The criminal charges filed by Colombia’s war crimes tribunal against former FARC commanders revealed how the former guerrilla leaders were involved in one of their most sinister war crimes.
The charges of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) specified which role the seven top FARC leaders who are on trial allegedly played in the kidnapping of more than 21,000 people.
This number of victims is considerably higher than the 8,000 people reported by the prosecution.
For the first time, the demobilized former guerrilla leaders were harshly confronted with the FARC’s sinister kidnapping practices and personally held responsible for the grave human rights violations they committed or ordered.
After an investigation of a year and a half during which the FARC began their participation in politics, the JEP made it clear that the former guerrilla chiefs will have to leave their political interests outside the court room.
Unless they fully cooperate with justice, the former FARC commanders will be stripped of their legal benefits, which includes their possible expulsion from the peace process.
FARC commanders’ alleged role in kidnapping
The JEP accused Rodrigo Londoño, the current director of the demobilized guerrillas’ political party “Comunes,” of being one of the main promotors of the use of extortion and hostage-taking in 1982.
As commander of the FARC’s so-called Eastern Bloc, “Timochenko” allegedly gave direct orders to kidnap and kill members of the security forces between 1997 and 2014, three years after he became the FARC’s military commander.
This would mean Timochenko ordered not to release hostages until two years after he publicly announced the end of the FARC’s kidnapping practices.
In fact, the former guerrillas’ current political leader played a key role in the FARC’s kidnapping practices throughout his military career within the now-defunct illegal armed group, according to the JEP.
The former guerrillas’ current political leader was additionally held responsible for the torture and sexual abuse of hostages by the court.
Pastor Alape, the former guerrillas’ current reintegration chief, played a key role in the FARC’s financial organization of which kidnapping was a major element, according to the JEP.
Particularly after 1993, the former FARC commander was one of the rebel chiefs who pressured rank-and-file guerrillas to generate more revenue, also if this included kidnapping.
After he became a member of the FARC’s political leadership, the Secretariat, in 2010, Alape in effect became responsible for all kidnapping carried out by the guerrillas until 2012, when the rebel leaders formally banned the practice.
Senator Jorge Torres, a.k.a. “Pablo Catatumbo,” took part in holding late Dutch consul Eric Leupin hostage in 1974, only two years after the former commander joined the guerrilla group.
Throughout his military career in the FARC, Catatumbo was primarily in charge of military campaigns, but took part in the 1982 meeting in which the guerrilla leadership agreed to promote the use of extortion and kidnapping, according to the JEP.
In 1993, the former FARC commander allegedly proposed to loosen restrictions on guerrillas and also allow them to kidnap civilians to finance the rebel group.
On multiple occasions after that meeting, Catatumbo urged to step up kidnapping and extortion in order to generate more revenue for the guerrillas, which contributed to the escalation of the practice throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
“Carlos Antonio Lozada”
Senator Julian Gallo, a.k.a. “Carlos Antonio Lozada,” joined the FARC in 1978 and became actively involved in the kidnapping of military officials after he began working with the guerrillas’ urban groups in 1984.
The “prisoners” taken in these military attacks would be used by the guerrillas as leverage to demand the release of captured rebels through exchanged.
After 1993, when Lozada became a supplement representative in the Eastern Bloc’s military command, the former rebel leader and other commander “ordered the imposition of quotas” and increase the financial gains made from kidnapping and extortion “the military units had to surrender to the central organization,” according to the JEP.
Lozada played no direct role in kidnappings, but in 2000, the former guerrilla chief again agreed to pressure guerrilla units to increase their “financial results,” which implicitly meant the escalation of extortion and kidnapping.
Of all charges commanders, the FARC’s extradited former “foreign minister” Ricardo Gonzalez, a.k.a. “Rodrigo Granda,” is confronting the least serious charges.
Granda denied any responsibility in FARC’s kidnapping practices, claiming he didn’t command any combat unit and spent most his time traveling abroad to promote the guerrillas’ political agenda.
The court, however, does want the extradited former guerrilla chief to take responsibility for approving the practice in a 2000 high-level meeting
Milton de Jesus Toncel, a.k.a. “Joaquin Gomez” admitted being directly involved in holding former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and her assistant, Clara Rojas, while he was the commander of the FARC’s Southern Bloc.
The former commander “deliberately” failed to take action to correct his subordinates when they were terrorizing the civilian population in the area under their control in southern Colombia and were using sexual abuse, forced displacement and other terror tactics to impose their rule.
The prosecution has evidence the commander would have direct knowledge of the hostage-taking of at least 60 victims.
Jaime Alberto Parra, a.k.a. “Mauricio Jaramillo” and “El Medico,” was mainly the medical chief of guerrillas’ Antonio Nariño Urban Network in Bogota he became a senior commander of in 1986, but also coordinated the FARC’s kidnapping practices, assassinations and other crimes against humanity, according to the JEP.
The war crimes tribunal said to have evidence the senior FARC commander additionally ordered to murder hostages whose loved ones weren’t able to pay ransom “without pain” and ordered not to demand ransom payments for the surrender of the remains of assassinated hostages.
The FARC commander additionally received information about military hostages’ health condition to use this as leverage to demand their exchange for captured members of the guerrilla group.
Almost 50 years of kidnapping
The JEP said it found evidence the guerrillas’ kidnapping practices did not begin after the 1982 instruction to use kidnapping and extortion to fund their escalating war against the state and what the guerrillas called “the oligarchy,” but since 1965 already.
Furthermore, “while all the suspects testified that the instruction given by superiors included the prohibition of kidnapping vulnerable people, especially children, the hostage-taking of vulnerable people, including minors (5% of all victims for whose age we have data in the consolidated list), was repetitive.”
The former guerrilla leaders have always insisted these were “errors.”
The Search Unit for Missing Persons, which is in charge of finding the remains of people who disappeared during the conflict, reported it had difficulty determining how many people were assassinated by the FARC with the information provided by the group.
Consequently, the transitional justice court said it would not just hear the leaders considered ultimately responsible for the war crimes, but also call former mid-level commanders and demobilized rank-and-file guerrillas to testify.