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Colombia: Paramilitary Scandal, Crimes, and Media ‘Coincidences’

El Tiempo recently devoted its crime and law section to a shocking special on paramilitary crimes [ES], titled Colombia looks for 10,000 people, which includes some grisly pictures. In one of the articles, Francisco Villalba, a.k.a. Cristian Barreto, who participated in the Ituango massacre in 1997, has confessed to making use of the Justice and Peace law, some of the atrocities [ES] that happened on his “training” three years before:

Villalba asegura que para el aprendizaje de descuartizamiento usaban campesinos que reunían durante las tomas de pueblos vecinos. “Eran personas de edad que las llevaban en camiones, vivas, amarradas”, describe.

Las víctimas llegaban a la finca en camiones carpados. Las bajaban del vehículo con las manos amarradas y las llevaban a un cuarto. Allí permanecían encerradas varios días, a la espera de que empezara el entrenamiento.

Luego venía “la instrucción de coraje”: repartían a la gente en cuatro o cinco grupos “y ahí la descuartizaban”, dice Villalba en la indagatoria. “El instructor le decía a uno: ‘Usted se para acá y fulano allá y le da seguridad al que está descuartizando’. Siempre que se toma un pueblo y se va a descuartizar a alguien, hay que brindarles seguridad a los que están haciendo ese trabajo”.

De los cuartos donde estaban encerrados, las mujeres y los hombres eran sacados en ropa interior. Aún con las manos atadas, los llevaban al sitio donde el instructor esperaba para iniciar las primeras recomendaciones:

“Las instrucciones eran quitarles el brazo, la cabeza, descuartizarlos vivos. Ellos salían llorando y le pedían a uno que no le fuera a hacer nada, que tenían familia”.

Villalba describe el proceso: “A las personas se les abría desde el pecho hasta la barriga para sacar lo que es tripa, el despojo. Se les quitaban piernas, brazos y cabeza.Se hacía con machete o con cuchillo. El resto, el despojo, con la mano. Nosotros, que estábamos en instrucción, sacábamos los intestinos”.

El entrenamiento lo exigían, según él, para “probar el coraje y aprender cómo desaparecer a la persona”.

Durante el mes y medio que Francisco Villalba dice que permaneció en el curso, vio tres veces las instrucciones de descuartizamiento.

“Ellos escogían a los alumnos para que participaran. Una vez, uno de los alumnos se negó. Se paró ‘Doble cero’ y le dijo: ‘Venga, que yo sí soy capaz’. Luego lo mandó descuartizar a él. A mí me hicieron quitarle el brazo a una muchacha. Ya le habían quitado la cabeza y una pierna. Ella pedía que no lo hicieran, que tenía dos hijos”.

Los cuerpos eran llevados a fosas ahí mismo, en La 35, donde calculan que enterraron a más de 400 personas.

Villalba assures that for the cutting up learning they used peasants who brought up together during the occupations of neighboring towns. “They were older people taken on trucks, alive, tied”, he described. The victims arrived to the estate on topped trucks. They were taken down with their hands tied and moved to a room, where they remained locked for several days, waiting for the training to start.

Then the “bravery instruction” came up: people were separated in four or five groups “and there they were cut into pieces”, Villalba told during the deposition. “The instructor told me: ‘You stand up here and secures the one who cuts’. Every time a town was occupied and someone is going to be cut, the ones doing that job must be provided with security”.

Men and women were taken out the rooms on their underwear. Still with their hands tied, they were taken to the place where the instructor awaited to start the first recommendations: “The instructions were to take off their arms, their head, to cut them alive. They came out crying and asked us not to hurt them, [they said] they had a family”.

Villalba describes the process: “The people were opened from the chest to the belly to take out the guts, the innards. Their legs, their arms, their heads were ripped off, with a machete or a knife. The rest, their remains, [were taken out] by hand. We, who were on instruction, took out the intestines”.

The training was compulsory, according to him, to “test [their] courage and learn how to disappear people”. During the month and a half Francisco Villalba says he was in the course, he saw cutting instructions three times. “They chose the students to participate. Once, one of them refused to do it. ‘Doble cero’ [a paramilitary chief] stood up and told him: ‘Come here, I can do it’. Then he ordered to cut him up. They made me to cut one girl's arm. She was already taken her head and one leg out. She asked them not to do it, because she had two children”.

