The Odyssean story of Sergeant Jose Guarnizo, a former hostage now condemned for participation in a massacre, has shed light on the extraordinary complexity of Colombia’s half-century armed conflict.
Guarnizo fell into the hands of the country’s largest guerrilla group, FARC, in July 1997 in the northern Antioquia department. Along with a handful of high-ranking officials, the sergeant was taken captive, and remained a hostage for six years until May 2003 when he was rescued by security forces. The rescue, however, did not run smoothly, and ended in the deaths of other hostages, including former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverry and the then-governor of Antioquia, Guillermo Gaviria.
Then, two years after his release, Guarnizo was convicted for his role in a 1992 massacre of seven farmers in the central Meta Department. The courts sentenced him to over 33 years in prison.
But three years later, in 2008, a local court in the Meta Department acquitted him on the grounds that it was impossible for Guarnizo to have been in the town during the time of the murders.
Liberation was fleeting for the sergeant — just before courts entered recess in December 2011, the sentence was reinstated.
“They have not issued the arrest warrant, but they left me with a sentence of 34 years for the process that I had won in the first instance,” Guarnizo told the Associated Press.
Much like the Sergeant’s story, Colombia’s half century of armed conflict between leftist guerillas, illegal paramilitary groups and the Colombian state is like a labyrinth.
Where it will end is hard to see.