In 2005, right-wing paramilitaries from the AUC‘s Heroes of Tolova Bloc descended on the municipality and killed eight civilians, among them two children. The paramilitaries legitimized the killing of the children by saying they “could become guerrilla fighters in the future,” given the parents were believed to be sympathizers of left-wing FARC rebels.
“The father of the children [asked] our commanders to please not kill the children, that if they wanted to they could kill him, but let the children live,” claimed a paramilitary.
According to the high court, the state was “administratively responsible” for the violent deaths. Due to inadequate military protection as well as, in some cases, active participation by some soldiers, the massacre was made possible.
The Thursday ruling was the first which recognized the Colombian state’s culpability for the massacre.
The Ministry of Defense defended itself by saying it could not be held responsible for the actions of illegal armed groups that had nothing to do with the state. It further claimed that it was impossible to assign a policeman or a soldier for every citizen, above all in a country with such an intense armed conflict. The Apartado mayor’s office, however, said it was precisely because the municipality was a “red zone” with the presence of armed groups of great military capability, that it “definitely required the control and attention…of the country’s Armed Forces.”
Colombia’s inspector general also contradicted the defense ministry by arguing that there existed a “flagrant responsibility of the [state] for the extrajudicial execution of protected persons.”
According to the Medellin court, the massacre “exemplified the paramilitary barbarism which occurred in certain zones in the country with the blessing or silence of [state security] members.”
Shortly after the massacre, then-president Alvaro Uribe accused the community of Apartado of having ties to left-wing guerrillas. The Colombian judiciary, however, has said these accusations are unfounded. In early January, Colombia’s constitutional court ordered Uribe to “retract the accusations made against the community.”
The former leader of the Tolova Bloc, alias “Don Berna,” admitted that the massacre took place and claimed the Colombian army participated.
So far, 17 paramilitaries and five members of the Colombian army have been convicted for the massacre.
The Tolovo Bloc of the AUC, sometimes known as “The Heroes of Tolova,” was created sometime between 2000 and 2001 on orders from the AUC’s founder Carlos Castaño. The bloc demobilized in 2005, according to Verdad Abierta.