The bodies were taken to common graves at the same place, La 35, where it is estimated 400 people were buried.

Blogger reaction was eloquent. Juglar del Zipa [ES] wrote:

Entiendo que les haya parecido simpático quitarles los brazos para ponérselos donde estaba la cabeza. Entiendo que ahora tengan que reducirlos a su mínima expresión para poderlos ocultar fácilmente. ¿Pero tienen que hacerlo cuando están vivos?

I understand that they found it nice to take their arms out to put them where their head was. I understand they now have to reduce them to their minimal expression in order to hide them easily. But do they have to do that when they're alive?

Sociología para novatos [ES] O-Lu uses her discipline to try to explains this savagery:

¿Cómo es un país cuyo sistema judicial se expresa en la ley del Talión ? ¿Qué tipo de aventuras se viven en una sociedad donde los poderosos no han tenido que pasar por aquello que Norbert Elias llama el «proceso civilizatorio»? ¿Es admirable o todo lo contrario una sociedad donde los gobernantes, en menos de una generación, han brincado de machos capataces de finca a señores dueños de los destinos de millones de personas? ¿Qué tipo de escenarios se obtienen? La respuesta la padecemos los colombianos, día a día.

What is a country whose judiciary system is expressed under the “eye for an eye” law? What kind of adventures are lived within a society where the powerful haven't had to go through what Norbert Elias calls the “civilizing process”? Is it admirable, or the contrary, a society where rulers, in less than a generation, have jumped from macho farm foremen to lords who own the destiny of millions of people? What kind of scenarios do we get? We Colombians endure the answer everyday.

Coincidentally, Vice President Francisco Santos, whose family owns El Tiempo, was accused [ES] by former intelligence chief Jorge Noguera (arrested in February for allegedly allowing the paramilitaries to infiltrate the secret police and freed on a technicality) of being behind the “discredit campaign” against him and President Uribe in an interview [ES] for a local newspaper.

Some people think that El Tiempo, which endorsed Uribe's bid for reelection in August 2005 less than a year before the election, is going to “leave alone” the president because of the scandal. Last week, El Tiempo wrote an editorial, which was called “infamous” by presidential adviser José Obdulio Gaviria, about the debate on paramilitarism in Antioquia (Uribe's native province). Because of that, El Tiempo was not invited to the press conference held by Uribe in order to defend himself from the accusations by senator Gustavo Petro.

Orlando el Curioso, a regular commentator on journalist Felipe Zuleta's controversial blog, wrote [ES], referring to Noguera's allegations:

La tradicional oligarquía de Bogotá, representada en los Santos y su Diario, están empecinados en no permitir que el renovado Cartel de Medellín les quitela hegemonía secular y, por tanto, le están poniendo la zancadilla al virrey Álvaro de Uribe y Vélez para que asuma Francisco de Santos y Calderón.

Esta campaña, tras bambalinas, se inició al otro día de la segunda posesión del Virrey, y sino me quieren creen, revisen la hemeroteca de los pricipales diarios y revistas del pais a partir de esa fecha. No más, en el primer mes del segundo periodo, le reventó más de un escándalo al arriero que ha venido creciendo como bola de nieve.

Bogotá's traditional oligarchy, represented by the Santos [family] and their newspaper, are insisting in not letting the renewed Medellin Cartel to remove their age-old hegemony and, therefore, are hindering viceroy Álvaro de Uribe y Vélez for Francisco de Santos y Calderón from taking office.

This campaign, behind the scenes, started the next day after the viceroy took office for the second time, and if you don't want to believe me, check out the main newspapers and magazines in the country published since that day. On the first month of the second term [August 2006], a lot of scandals blew up on the arriero's face, which have been growing like a snowball.

But El Editor thinks a little differently [ES]:

No sera mas bien que la familia Santos quiere marcar distancia con respecto a la parapolitica, por un lado, porque se dieron cuenta del lodazal en que se habian metido y, por el otro, para no ensuciar su imagen con miras a las proximas elecciones presidenciales (recordemos que Pachito y Juan Manuel aspiran a la presidencia).

