Is there no way that Colombia, instead of killings its sons, can make them dignified to live? If Colombia cannot respond to this question, I prophecy a curse: “Desquite”[revenge] will come back to life, and the earth will be spilled with blood, pain and tears”
Tuesday the lower house of Congress passed a government-promoted bill where the relatives of victims killed by the army will not get any reparation from the government until there is a judicial sentence, which in Colombia takes years. In the same bill, however, the relatives of those killed or those who have been forcibly displaced by the guerrilla or the paramilitaries do not need such sentence before seeking compensation.
Moreover, when the government has to indemnify the victims, it will only be out of solidarity, rather than because the State is guilty of killing innocent civilians. If that was not enough the government has also set the scale of payment without taking into account specific cases. The UN High Commissioner for HumanRights, Navanethem Pillay, explicitly asked Congress to abstain from passing such a bill, but to no avail.
However, there is a reason for the government to promote such a bill. Some political commentators have argued that President Uribe may be afraid to take the blame for the extrajudicial killings, in case the International Criminal Court takes a more assertive role in light of Colombia’s impunity. Either way, it only highlights thegovernment’s priorities. This bill needs to be conciliated with the Senate’s bill, but given the government’s majority in Congress it will not be a problem, before the Constitutional Court studies the bill.
Colombia’s history is a motif of such events where the victims of wars never find truth, justice or reparation, thus creating a frustration that is translated into more conflicts.
In the War of Thousand Days (1899-1903), Liberals tried to resist the power of Conservatives embedded in the Constitution of 1886, which had strengthened the power of the president. Liberals and Conservatives therefore mobilized peasant armies that slaughtered each other. 100,000 people, or 1 in 25 Colombians, died in the carnage. After the war, the Conservatives made popular democratic participation more difficult and restricted the citizenship rights of Indians, artisans and Afro-descendants. The Conservative Party managed to remain in power until the 1930.
The bloody period known as the “LaViolencia”, which left 300,000 dead and 2 million displaced when it officially ended in 1964, was not solely triggered by the assassination of the populist Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in 1948. “La Violencia” was the tipping point of all the frustration that the peasantry and a radicalized Liberal Party felt. The two sides slaughtered each other again without mercy in the countryside. People modeling the“necktie cut” – when the victim had his/her tongue pulled down through a cut in the throat – were a common sight.
Colombia wanted to clean the blood on her lands by creating the National Front, which was the alternation of power between Liberals and Conservatives. However, they were reluctant to repair the victims (mostly peasants) of “the Violence”. The two parties essentially sought to benefit the landowners. The formation of guerrilla movements, therefore, became a natural avenue at this time. Since the 1980’s private militias re-emerged as landowners’ and drug lords’ antidote for this communist threat. Since then the massacres perpetrated by paramilitary and guerrilla groups have worsened the wounds of the population.
The government-sponsored demobilization process with the paramilitaries in 2005 has been anything but the embodiment of the truth, justice and reparation for the victims and their families. The paramilitary bosses who held the keys for such reparation were extradited to the US before they could embarrass the government and the traditional elite by confessing their links. And now it is the government who is directly impeding the reparation to the families of thousands killed by the army, infamously known as false positives.
The history of Colombian violence has been a motif of revenge after the victims of barbarous wars never found truth, justice and dignified reparation from the perpetrators of violence. Until all these elements – be it from the guerrilla, the paramilitaries or the government – can at least try to heal the wounds of violence, Colombia will not know peace. Exactly as the Antioquian philosopher, Gonzalo Arango, prophesied in 1966.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian and lives in Hong Kong