Colombia’s Care and Reparations for Victims Unit, normally in charge of returning money to and supporting victims of Colombia’s long-running armed conflict with rebel groups, will for the first time give reparations to a victim of crimes committed by infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar.
On November 27, 1989, the head of the Medellin Drug Cartel, Pablo Escobar, committed perhaps his most heinous acts when he bombed Avianca flight 203, killing 110 people in order to eliminate one presidential candidate and change the course of Colombian politics.
An opera singer from the southwestern state of Valle del Cauca, Gerardo Arellano, was among the 110 killed, in what was deemed an act of terrorism by the state.
More than twenty years later, human rights lawyer and son of the late opera singer, Federico Arellano, won his case to receive reparations from the government by establishing that his family and his father were victims of the armed conflict, according to the guidelines set out by the Care and Reparations for Victims Unit. The Victims Unit made this decision public on Wednesday.
This case marks the first time that anyone affected by the gangs and cartels of Pablo Escobar will receive reparations.
“It is an achievement in justice of the utmost importance,” said Arellano.
“After receiving constant ‘No’s’ from public institutions, we can say that … today, after a legal battle with well supported arguments, the law of victims and land restitution has recognized us as victims of the conflict,” Arellano told radio station Caracol.
The Director of the Victims Unit, Paula Gaviria, insists that this does not mean that every one of Escobar’s victims will now be given reparations.
“It is not correct to conclude that all the victims of Pablo Escobar or an armed group will now be given reparations,” said Gaviria. “If we receive other similar claims, the unit will need to make a case-by-case analysis to determine if these … follow the criteria established by the Constitutional Court.”
However, this legal achievement has clearly set a precedent, opening up the possibility of claims for reparations and the recognition of certain heinous crimes as being part of the armed conflict that had not previously been considered part of said conflict.
Arellano presented his case in 2012, but the government turned down his request. He immediately appealed the decision and on September 23 the Victims Unit acknowledged his claim and ruled in favor of the lawyer.
Federico Arellano’s Twitter and Facebook has since been inundated with support and words of congratulations and thanks for pursuing the issue. Arellano has been responding to each of these, directly expressing his thanks. He said that “It is the victory that the victims [of Pablo Escobar] hoped for, and we should shout it out loud throughout the country.”
— FEDERICO ARELLANO M (@colconmemoria) October 17, 2013
It is unclear exactly how many people were killed by Escobar and his gang, though most estimates suggest more than 10,000. What’s more, for each person killed, there are countless more victims in the form of family members of the deceased, as well as those who were threatened or intimidated by the cartel. El Tiempo estimates there to be nearly 50,000 victims that fit into these categories.
On November 27, Arellano’s foundation, Colombia with Memory, will hold an event at the site of the plane crash commemorating victims of such terrorism. The plane fell in Soacha, a southern susburb of the capital Bogota, as it made its way to Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca state.
“It is to pay tribute to our victims in the place that saw the worst case of terrorism and now becomes a field of hope and rebirth,” said Arellano.
Site of the 1989 plane crash: Soacha, Cudinamarca
- No todas las víctimas de Escobar son objeto de reparación: Gobierno (El Tiempo)
- Reconocen derechos de víctimas de la guerra de Pablo Escobar (Caracol Radio)
- Gobierno aclara reconocimiento a víctima de narcoparamilitares (Victims Unit)
- 23 años de impunidad (Federico Arellano, Colombia Con Memoria)