people that we thought nobody would come to reclaim,” and then they presented them as major criminals. “They gave us reports with names about which lawless people were committing crimes in the area. Then you had to put those who were ‘killed in combat’ in the precise location, and decide which battle equipment had been seized. In the Municipality of Dabeiba, they called on the City Clerk to corroborate them, and they told the Attorney General’s Office there had been a combat, so they wouldn’t be coming to the place where the murders had happened. They coached people with a fictitious story so that there wouldn’t be any contradictions in the military criminal justice system. They set forth all of the indicators of death in combat, but in reality, the murder was hidden in all of the documentation,” Prada explained.

Among all the consequences of this account, one would have to be of destroying the denialism speeches about what happened. Yes, there were extrajudicial executions in Colombia. Yes, what’s more, they were fomented by an implacable security strategy that rewarded combat “kills” above other mechanisms, as shown by the official documents intended to hide that reality. Yes, many people died and were disappeared so that they could be presented as criminals. The sooner we admit that reality, the sooner we will be able to start healing, and perhaps more important, the easier it will be to make sure that nothing like this every happens again.

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