The Colombian army is recovering from the most severe scandal in its history; the killing of approximately 3,000 civilians. While we should demand justice for these crimes, we can not stigmatize the 235,000 soldiers who are courageously risking their lives to keep us safe.
The bad reputation the army has gotten following the euphemistically called “false positives” scandal is affecting not just the institution, but also those members of the military who sincerely are doing their best to defend Colombia from enemies that pose a serious threat to our society.
The government’s recent decision to withdraw a highly dubious judicial reform clause that would have given the military the jurisdiction over members of its own institution is the correct one. It will return moral autonomy to those in uniform and will allow them to become real heroes of the nation instead of that phrase being nothing but hollow propaganda.
What we must recognize is that the cause of the extrajudicial execution of civilians does not lie with the boys and girls who enlisted or were drafted but with an apparently corrupted army and a failing checks and balances system, mainly because the military was the judge of its own errors.
The fact that the government now plans to improve this system will force the institution to install effective measures that will send the soldiers into the jungle with better moral equipment and lessons on how to behave in regards to human rights, forcing them to be morally superior to the enemy.
Those who oppose having military crimes judged by civilian justice are those who are truly responsible for the problem and their opposition reveals that they do not give a rat’s ass about justice, the victims of state violence, or even the lower-ranking soldiers who are paying for crimes committed by the entire chain of command.
In fact, those who promote systematic impunity are actually afraid that the scapegoats being prosecuted will turn against their superiors. They are doing nothing but saving their own skin while casting a vote of no confidence over the Colombian soldiers’ capacity to defend the Colombian state and its people with dignity and honor.
While I agree with soldiers being punished for crimes they have committed, I feel sympathy for these same soldiers. In fact, I feel sorry that will pay the full price for these crimes while those ultimately responsible — former army commander Mario Montoya, former President Alvaro Uribe, and former Defense Minister and current President Juan Manuel Santos — go unpunished and instead are enjoying their royal salaries and pensions.
This injustice not only hurts the victims and their families, it hurts the courageous men and women who should be fighting to defend the people of Colombia not the salaries and pensions of their corrupt leaders.
We, the civilians who enjoy the safety and freedom paid for by the courage, traumas, injuries and even deaths of Colombian soldiers, should demand justice while at the same time we must honor the soldiers’ legitimacy as defenders of the Colombian state and the Colombian people.
We should demand that those who created the framework that allowed these atrocities to occur have even half the courage of the average Colombian soldier and face justice.
But, most importantly, we should express our gratitude to each and every soldier and former soldier who is or has been risking his or her live so that we have the freedom to contribute our own little bit to society.