ColombiaINFORMA, September 14, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The recent events in which ten Colombian Army soldiers identified themselves as guerrillas and then intimidated and threatened the community in the town (vereda) of Bocas del Manso in the jurisdiction of Tierralta, in Córdoba Department brought to the surface some questioning of that institution and its relationship with paramilitarism.
The ten soldiers of the Battle of Junín Infantry Battalion No. 33 of the 11th Brigade threatened the community. They gathered nearly 50 people together and they made them get down on the ground and kneel there.
The community complained that the soldiers attacked one resident with a machete and tried to grab the throat of a woman who had a baby in her arms. Before that, they had barged into a nearby house and abused an indigenous woman sexually while also stealing her belongings.
One of the women who were threatened scolded the soldiers, “Identify yourselves!” “Why are you coming here to abuse us?” “Do you think it’s right for you to threaten me with your pistol while I’m holding my baby in my arms?” “Do you think that’s right?” “You’re criminals. That’s what you are!”
When the community recorded the situation in a video, they soon found out that the people threatening them were members of the Colombian Army, and not guerrillas, noticing what they were wearing, things that they had previously seen soldiers wear.
Furthermore, the people stated that the Armed Forces were present in the area and that for months the soldiers had dedicated themselves to mistreating the population. “The Army always goes around mistreating the campesinos. . . they make them take all their clothes off, they hit them. The people are afraid to go out and go to work.”
Even though just recently the General that commands the Colombian Army, Mauricio Ospina, announced that the ten soldiers had been suspended, and that their case would be investigated by the Inspector General’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the military’s criminal justice system, several voices have asked that there be an investigation to determine who gave the order, and that paramilitarism as government policy be dismantled.
“Gen. Luis Mauricio Ospina, Commander @Comandante_ EJC announced that the ten soldiers compromised in the situation in Tierralta, Córdoba have been retired from the service. The disciplinary and criminal actions will be carried out by
@PGN_COL and @FiscalíaCol”
Voices speaking out against paramilitarism
One of the first to speak out on this was President Gustavo Petro: “Going back to paramilitarism and land theft would be the worst military mistake by the Armed Forces. That can’t happen in this administration.”
“Going back to paramilitarism and land theft would be the worst military mistake by the Armed Forces. That can’t happen in this administration. It’s the Army itself that has to take over publicly, on the side of the government, its own investigation of these events.”
“On the events that took place in the town of El Manso, Tierralta, Córdoba, the Commanding General of the Armed Forces of Colombia, General Heider Giraldo, stated that immediately when they found out about the situation, they ordered inspectors of the General Command of the Armed Forces . . .”
Today, during the act of recognition and the process of reparation to the labor movement in Bogotá, the President returned to making strong declarations about the case of Tierralta, Córdoba.
“This is not an isolated case. Are they looking to find out who gave the order? This wasn’t a message to the inhabitants of El Manso, the message was for the whole society and to tell them that the government is drowning Colombia in chaos. The message went to a specific group, the ranchers in Córdoba. Those who gave the order for what happened yesterday did it because they want the ranchers to go back to being paramilitaries,” said the President.
The Clan del Golfo, or so-called AGC, operates in that region, as well as the Armed Forces. It’s also an area with a tradition of land theft and where the Castaño family had great power in past years. It was a place where the paramilitary blocs were in charge.
“The Army dresses up like FARC dissidents in an area run by the Clan del Golfo.
- Are they trying to help somebody steal land?
- Do they want to make it look like a security crisis to harm the administration two months before the upcoming elections?
- What’s behind this? But the Colonel knew hardly anything about this.”
more tweets omitted)
Other cases and similar complaints
In the same way, several similar cases have been reported; cases where the Army goes around without identifying themselves or works together with paramilitary groups and in several of those cases, they are being led by men from the 7th Division under the command of General Óscar Murillo, the same one that’s carrying out operations in Córdoba and Antioquia.
Another similar case happened in 2021 in a settlement in Medio San Juan in Chocó during an operation that was trying to take down a mid-level commander of the ELN. The military action was carried out by heavily armed men not wearing identification who were evacuated by Colombian Army helicopters.
Similar cases have occurred in the region. In one of them the soldiers fired on people’s houses and then identified themselves as FARC dissidents.
The community complained that those groups had never been present in that area. The Public Defender’s Office and the City Clerk supported the complaint.
Complicity with and support of paramilitaries
In addition, human rights organizations in Antioquia have complained of paramilitary incursions in Bajo Cauca and Northeast Antioqueño.
They express concern about the permissiveness of the Colombian Armed Forces with those groups who are attacking community leaders and displacing communities.
Jesús María Valle Jaramillo, Human Rights Corporation Committee
“The AGC are making an armed incursion with approximately 500 men into the town of Palmachica in the Municipality of Santa Rosa del Sur, Bolívar Department, and they are retaining, forcibly, a person who lives in the sector La Vega de la Auyama, creating great panic in the community.”
(Other tweets and attachments omitted)
In the same manner, the Jesús María Valle Human Rights Corporation said “It’s worrisome that the paramilitary groups can advance so easily in a highly militarized territory, where the 2d Division, its 5th Brigade, the Jungle Battalion No. 48, the Marte Joint Task Force, the Colombian Air Force, and the Colombian National Police are all operating.”
“Right now in Antioquia we are in a humanitarian emergency; 3 social leaders were murdered in July, and more than 3,800 people have been displaced so far this year. It’s evident that, the peace will have come through the dismantling of Paramilitarism.
(Other tweets omitted)
So far, the administration has not found a strategy to stop the advance of those groups getting rich from drug trafficking, stealing land, and sacking natural resources.
The greatest concern is the close connections among political clans, Colombian Armed Forces, and sectors of the government that right now are maneuvering to destabilize the current administration, refusing to give up their political power.