The Commission for Clarification of the Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition (CEV) was established as a direct result of the 2016 peace accords reached between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest rebel group.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022, Colombia received the final report of the Truth Commission, which has unleashed a series of reactions, some in favor of what was revealed there about the armed conflict between 1958 and 2016 and others against.
The Commission’s report makes sweeping recommendations about the role of Colombia’s security forces, denouncing the concept of the “internal enemy” and the systematic victimization of Colombia’s political left. The report also condemns decades of punitive counternarcotics programs pushed and backed by the U.S. and that the Commission says aggravated the conflict. The report is especially critical of Plan Colombia, the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid package that radically transformed the U.S. role in the conflict from one nominally limited to counternarcotics activities to one in which U.S. assistance and personnel were involved in a wide array of sensitive counterinsurgency missions. These included the protection of Colombia’s energy sector, the training and equipping of specialized military and police units, and highly sensitive operations to capture and kill leaders of insurgent, paramilitary and narcotrafficking groups.
Records consulted by the Commission illustrate how the Plan Colombia period corresponded with a general escalation in Colombia’s internal conflict, the weakening of the FARC’s position on the battlefield, the demobilization of thousands of paramilitary members, and the extradition of hundreds of alleged narcotraffickers under President Álvaro Uribe. These outcomes coincided with an escalation in human rights violations and abuses of power, including the murder by the Colombian Armed Forces of some 6,400 civilians from 2002-2008, during the height of the so-called “false positives” scandal, and the illegal surveillance of perceived political enemies by the DAS civilian intelligence service.
Among the many sources consulted by the Commission in reaching its conclusions were thousands of declassified U.S. documents gathered and organized by the National Security Archive, a Washington-based non-governmental organization. The Archive has long specialized in supporting post-conflict truth commissions with declassified evidence obtained through the U.S. access law, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A comprehensive digital library consisting of thousands of declassified records and other sources consulted by the Commission is set for launch in August 2022.
Today’s posting focuses on six documents that provide insight into the kinds of sources the Commission consulted in reaching its findings and in making its recommendations.
One CIA report from May 1988 said that Colombian Army intelligence and brigade commanders were behind “a wave of assassinations against suspected leftists and communists” during 1987, including the killings of several members of the leftist Patriotic Union political party, victims of a state-sponsored “genocide” according to the Truth Commission.
The 1988 CIA report also said that the intelligence section of the Army’s 10th Brigade had supplied target lists and other support to the paramilitaries who murdered 20 workers in the infamous March 1988 massacres at the Honduras and La Negra banana plantations. The CIA said that the names of all the victims, most of whom were members of the Sintagro agricultural workers union, had “appeared on the B-2’s [Colombian Army intelligence section’s] interrogation reports” and “were accurately identified by their attackers from a list which the attackers possessed.”
U.S. links to Colombian narcotraffickers and paramilitary groups are detailed in DEA records from 1992-1993, the period when U.S. Embassy personnel and their Colombian counterparts were engaged in a massive manhunt for fugitive narcotics kingpin Pablo Escobar. One report recounts how Colombia-based DEA personnel maintained regular communication with the leaders of the feared paramilitaries of the Magdalena Medio, Henry de Jésus Pérez and his successor Luis Meneses (“Ariel Otero”), who helped to establish and train paramilitaries for the Medellín Cartel. Contacts with the paramilitary chiefs “seemed logical,” according to the report, “since the AUTODEFENSAS,” as the paramilitaries were called, “were dedicated to the fight against the MEDELLIN CARTEL.”
Other records show how the U.S. frequently used the leverage provided by security crises in Colombia to press for more aggressive counternarcotics operations, especially the aerial fumigation of narcotics crops. A May 1984 U.S. Embassy cable written shortly after the assassination of Colombian Justice Minster Rodrigo Lara Bonilla by the Medellín Cartel recommended that the U.S. “strike while the iron is hot” and promote the adoption of more aggressive counternarcotics policies while the political environment was favorable in Colombia. The Embassy said the U.S. should take advantage of the “window of opportunity” provided by the state of siege decree imposed by President Belisario Betancur after the Lara assassination to give security forces a free hand to deal with narcotraffickers.
Intelligence reports show how the U.S. interest in promoting the exploration and extraction of oil and gas reserves in some of the most contested areas of the country complicated Colombia’s security situation and led to reliance on unaccountable private security companies. A 1998 CIA report said it was “unlikely that the Colombian security services will be able to significantly improve the overall security situation in the foreseeable future,” something that it said was “a prerequisite for the country to meet its immense oil-producing goal.” Some petroleum companies “pay the armed forces directly for protection,” according to the CIA, “a practice many firms want to phase out to avoid being linked to human rights abuses committed by some military groups.”
One multinational company was “actively providing intelligence on guerrilla activities directly to the Army,” according to the CIA, “using an airborne surveillance system along the pipeline to expose guerrilla encampments and intercept guerrilla communications.” The Colombian Army “successfully exploited this information and inflicted an estimated 100 casualties during an operation against the guerrillas in Arauca in mid-1997,” according to the report. The CIA said that they were likely to see “more private initiatives by domestic and foreign energy-related companies to combat guerrilla activities, including the deployment of high-technology security devices, the formation of vigilante groups, and the hiring of paramilitary groups.”
