Three former heads of paramilitary organization AUC on Wednesday offered apologies to the victims of hundreds of their crimes.
“The physical, emotional and psychological pain caused to victims compels me to express remorse, forgiveness, deep sorrow and undeniable moral shame for everything we did in this fratricidal war. Gone are the pride and delusions of grandeur. Rest assured that this page of shame has already turned and we can say with certainty: Never again! ”
Perez, who was the top commander of the Central Bolivar Bloc (BCB) currently being held in prison, led a request for forgiveness offered by the various units that operated under his command. The apology was directed not only to the victims but also to the state institutions and society in general.
The BCB was a Colombian right-wing paramilitary organization and one of the largest members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Tens of thousands of cases of kidnappings, rape, massacres, extortion, drug trafficking and displacement, among other crimes, have been attributed to the AUC during its existence between 1997 and 2006.
Guillermo Perez, former head of another group under Bolivar’s command said from a prison in the United States: “I apologize for the harm caused to victims and specifically the town of Tumaco, where I had my operations center. Also I apologize to you for having left orphans when I gave orders to assassinate.”
Perez was sentenced last October to eight years in prison for the execution of 41 crimes.
Another paramilitary member Jose Fernando who is being held in the eastern city of Bucaramanga, acknowledged that “we caused pain to people who for any reason were the target of our armed organization.” He also confirmed that “under no circumstances would the organization go back to hurting Colombia or any human being.”
The former army commander said “it is necessary to apologize to families and my homeland for taking advantage of what she taught me to indoctrinate men to do evil.”
He went on to say that he is convinced “that in Colombia, where there are challenges to justice, we must recognize the value of reconciliation,” adding that during the Justice and Peace process there “have been thousands of facts released that neither the country or the international community were aware of before, several of which caused us surprise ourselves. Our expression of forgiveness is born from the innermost fibers of our hearts. It is a burden of the soul that comes from sincere repentance after hearing the stories of the victims.”
The demobilized BCB sent two proposals to the delegations of the government and the FARC in Havana, Cuba, in which they requested to participate in ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the AUC’s former archenemy.
The first is the creation of a national commission for reconstruction of historical truth, which should be composed of guerrillas, former paramilitaries and members of the security forces.
The main function of this body would be to assume political responsibility for the millions of victims of the armed conflict. They state that work of the commission would “reveal many facts that are hidden behind the veil of impunity.”
The second initiative relates to the implementation of a national forum for redress to victims, in which these same actors would ask forgiveness publicly and collectively.
Both petitions have already been brought to the attention of the High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, who has promised to install working groups to delve into these issues.
However, Jaramillo said that “the government was wrong to try to implement a statistical peace, in which men and weapons are counted, but the social inclusion of demobilized combatants and victims are ignored.”
The court continues to prosecute members of the BCB for the crimes they committed against civilians and the state before their demobilization in 2005.