Wikileaks: Killing of Civilians Widespread in Uribe’s Army

News from Colombia | on: Tuesday, 28 December 2010

In early December Wikileaks released a February 2009 US embassy cable that exposed the divisions within the Colombian armed forces over human rights. The cable describes discussions with Army Inspector General, Major General Carlos Suarez, who was assigned to investigate extrajudicial executions by then defence minister Juan Manuel Santos, who was in charge while many of these abuses occurred.

In the meeting Suarez describes the “problem” of extrajudicial executions as “widespread” saying that it began in the army’s 4th Brigade in Medellin, and then spread to much of the rest of the armed forces. The hierarchy’s (topped by Uribe and Santos) insistence on bodycounts as a measure of military success and “commander’s ties to criminals and narcotraffickers” were identified as two reasons for the spread of the practice of killing civilians, dressing them in guerrilla uniforms and claiming they were killed in combat. Suarez also stated that former president Uribe saw success in terms of kills, and that the “President needs to understand that previous enemy combat death reports contained many non-FARC” and that the ‘false positives’ phenomenon had undermined the legitimacy of the army, as well as creating a false illusion of success.

Suarez and other officers also describe the resistance to the investigations by serving and retired military officers (naming then serving army commander General Oscar Gonzalez and former army commanders Mario Montoya and Rito Alejo del Rio) allied with right-wing politicians, such as former minister Fernando Londono. This resistance took the form of trying to limit the mandate of the investigating body as well as reducing the resources at its disposal. Furthermore, Suarez told how his family had received indirect threats and how emails were circulating that contained photographs of officers involved in investigating the notorious Soacha murders, with each face crossed out.

The officers resisting the investigations had, according to the vice minister of defence, mounted a campaign of legal actions, intimidation and slander to harass those trying to investigate the human rights abuses committed by the armed forces.

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