It is not an understatement to claim that violence has occupied a privileged place in Colombia’s history. Unlike the kind of violence that is the turning point for a brighter future, Colombia’s violent DNA only leads to a gloomy future where violence only becomes more ghoulish. Recent events in the Colombian internal armed conflict reaffirm this degradation of the war.
In the last 30 years, there were traditionally two illegal armed groups annihilating the civilian population – the paramilitaries and the guerrilla. These groups explicated their existence through the utter neglect of the government in certain regions of the country. For their part, the civilian victims blamed the lack of state presence for the massacres perpetrated.
The presence of the state in every corner of the country emerged as the logical manner to curb the atrocious violence that has resulted in the displacement of over 10 per cent of the Colombian population. Paradoxically, with the emergence of the miscalled “Democratic Security”, which sought to return the monopoly of coercion to the state, poor and innocent civilians found themselves facing a new systematic enemy, the army.
According to the Amnesty International (AI) 2009 report, in the period from July 2007 to June 2008, there was an increase in civilians killed (936) compared to a year earlier (720) as a result of the internal conflict. What is deplorable is that the army was responsible for more deaths, 286, than the so called weakened guerrillas, 189, albeit less than the so called demobilized paramilitaries, 461.
The increase in the number of civilians killed compared to the AI 2008 report was the result of the army’s and the paramilitary’s despicable actions. In 2008 the former murdered 280 and the latter 230, while the guerrillas killed 210 civilians. Given the close relationship between the (mercenary?) army and the
paramilitaries, it can be stated that their “quota” is
The paramilitaries argue that they kill guerrilla supporters and the guerrillas claim that they murder civilians who collaborate with the army and the paramilitaries. However, the army kills unemployed young men from poor backgrounds in order to present them as guerrillas, or even paramilitaries, killed in combat. These methodological actions not only inflate the combat body count, which overestimates the success of the government’s “Democratic Security” policy, but most importantly, enable officers to seek promotions.
CIA declassified documents
illustrate that since 1990 there has been a “body count mentality” in
the Colombian army. However, with the “Democratic Security” policy, extrajudicial killings became even more widespread. Currently the Prosecutor General is investigating 1,666 cases of the euphemistically called “false positives” and there are 422 members of the armed forces in jail awaiting trial, while 1,137 are under investigation.
The International Crisis Group had warned in 2003 of the negative effects of the way in which the “Democratic Security” policy was being implemented, stating that “sending
a message that the security forces would be more successful if less
constrained by the state’s human rights obligations is dangerous and,
as history has often shown, counterproductive.”
These gruesome and systematic human rights violations by the Colombian armed forces are a symptom of the war mentality.
It is this mentality that has converted the army in the number one
enemy of many poor Colombians in the country. If army officers kill
innocent civilians to seek promotions amid a war, what would they do
when (if ever) the war is over?
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian and lives in Hong Kong