General implicated in state atrocities promoted to head of armed forces

Colombian president Iván Duque has promoted a general to head Colombia’s armed forces despite widespread opposition over his links to state atrocities committed during the 2000s. Major General Nicasio Martínez Espinel oversaw an army battalion which committed multiple extrajudicial executions, known as False Positives, in which civilians were murdered and dressed as guerrillas in return for financial incentives and other rewards.

Between 2004 and 2006, Martínez Espinel was second-in-command of the army’s Tenth Armoured Brigade. The Attorney General’s office has been investigating the unit over 23 extrajudicial executions allegedly committed under Martínez Espinel’s watch. According to Human Rights Watch, he paid around $400 US dollars to an informant who provided details that led to a raid in which an indigenous man and woman were killed.

Other killings are also documented. On 12 May 2005, soldiers killed Dagoberto Cruz Cuadrados, who was subsequently presented as a guerrilla. Two days later, they killed Claudino Manuel Olmedo Arlante and Frank Enrique Martínez Caviedes, the latter of whom was a teenager with learning disabilities. The two victims were presented as FARC members. Seven soldiers were later jailed over the killings. Overall, the Tenth Armoured Brigade is implicated in more than 280 extrajudicial executions in northern Colombia during the conflict.

The allegations against Martínez Espinel and several other military officials prompted opposition from Colombian politicians and human rights groups. Additionally, a group of US Democrat senators wrote to President Duque asking him to reconsider various officials under consideration for promotion.

In May, Martínez Espinel was revealed to be behind new army directives to double the number of enemy kills and captures, after the New York Times spoke to army whistle blowers. The revelations evoked memories of the False Positives scandal amid reports that the army may have killed civilians this year.

Duque has maintained that Martínez Espinel is innocent of involvement in army atrocities and confirmed his promotion despite controversy over the general’s record. The decision casts further scrutiny over the current government’s commitment to human rights, particularly in light of the New York Times article and ongoing cases of army killings, such as that of FARC member Dimar Torres in April.