Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday said the resignation of General Ruben Dario Alzate means his capture by FARC rebels little over two weeks ago is a “closed chapter.” However, questions about the veracity of the general’s version remain.
The return of the general, the highest ranking military official ever kidnapped in Colombia’s 50 year conflict, ended a tense period and opened the doors for the re-initiation of the Havana peace talks which resumed on Monday.
The general’s capture in the western Colombian state of Choco, had spurred Santos to suspend ongoing peace talks with the FARC and embarrassed the military command which was unable to explain how an official of such rank could enter FARC territory without any protection.
Alzate took to public television on Monday explaining that he had been captured by armed men, while taking part in a un-sanctioned mission in Las Mercedes, Choco while unarmed and without guard, due to a personal breach of protocol aimed to appeal to the locals suspicious of armed military units.
Outrage in congress
Opposition senator Ivan Cepeda has taken to the media claiming that “it is clear that general Alzate gave statements under pressure” and calling on Defense minister Juan Carlos Pinzón to attend congress and offer a full explanation of what really happened in Choco.
President Santos’ main opponent in the 2014 presidential elections, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, has called on the president to come clean about the Alzate debacle.
“You are the commander in chief of the Colombian armed forces and the police. Don’t forget it. You also owe explanations,” Zuluaga said on Twitter.
Presidente @JuanManSantos usted es el Comandante en Jefe de las FFMM y de Policía. No lo olvide. Las explicaciones también las debe usted.
— Óscar Iván Zuluaga (@OIZuluaga) December 1, 2014
Many simply do not believe that such a high ranking military officer, serving in a hot-bed of FARC and ELN guerrilla activity, at the main base of the Titan Task force, would be able to leave the base to conduct a one man mission unarmed and without an extensive military escort, without the alarm being raised by another military official.
Eyebrows are being raised at the resignation of Alzate, as it appears that Santos aims to take a quick route out of arguably one of the most considerable military blunders since the start of the Colombian conflict, by firing the general and placing the blame solely on his shoulders.
Opposition politician and human rights leader Ivan Cepeda tweeted: “”It is clear that the general Alzate gave a few statements under pressure,”
— Noticias Caracol (@NoticiasCaracol) December 2, 2014
Attorney general Alejandro Ordonez has said that it is clear that there are many questions left unanswered in the Alzate scandal, which Santos and his government must face, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.
In response to the General’s explanation and resignation, the president tweeted that “General Alzate retired with military honor and there are no reasons to question his explanations. It is a closed chapter.”
El BG. Alzate se retiró con honor militar y no tengo razón para no creer en sus explicaciones. Es un capítulo cerrado.
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) December 2, 2014
It appears that sweeping under the carpet is the method that Santos is hoping to take.
The General’s controversial return from the jungle
Before his return on Sunday, Alzate took part in a photo shoot in which he was snapped arm in arm with FARC regional commander, and member of the “Secretariat” FARC leadership Pastor Alape.
On Monday Alzate offered explanations about the photographs published by the channel Telesur, in which he appears posing next to Pastor Alape, who returned from Cuba to secure the release. “I was forced to take part in a media show,” Alzate said in explaining why appears posing and hugging the FARC commander.
Claudia Lopez, esteemed Colombian journalist and political analyst tweeted in regards to the photos of Alzate and Pastor Alape: “The government censures the information regarding how the general ended up with the FARC, and then tries to sweeten up the country with a photo! And everyone claims dementia! “
After his return by FARC on Sunday, the general was flown to Rio Negro army base on the outskirts of Colombia’s second city, Medellin where he met with Defense Minister Pinzón and the military high command.
On Monday, Alzate was paraded infront of the media, joined by his family, where he offered his resignation. Alzate stated: “For my military honor, and love and respect for the institution I have requested my retirement from active duty,”
Alzate’s story, or lack of it
Aside from his resignation, little had been said about the circumstances surrounding Alzate´s kidnapping.
The official line went that Alzate — ignoring all security protocols — had gone unarmed and in civilian clothes to the village Las Mercedes, Choco in a so-called” FARC red zone” allegedly to discuss an energy project with the community. However, on arrival the official was surprised by members of the FARC’s 34th front, retained and searched the general and his company before boarding a motorboat and leaving the town.
“I have intended to keep a low profile when carrying out alternative energy development projects in Las Mercedes region. I dressed in civilian clothes in order to gain trust of the community,” Alzate began by explaining the puzzling circumstances of his capture.
“We were captured by four armed individuals. At the time of the kidnapping we were absolutely defenseless. It was a major violation of international human rights,” said the general.
The General’s alleged capture by armed men has been directly denied by reports from locals in La Mercedes.
As reported by El Colombiano, locals claim that Alzate, the commander of the Titan Task Force, arrived on Sunday by boat in the village of Las Mercedes unarmed and in civilian clothing.
“They got out of the motorboat and went to the churchyard. Downstream another boat came with three more men in civilian clothing who went to the church to talk to these people,” Presentacion Palomeque, the leader of the local community council, told El Colombiano.
According to Palomenque none of the six were armed.
The community leader said that Alzate, the four other men and one woman left for the nearby jungle following a conversation of a few minutes.
Santos takes to twitter to question military command
The president, who called for an explanation from Military leaders for the breach of protocol and subsequent capture of General Alzate on twitter on November 16, came under fire from the public for his apparent lack of knowledge of such a potentially dangerous situation during such a critical period of Colombian peace talks.
Mindefensa y Cdte Gral: quiero que me expliquen por qué BG Alzate rompió todos los protocolos de seguridad y estaba de civil en zona roja
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) November 17, 2014
His tweet was bombarded with responses by Colombian citizens dumbfounded by Santos´ apparent ignorance about military actions and questioned his motives for taking his concerns to twitter, rather than initiating an official enquiry and presenting the findings to the public.
It seems that as much as Santos may try to turn the page on the apparently closed chapter of the Alzate scandal, that opposition politicians and the general public are not going to let him do so quietly without first hearing the end of the story.
- “Fui forzado a un ‘show’ mediático”(La Semana)
- Colombian General Alzate resigns over Farc abduction (BBC news)
- Juan Manuel Santos account (Twitter)
- Ivan Cepeda account (Twitter)
- Claudia Lopez (Twitter)
- “Es evidente que el general Alzate dio unas declaraciones bajo presión”: Cepeda( Noticias Caracol)