Doubts continue to grow over inconsistencies between accounts of the capture of General Ruben Dario Alzate by the FARC. While the general claims to have been captured at gunpoint by FARC guerrillas in the hamlet of Las Mercedes, local accounts claim that he left the community peacefully.
Politicians and security experts have been asking why the general came to be unarmed and without a security escort in one of the Colombian regions most vulnerable to guerrilla influence.
Former president Alvaro Uribe first broke the news of the general’s capture, using a version of events allegedly provided by a soldier present at the scene. This version of events claimed that FARC guerrillas emerged from the houses to surprise the unarmed general who had visited the hamlet to discuss development projects. Alzate was reportedly searched and then forced to board a boat.
That version of events was supported by the General’s account after his release.
Speaking on 1 December, Alzate claims that he visited Las Mercedes to discuss an alternative energy project that would have installed turbines in the Atrato River to generate electricity. He misinformed the army over his route and destination, and then dressed in civilian clothes and proceeded unarmed in order to develop trust in the community. After entering the village at 4PM on November 16 his group was surprised by four FARC guerrillas carrying rifles, led by alias “Chaverra” of the 34th Front.
The general’s version was quickly accepted by President Santos, who said the version was consistent with military intelligence and that the matter was now closed.
However, local people have provided a very different account of the capture. They said that the general arrived by boat with a another man and a woman, and walked together to the churchyard. Shortly afterwards another boat arrived and three men walked to the general’s group, spoke for a short time and then walked into the jungle, without any visible force being used.
The FARC themselves meanwhile claim to have captured the general on the river, a detail also reported by news website Las 2 Orillas in new locally sourced accounts of his capture.
According to Las 2 Orillas, further versions from the locality allege that the General met representatives of illegal miners in Las Mercedes and then calmly took a boat to visit one of the mining sites. They claim he expected to receive bribes for providing security and for allowing the transfer of materials needed for mining, and add that the general was then captured by guerrillas on the river.
Alzate’s capture prompted the suspension of the peace talks by the president, and a massive army search which failed to locate him until his release 14 days later. Despite the general’s resignation, the conflicting accounts of his mission in Las Mercedes continue to raise doubts that the army and president are being open with the public over the truth of events.