|12/28/2010 In the slums after the dramatic 2001 recession|
Among the «villeros» priests of Buenos Aires
by Lucia Capuzzi
One of the worst scandals of human rights violation in recent years hides itself behind the cold and colourless expression of falsos positivos. It deals with a widespread practice in the Colombia of former president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) in the frame of the State's fight against leftist guerrillas. The protagonists are hundreds of regular army officers who used to recruit, with false job promises, people at the margins of society - homeless people, minors, the disabled, farmers - who were then killed and disguised as guerrilla men so that they would be taken for rebels who died in a fight. The goal was to receive in return-according to a distorted productive logic--leave awards and promotions.
According to a report issued some months ago by the Unidad Nacional de Derechos Humanos of the Fiscalía General de la Nación there would be a total of 2,358 casualties of whom 2,113 men, 120 women and 125 children. The most affected district is Antioquia (with Medellín as capital city) with 395 casualties, while 2007 was the year with the highest number of cases, as many as 507. This scandal began in 2008 during the last presidential term of Uribe. Since then, despite the de facto ostracism of the government and the military hierarchies, the affair has been defined more and more clearly. But it has not received the international echo it is worthy of. And above all it has not managed to upset the internal political Colombian balance by even an inch. Insomuch as the former Minister of the Defence in the Uribe's government, Juan Manuel Santos, has become the new president of the Nation without any problem.
According to a file recently made public by Wikileaks, general Carlos Suárez of the Colombian army, appointed by the former Minister of the Defence Santos to investigate the issue, would have confided to the former US diplomat William Brownfield that falsos positivos were a "generalized phenomenon" during Uribe's government which used to measure the military success in "terms of casualties", creating thus a false impression of triumph. Brownfield says that Suarez would have also revealed that general Óscar González, the former head of the army, opposed the investigation and even "tried to intimidate the witnesses" so that they would not speak.
However, it seems that this kind of criminal actions existed long before Uribe won the presidency. A group of scholars from the US civil association National Security Archive (NSA), connected with George Washington University, revealed that, on the basis of various documents from the State Department, the CIA have known about similar events since 1990, when the president was the liberal Virgilio Barco. It is thus a question of a cancer within the Colombian army that metastasized with the rise of the militarist politics of Uribe.
The stories of the falsos positivos' victims are like parts of a big horror mosaic. Here are a few. Miller Andrés Blandón was a former drug addict who used to earn his life working as a human statue in the parks of the city of Neiva. One day, after having had lunch with some other poor people in the Casa de Apoyo al Habitante de la Calle, he was approached by two people on a motorbike who offered him a job as a coffee picker. He accepted, together with two other homeless people and the next day they ended up on the newspapers as guerrilla men killed during a fight in the mountains close to San José de Isnos. There are the stories of Edison de Jesús Alzate Pulgarín and of the brothers Héctor and Hernán Darío Ospina Rodríguez, farmers in the district of Cordoba, who in June 2007 were taken by the army, killed, dressed up with guerrilla men uniforms and then counted as members of the Farc who died in the battle. Or the story of more than a dozen young men from Soacha, a suburb of Bogotá, who disappeared in 2008 and then were found hundreds of kilometres away, in the districts of Santander and Norte of Santander, counted as guerrilla men killed during the fight. Their mothers, known as Las madres de Soacha have organized themselves and are crying out for exhaustive and impartial investigations about their children's disappearances.
Many of the victims have been buried as "nn" in the apposite cemeteries for the killed guerrilla men. In 2009 in La Macarena, a small village in the Oriental district of Meta, there was found a common grave, close to a military base, which contained the no longer identifiable remains of about one hundred human beings. According to the government these were 446 guerrilla men killed "regularly" in battle but, according to local inhabitants and human rights activists, many of the remains belonged to victims of forced disappearances - social leaders, community defenders, farmers - and, with all likelihood, falsos positivos' victims as well. A UN report confirms the number of bodies at 446 (and not 2,000 as some NGOs reported) but doubt continues about the possibility that they were not only guerrilla men killed in war.
The entire macabre story asks questions which are directly addressed to the political and military classes, but also to society, the mass media and the Colombian Church itself. How is it possible - the question comes up - that in a Catholic Country like Colombia, where the army even uses sacred names for its operations against subversion, such a systematic inhumanity may occur? And how is it possible that the unveiling of such a truth did not provoke world indignation and did not irrecoverably undermine the credibility of Uribe's government, its Defence Minister and the military institution?
Perhaps falsos positivos can be considered - together with the unacceptable levels of social inequality of Latin America - as a tragic and extreme reflection of the problem of a superficial evangelization of the Latino American population. It is a problem recognized by the Church and recently met in the Aparecida Conference in 2007: in the face of the high number of baptized people, the issue of legality and respect of human dignity remains largely unresolved on the continent. As for the (relatively) scarce political and media effects of the event, various factors may have played a role: the "hot potato" game about the responsibility of the representatives of the institutions that muddles up public opinion, and the dyke established by the great popularity of Uribe in Colombia and in international markets. Furthermore, the fact that, as Primo Levi used to say when talking about the Holocaust, it is question of a truth too monstrous to be believed, or the fact that the victims, being marginalized, attract less attention than people of other social classes.
But leaving aside the major causes of the phenomenon, in the immediate present this can be explained only on the basis of Uribe's practice of using the body count (the count of the killed enemies) in order to measure the progress in the fight against the guerrillas. In a report presented last year by the UN Council of Human Rights, it was said that, "the murders were committed in the whole Country and by a consistent number of military units. This happened because the military units felt under pressure to show successes against the guerrilla... There were incentives: an informal system of incentives for soldiers who killed and a formal one for civilians who provided information which would lead to the capture or death of guerrilla men".
In the meantime, the justice machine is going on its way. Many prosecutors are committed to revealing the events and identifying the culprits. There have been dismissals, arrests, trials and sentences for numerous soldiers. Even general Mario Montoya, who became famous for having released Ingrid Betancourt, resigned because of this scandal.
According to the same report we cited before by the Unidad Nacional de Derechos Humanos of Fiscalía General de la Nación, in recent years 160 members of the public forces have been accused of murders carried out beyond the fights, while another 40 have accepted an anticipated sentence for these same events. However, in many cases, the investigation struggles along. There have already been cases of soldiers in preventive custody who have been set free for a merely bureaucratic reason: the deadline passed.
The Fiscal General de la Nación, Guillermo Mendoza Diago, has declared to the Parliament that some soldiers under investigation for falsos positivos are trying to block the investigation in order to get beyond the deadlines fixed to file a lawsuit against them. "Some lawyers are trying to slow down the judicial procedures and in order to do that are using any kind of excuse. This is something that may be considered a disciplinary fault", Mendoza stated, asking for exceptional laws to allow the judgement in such cases.
Translation from the italian language by Elena Dini