In the same town in Colombia where they committed their crimes in the 2000s, ten retired soldiers began to recognize before the families of the victims the cold-blooded execution of a hundred civilians they presented as guerrillas fallen in combat.
In the unprecedented hearing on Tuesday organized by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) in Ocaña, in the department of Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela, the soldiers publicly confessed their responsibility for the disappearance and subsequent murder of 120 young people, mostly poor.
Some 50 relatives of the victims entered a university theater in this town in a row displaying photographs of their relatives.
On the stage they sat face to face in front of their victimizers and five magistrates of the court arising from the historic peace agreement of 2016, which until Wednesday will hear the stories of a general, four colonels, five officers and a civilian who collaborated in the crimes.
Portraits of victims during a public hearing in Ocaña (Colombia). Photo EFE
“I ask you to clear the names of our relatives (…) they were working peasants, not as they were branded as subversives, guerrillas, thugs,” claimed Eduvina Becerra, a partner of José Ortega, a farmer who lived some 300 kilometers from Ocaña before being assassinated.
His lawyers and dozens of people remained silent before the macabre story during the hearing.
“I acknowledge and accept my responsibility as co-author”Corporal Néstor Gutiérrez declared and apologized.
“We assassinated (a) innocent people, peasants” and my commitment is to “clarify it here before the opinion, before the world, before the country”, added the former non-commissioned officer of the Army’s XV Mobile Brigade.
Relatives of victims during a public hearing to recognize those appearing prosecuted for “false positives”. Photo EFE
Known as “false positives”, the murders of civilians presented as guerrillas fallen in combat are the biggest scandal in the history of the Colombian Armed Forces.
The former soldiers and other perpetrators of the prolonged Colombian conflict answer before the JEP for their crimes as part of the peace agreement that disarmed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2017. Those who confess their crimes and make amends to the victims They will receive alternative sentences to jail.
Amid the tears of the victims, the accused gave names and details about the way in which they murdered their relatives, most of them men between 25 and 35 years old.
General Paulino Coronado, former commander of the 30th Brigade that is present on the border line, is the highest-ranking uniformed officer to appear at the historic two-day hearing.
During his tenure, the ten defendants gave orders “Without which the criminal conduct would not have taken place in a systematic and generalized way,” Judge Catalina Díaz said in her speech.
The JEP determined that Ocaña was the scene of an atrocious practice devised in a barracks located at the entrance to the town of some 100,000 inhabitants, and motivated by a “corporate count army institutional policy” to inflate their achievements in the fight against the guerrillas and other armed groups.
“The army was deceiving us, they killed our companions”, “brothers”, “children”, alleged Sandra Barbosa, sister of Javier Peñuela, whom they wanted to pass off as an ELN guerrilla.
The peace court identified two types of “false positives”: One consisted of take deceived young people to towns far from their homes and then kill them. In the second, the victims were peasants held by force in Ocaña and other municipalities in the Catatumbo region, which has the largest number of drug crops in the world.
A woman holding a photograph of a victim. Photo EFE
In return, the military received awards, permits, decorations and promotions, Judge Diaz detailed. According to the court, more than 6,400 civilians were executed between 2002 and 2008, of which 402 died in this border area.
The peace court judges the worst crimes of the half-century conflict that left more than nine million victims among dead, mutilated, kidnapped and disappeared.
The magistrates of the JEP will determine the sentences of the ex-military, after analyzing their testimonies and contrasting them with their investigations.
The victims will have 15 days to express themselves about the current hearings and then the sentences will be known, reported the justice of the peace.
Much of the ‘false positives’ occurred during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), who maintains that these were isolated acts. In his account, the military said they were pressured to show results to the government.