Residents of the northern Colombian town of El Salado on Monday marked the tenth anniversary of a paramilitary massacre that left more than 100 dead. So far, no more than fifteen of the 450 perpetrators have been convicted.
Not a single paramilitary leader has been sentenced for their part in the atrocity.
The town’s inhabitants commemorated the grim milestone with a church liturgy, an exhibition of pictures of those killed, and the reopening of a local school.
The massacre began on February 16, 2000, when members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) entered the town of El Salado and began murdering the people who lived there. The AUC suspected many of the townspeople of being members and supporters of left-wing guerrilla group the FARC, one of the AUC’s biggest enemies. Victims were taken from their homes by the paramilitaries and dragged to a local football field, where they were publicly tortured before being hung, beaten, stabbed, and shot to death.
Former paramilitary chief Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias “Jorge 40,” extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, has said that the slaughter was ordered by the now-deceased former AUC leader Carlos Castaño. Jorge 40 also said that various AUC bigwigs such as the notorious Salvatore Mancuso, and former members of the Colombian military, were present at the attacks. According to a report released last year by the National Commission of Reparation and Reconciliation (CNRR), the attacks were meant to serve as an example for other alleged guerrilla sympathizers.
The massacres lasted several days, and Colombian marines stationed in the area are reported to have observed the killings and done nothing to stop them, even going so far as to allow the AUC to freely fly helicopters over the town.The CNRR report also notes that only one marine has been brought before a judge on charges related to action or inaction during the massacre.
Ten years on, memories of the horror still linger over El Salado. Half of the 1,400 people who lived there at the time of the massacre haven’t returned. A small medical center has been built, but still lacks a doctor.The town has tried to pick up the pieces by repairing houses, repainting facades and fixing up the dirt road that leads into town.