Finally, almost a quarter of a century after his crimes, a judge has sentenced former army Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega to 30 years in prison. This is the first judicial ruling about the events of the 1985 Palace of Justice siege, when eleven civilians were “disappeared” by the army, never to be seen again.
As a victim of these events, I hope this ruling will be a historic step for Colombia. This sentencing consolidates and reaffirms justice in our country, but for me this is only a symbol; I lost my mother in the siege when I was one year old, and even this triumph in the struggle will not bring her back. Still there is no concrete explanation about the whereabouts of my mother. I hope that this is only the first step towards knowing what really happened to the victims. We, the families of the disappeared, have been patient for almost 25 years despite the numerous irregularities in the process of justice, and the multiple versions of events that dog every step of the case. For example, last week it was confirmed that the defendant was healthy enough to obey the order of imprisonment in a maximum security jail given by the judge a few months ago, which was never executed because the defendant excused himself with a nonexistent mental disease. Do the accused have the power to decide how justice is applied in such an important case, at their own convenience? This leaves me wondering if there really is impartiality in the Colombian judicial system that can outweigh the power and influence of particular individuals. Then I must question whether our government’s “democratic security” policy, so highly praised, is really working; whether it really means anything for Colombian justice.
The excuse: corruption happens everywhere. True. But I don’t care. I care about my country, I care about Colombia. I hope the colonel’s sentence will help to open the my compatriots’ eyes, blinded for so long by the manipulation of the facts by those in power, and make them reflect on the state of justice in Colombia – not just in this case, but also all the other cases where the state is involved and collides with its own institutions, showing that within it there are criminals, people who carry within them dark guilty consciences, people who have manipulated the truth and tarnished the transparency of our state by inflicting suffering and violence. By these people the right to life is scorned, silence is enforced, witnesses are silenced or disappeared, individuals are charged with unrelated crimes, and criminals enjoy impunity – all this through violence and corruption of the justice system.
I hope the sentencing of Plazas Vega will remind Colombians that we haven’t reached the bottom of this case, and that we must not stop the search for the truth in this case, as only one example of the truth that so many victims deserve. I hope that this step will spur on the struggle to find out the whereabouts of our loved ones, those who disappeared without explanation after the siege. I hope the convicted man will not keep the truth to himself, or pay for the crimes of others for the sake of his military honor. I trust he will collaborate, and help from this moment to make our country’s history. If the defendant collaborates with justice in this way, he will probably someday be able to reconcile himself with his conscience and find peace and tranquility. Is is not right that, as has been proved, innocent people were tortured, murdered, disappeared and their right to life desecrated. My mother was in the Palace of Justice by chance, as any of us or our loved ones could have been. She was disappeared on the order of the armed forces, and they made her suffer. I will never get to know her, I was robbed of the chance to spend a life with my mom. Since I was one year old I have lived with this sentence, and I hope someday the truth of what happened to her will be known in full. Through this at least I could explain to myself what happened to her and try to understand the circumstances. Nothing could justify the violence that took place in the siege, and today it worries me to realize that my country is about to choose a political model based on the conviction that the best we can hope for is a system that works through violence, imposing individual interests by force. This frightens me. We are forgetting the wealth of our resources and the quality of our citizens. We are a country full of good people, who are friendly, clever and humane; people who together have the power to develop our land. We must shed Colombia’s reputation as a terrifying and violent place where narco-money rules, bringing injustice, conflict, danger, and death. It is not fair that these criminals represent our nation with the power they have seized.
The sentencing of Plazas Vega should help Colombia move forward; while we fight for the law to be applied, society must demand the truth. In this way Colombian justice will finally reflect reality, bringing facts into the open and assigning responsibility for the crimes. The guilty persons will stop restraining progress, stop harming our people and the image of the country. In this way we can improve our abilities and break down barriers that hinder our greatness, correct our past mistakes, and stop the spread of the evil that infects innocent people.
It is not that all of the military are guilty. They are not all bad people, many are good, but there have been irregularities, crimes against humanity, that tarnish and stain our government institutions, so that people are harmed if they collaborate with justice. In this country, telling the truth can cost you your life.
In conclusion, yes, the M19 guerrillas took the Palace of Justice in 1985. They are the guilty ones, guilty of the murder of innocent people, including the president of the Supreme Court and other magistrates, and this is unforgivable. This case has take more than 20 years and it has take even other more victims during its course through the evil of denying them the truth. I qualify this fact of the siege as atrocious and unjustifiable by any reason. Those directly responsible for the siege are the M-19 guerrillas and the other involved parties, but today, with this sentence for torture, murder, and aggravated disappearance of eleven people, including my mother, I ask the convicted man and the armed forces who took part in the recovery of the palace: Where is my mother? No conviction or accused person will bring her back. I just want the truth. But please, don’t forget that the struggle continues. We must keep fighting for two things. First, to make our country, Colombia, the magnificent place that it should be, and to implement justice fairly and transparently.