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The "false positives" scandal: a long and perverse history in Colombia

The history of false positives in Colombia goes far beyond the common graves revealed by Semana Magazine.

Concrete cross buried in a cemetery.

Concrete cross buried in a cemetery. / Photo: Pexels - Reference Image

LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño Camacho

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Leer en español: Los falsos positivos: una larga y perversa historia en Colombia

Semana Magazine in Colombia unveiled a report in which it narrates the macabre formula as the soldiers of the XVII Brigade of the National Army, under the command of their superiors, inflated the operational results seeking the benefits that the casualties in combat supposed. The magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction of Peace, JEP, María del Pilar Valencia, Gustavo Salazar, and Alejandro Ramelli, who directed the exhumations within the investigation, arrived at the cemetery of the municipality of Dabeiba, considered the door to the Urabá.

These new facts don't put on the national agenda a new chapter of extrajudicial executions by agents of the Colombian state known as "false positives." These victims of the systematic violation of Human Rights, by agents of the Colombian state, had already been reported missing. The novelty is that thanks to the peace agreement that was reached between the illegal armed group of the FARC and the government of Juan Manuel Santos, the JEP, has managed to clarify that those missing victims have already appeared. They appeared buried as if they had been guerrillas discharged in combats against the National Army.

However, this did not begin with the discovery witnessed by the Magistrates in Dabeiba. The horror story began much earlier, since the 90s when General Rito Alejo del Río was the commander of the XVII National Army Brigade; when it began to present collaborations between armed groups outside the law, known as the ACCU, United Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá and that military Brigade based in Carepa Antioquia, a municipality on the road that connects Medellín, the capital of Antioquia with the Caribbean coast, the same route that passes through Dabeiba.

Rito Alejo del Río, known by the macabre nickname of “El Pacificador de Urabá” (Urabá's Pacifier), is investigated for the alleged crimes of aggravated homicide, aggravated kidnapping, concert to commit crime and terrorism, for his participation in the Mapiripán Meta massacre and additional to it, he was sentenced to 25 years in jail by a judge of the Republic for the murder of the social leader Marino López in February 1997. He was detained in a military garrison that served as a jail, between September 4, 2008, and September 2018 when his case took him to JEP within the context of transitional justice.

Also read: This is what you should know about the abolition of the 'pontifical secret'

At that time, between 1995 and 1997, the command of Del Río in the 17th Brigade coincided with the governorship of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, great promoter of the Cooperatives of Private Surveillance and Security for Agrarian Defense, better known as the CONVIVIR, which gave origin to groups of self-defense groups and paramilitaries; created in the government of César Gaviria and regulated by the government of Ernesto Samper.

Towards the end of the 90s, the president of the time, Andrés Pastrana Arango, dismissed Del Río and in response to them, Uribe Vélez organized a tribute in his honor in which he told the attendees: “The General and his soldiers worked to contain the violent with intensity without antecedents”. Uribe, accompanied by who was later his Minister of the Interior, Fernando Londoño Hoyos, said that this was a “tribute and of course protest”, in the event attended by more than 1,500 people among farmers, merchants, and industrialists.

With vehemence, Uribe supported the general at the time of his removal. “What a bad retribution the State gives to generals inspired by the love of the Homeland, with the circumstance of separating them from their institution, produced in a context that presumes the fact as a moral sanction for violation of human rights, without a trial formula and creating the unfair risk of the new international courts organizing them as perpetrators of crimes against humanity, ” said the then-candidate for the presidency of the Republic referring to who was later convicted of murder and investigated for other crimes in alliance with groups criminals

In 2002, Uribe came to the presidency with the promise of generating strong results in the fight against the FARC guerrillas with whom Pastrana had tried to sign the peace. In one of its Community Councils for the regions of the country, there was an unprecedented act in Colombia. The president made an emphatic call of attention to a General of the Republic in public, before the auditorium and the media that did not hesitate to replicate the 'scolding'.

The president told the general: "If we are not capable of this responsibility, we better renounce it," in reference to the war that was being waged against the FARC at that time. Then the minister of defense of the time, the current vice president, Martha Lucía Ramírez, said that "military forces must act and not only be defensive in their fight against armed groups."

General Rodríguez was, a few months later, transferred to Cali where he only lasted five months before he was called to qualify services by finding out through the media rather than by an official communication from his superiors.

Read also: Common graves: stories of violence and impunity

Already with Uribe as the president of Colombia, the episodes of 'false positives', which are nothing more than extrajudicial, systematic executions, practiced by agents of the Colombian state under the command line of President Uribe, begin to be known, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, peace Nobel, and generals who are being investigated for their participation in the death of more than 2,200 victims according to the report entitled "deaths illegitimately presented as casualties in combat by state agents", that the Prosecutor's Office General of the Nation presented to the JEP, although other organizations speak of a much higher number.

The case for which this macabre operational practice began to be known as the investigation of 750 extrajudicial executions where young people from the municipality of Soacha were taken to North Santander where they were allegedly killed by Army troops who would later make them go through guerrillas. On that occasion, Uribe, referring to the death of these boys would say: "Surely, those boys were not picking coffee."

Surely the JEP, in its file 003, entitled by this high Court "Deaths illegitimately presented as casualties in combat by agents of the State", advanced by the Chamber of Recognition of Truth, Responsibility, and Determination of Facts and Conducts, You will find many more punishable facts that are part of the history of the conflict in Colombia.

The infamous practice of killing innocents inflating operational results to obtain permits and promotions in the Military Forces spread throughout the country during the past decade and with the return of Uribism to power, the New York Times warned the world, in recent months, about a new guideline issued by the commander of the National Army, General Nicasio Martínez, to increase the number of deaths in the conflict by reducing the accuracy of operations and affecting the civilian population, giving priority to death over capture.

Is it the truth about who, in fact, issued the guideline and gave the order of these extrajudicial executions what a certain political and military sector of the country fears so much behind so many obstacles to the operation of the JEP?

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