A former colonel imprisoned for war crimes has accused the former commander general of Colombia’s National Army of orchestrating the murder of thousands of innocent civilians, local media reported.
Jailed Colonel Robinson Gonzalez, convicted for his own role in the so-called “false positives” scandal, has named former General Mario Montoya as the architect of what he describes as an institutional rather than isolated practice, reported La FM radio Monday.
False positives is the term used to refer to murders carried out by paramilitary and military troops and later passed off as combat kills as part of the government offensive’s against Colombia’s rebel groups.
FACT SHEET: False Positives
Of the 1,000 combat kills claimed by the “Army of the North” during Montoya’s command, 200 were false positives, according to Gonzalez, who claimed that Montoya became the “creator of false positives” after being pressured to beef up his kill statistics.
Three different ways to kill
Gonzalez explained that there were at least three types of false positives used by the Colombian Army.
In the first scenario, the military would place informants in criminal networks, and feed them false information to instigate an attempted robbery. Once the gangs reached the sites in question, the military would capture those involve and murder them, often along with the informants.
Another mode of false positives involved using military databases to hunt down demobilized guerrillas.
As part of the demobilization process, the former combatants were required to adhere to a government-led reintegration process. The military would send the individuals directives telling them to arrive at a certain location. Once there, the ex-guerrillas would be murdered and counted as combat kills, according to Gonzalez.
The third alleged method of false positives is the most documented. The military, said Gonzalez, would send recruiters into the poorest areas in major Colombian cities and lure in at-risk youths under the guise of employment. Those taken, usually teenagers, would then be transported to the countryside, where they were executed and dressed in guerrilla uniforms.
The case that originally broke the false positives scandal involved just such a conspiracy. Almost 20 teens from the Soacha slum in Bogota were found dead near the Colombo-Venezuelan border in the northeast of the country, their corpses disguised as guerrilla combatants.
Separate reports indicate that the military also targeted labor activists and community political leaders during the years of false positives, and that the corpses of victims of paramilitary violence were also turned in to security forces and passed off as combat kills.
According to the former colonel, at least six prominent army generals, including two in the first line of command, knew about the numerous executions that were “committed in the years of [Uribe’s] democratic security [policy] to embellish the low results” of actual combatants killed, according to news magazine Semana.
If Gonzalez’s accusations are found to be true, it could prove widespread allegations that the murdering of at least 4,000 civilians were not isolated events, as the army has claimed, but rather a central aspect of state policy.
President Juan Manuel Santos was the minister of defense for current Senator-elect Alvaro Uribe when the false positives scandal broke. Over 25 high-level members of the military were dismissed in the wake of the scandal, but of the over 1,000 soldiers imprisoned on related charges, few have risen above the military’s lowest ranks.
During Uribe’s presidency, the false positives incidence rate increased 150% from the previous 17 years. Uribe stands widely accused of collaborating with paramilitary groups active during his two terms in office, and of playing a role in directing the false positives practice. A former captain serving under Montoya recently claimed that orders to commit false positives were handed all the way down from the president.
Accusations against Montoya are not new. Similar claims surrounded the commander general even before he retired and was named ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
His successor and former subordinate was also the subject of widespread allegations of human rights violations prior to his appointment. The region he had previously been charged with presented with the highest concentration of false positives in the country.
A scandal that won’t go away
Gonzalez was imprisoned in 2012 for executing civilians to inflate the apparent of effectiveness of his military unit, later claiming to have participated in 17 operations in which 24 false positives were committed.
Earlier this year, he was revealed to be at the center of a high-level military embezzlement ring that used stolen funds from defense contracts to, in part, pay for the continued silence of soldiers imprisoned on false positives charges. Roy Barrera, the since-retired commander general of the army at the time, was recorded advising Gonzalez to use propaganda tactics to discredit the Prosecutor General’s Office
In response, President Juan Manuel Santos once again reshuffled the military hierarchy. Criminal charges were not brought against top-level commanders.
Last month, a report released by the Center for Research and Popular Education found there were at least 10 new cases of falsepositives in 2013, along with 222 other extrajudicial killings.
To date, there are almost 4,000 confirmed cases of false positives, according to the most recent report obtained by Colombia Reports from the Prosecutor General’s Office. While the United Nations has deemed the practice “widespread” and “systematic,” Colombia’s government officially considers the mass killings incidental.
Documents released by Wikileaks in the years following the initial scandal show that the United States government was aware of the Colombian military’s “body count syndrome” as early as 1994, five years before the approval of Plan Colombia, a mostly military aid package that has sent over $9 billion to Colombia.
General Montoya denied outright all the accusations made against him by Gonzalez, according to La FM, and claimed he would be taking every measure possible to demand Gonzalez for slander and false testimony.
At the time this article was published, Colombia Reports was unable to obtain comment from military officials regarding Gonzalez’s allegations.