High-level Defense Department records, such as a July 2003 memo to Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, show how the Pentagon’s metrics for success against Colombian insurgents may have contributed to the “false positives” phenomenon, whereby Colombian Army officers seeking performance bonuses murdered civilians and presented them as guerrillas killed in combat. Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace has documented 6,402 cases of civilians killed by the Colombian Armed Forces in this manner.
The July 2003 memo to Rumsfeld from the top Pentagon deputy for military special operations touted the sharp rise in guerrilla casualties since President Uribe took office and since the U.S. made supporting counterinsurgency one of its top priorities in Colombia. Of special interest were sensitive, U.S.-supported military operations against so-called High Value Targets (HVT), a category that included the senior leaders of the FARC.
Another set of documents shared with the Truth Commission illustrates the important role played by U.S. military services contractor DynCorp both in the aerial fumigation program and later in supporting HVT and other Colombian operations against the FARC. The State Department’s evaluation of DynCorp’s performance for February 2004, for example, lauds DynCorp’s support to multiple HVT operations during the month, including Operation Dignity (Dignidad), in Miraflores, and the Colombian Army operation that resulted in the capture of the FARC leader known as “Sonia” (“Omaira Rojas Cabrera”).
However; As already mentioned, the report published on June 28, 2022 has unleashed a series of reactions, some in favor of what was revealed there about the armed conflict between 1958 and 2016 and others against it.
For his part, Michael Evans, director of the Colombia Documentation Project of the National Security Archive; He said “The Commission has worked diligently and tirelessly to uncover the truth about the conflict so that Colombia can begin charting a course toward lasting peace” and added “In doing so, the Truth Commission has assembled an archive of primary sources on the Colombian conflict that is unprecedented in size and scope and will continue to inform investigations of the conflict for years to come”.
On the other hand; One of the main voices that has spoken out against the aforementioned report has been that of the senator of the Democratic Center, María Fernanda Cabal, in the same way through a Communication to Public Opinion on the CEV Final Report signed by the Table of Work made up of the 52 Federations and Associations of Reserve Officers, NCOs, Soldiers and Agents, as well as Public Force Pensioners who have stated, among other things, “That after the release of the final report of the CEV Truth Clarification Commission On June 28 of this year, the country received the findings and recommendations determined by this extrajudicial mechanism of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition SIVJRNR. Unfortunately, since its creation, this commission has not generated credibility due to the procedures and people who were part of the selection process, as well as the commissioners that formed it, where a marked ideological bias and extensive experience in international litigation against the Colombian state are evident, which guarantees the impartiality of its reports”.
And they keep saying… Likewise, during all the processes and methodology that was followed in the commission, taken into account all the victims, which means a lack of balance in the results to present, it is necessary to remember that the multiple reports handed over by the Armed Forces and the National Police were ignored, as were the work carried out by Commissioner Carlos Ospina, who, upon resigning from the CEV, declared to the entire country. For the same reason, some of the victims belonged to the Public Force, in the month of April of this year, did not attend the invitation to meet with CEV because they considered that for more than 3 years they were excluded, so in the last They will now be summoned solely to validate this final report.
On the other hand, a bias is evident in the report by not considering the intervention of actors international organizations that played a major role in supporting, indoctrinating, and equipping of the narco-terrorist organizations that devastated Colombians. This shows the lack of rigor in the investigation and in the clarification of the truth.
We also reaffirm, as we repeatedly expressed to the president of that commission, Pbro. Francisco De Roux, that the criminal acts of homicide in person protected or misnamed false positives were committed under individual responsibility of a minimum percentage of the National Army and that in no official document, nor of the military or civil command ordered this type of criminal action, whose perpetrators were convicted or are being investigated for those crimes, which we reject forcefully and we stand in solidarity with the victims. There is not, nor was there any policy against the constitutional mission of the Armed Forces.
We commit ourselves to carefully analyze and study the recommendations that are available in the final report “There is a future if there is truth”, and to express to the national public opinion our conclusions. However, we see some elements that they cause us concern and that deserve an in-depth discussion with experts and analysts to determine its convenience and opportunity in its implementation, such as: the transfer of the National Police of the Ministry of Defense, the elimination of the ESMAD and the change of police and military doctrine.
Finally, as Reserves, Veterans and Pensioners of the Public Force, we feel with concern how this report moves away from an inclusive truth, which must be the basis and foundation to create the necessary conditions for an effective and sincere reconciliation.” The statement ends.
The final report must be a symbolic closing of the past and the opening of a reconciled Colombia; but it is opening more the gap and the division instead of uniting and strengthening.
Colombia requires both a judicial truth and a historical truth, the judicial truth fundamentally refers to who did what to whom, that is, to determine the individual responsibilities and the specific circumstances in which there were hundreds of thousands of victims in Colombia. Historical truth fundamentally seeks to determine patterns of victimization. In general, the truth commissions answer four questions: what happened? Why did it happen? Who was responsible in collective terms? And how to prevent it from happening in the future?
A report points out ways, but implementation is a task that will commit all Colombians. It seems important to me that the report should be a historical milestone insofar as it marks a path towards the future of peace and not of a new confrontation.
It is very difficult to take responsibility and it is very difficult to admit that mistakes were made. There are resistances of sectors of the right and sectors of the left. One of the most complex issues is that the historical narrative about the past becomes a battlefield to see which narrative favors one sector or another.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Truth Commission in Colombia is that it is the first to be created without the conflict having ended.