Isn't it that the Santos family is distancing themselves from parapolitics, because on one side, they realized the quagmire they got into and, on the other hand, so to not to tarnish their own image with aim at the next presidential elections (let's remember Pachito and Juan Manuel [the Minister of Defense] are aspiring for presidency)?

For a lot of Colombians, El Tiempo's Tuesday feature was not news, but a sad, cruel part of their daily life. Although FARC guerrillas have committed savage and “creative” crimes too (remember the collar-bomb and the horse-bomb, and besides the thousands of people they keep hostage in the jungle), Colombian paramilitaries could now be compared with nazis or Japanese Unit 731, whose researchers, who performed vivisections “in the name of science”, were forgiven by Americans in exchange for information. On Thursday, Attorney General Mario Iguarán, referring to the corpses of two teenage girls found with around 50 bodies at a common grave in Meta province, slammed paramilitaries’ sponsors by saying that “they did not pay for safety, they paid for blood”. Whether this feature is a “coincidence” or not with another news stories (Petro denounced his office was illegally searched by police and that a former army colonel could have been behind a death plot against him; this happens days after Uribe implied his intelligence services were spying on opposition leaders), which are given “less” importance on the front page is a fact that should not be ignored.

6 comments

  • Carlos R,

    Te felicito por este trabajo de traduccion y analisis; solo tengo una anotacion, y te pido que reflexiones sobre ella: afirmas que el “collar bomba” fue puesto por las Farc y enlazas con un video de regular factura (no veo en efecto el interés en trivializar un hecho tan doloroso con la musiquita de Marbelle, ni los recursos visuales sin contenido).

    Quiza lo ignores, pero el famoso “collar bomba” no fue obra de las Farc (hay mucha informacion en internet; mira por ej estas declaraciones del alto gobierno: http://www.ayudatareas.com.ar/noticias/3/archivo-b799.shtml ).

    Por el contrario, este lamentable hecho y su pésimo tratamiento periodistico son un ejemplo elocuente de por qué debemos leer los medios con pinzas, especialmente cuando se refieren a hechos de guerra.

  • Bogota Gringo

    The paramilitary movement has moved through the country swiftly, but sadly the illusion of disarming the illegal army is just that. It is an illusion, and the paramilitary criminal network is still thriving under the new name Black Eagles.

    Violence and crime is reduced but still high, and the paramilitaries synonomis with mafia, still maintain a strong grip and presence throughout the country. I really hope that the future is better for Colombia.

    It’s not just Uribe’s administration, because obviously its many states and many members of congress that have been working along side with the paramilitaries. Wether the para’s found politicians, or wether the rich and powerfull paid for murders of oppenents, its all the same.

    Rich Companies like bandex (Chiqueta Bananas) supplied the paramilitaries with 3,400 AK machine guns in 2001, and paid them 5 Million for PROTECTION. NO THIS COLABORATION WAS NOT PROTECTION. Protection of a company is when you have security guards. Protection of a company does not include murdering 1,200 citizens which are organized in unions for workers rights. Murdering innocent people is not protection, but it is state sponsered terrorism.

    URIBE CLASSIFIES NON PROFIT GROUPS HELPING PEOPLE AS COMMUNIST, GUERILLA GROUPS. LEADERS OF GROUPS AS OF LAST YEAR PUBLISHED IN COLOMBIAN NEWS, ARE STILL PUT ON HIT LISTS AND PASSED AROUND THE COMMUNITIES.

    How can Uribe be good for the poor people. He supports terrorizing workers, and organizations that give aid to the poor people. Why? Because all these displaced people were forced homeless. The paramilitaries will be allowed to keep the deeds from the displaced people. New law supports the land stealing political thugs.

    Wether its because the rich want to pay workers 25 cents less, or because they want to keep land the paramilitaries stole.

    MAKE NO MISTAKE THE URIBE ADMINSTRATION DOES NOT SUPPORT POOR PEOPLE. URIBE STANDS FOR OPPRESSION THROUGH VIOLENCE AND TERROR OF THE POOR PEOPLE. PARAMILITARIES PERHAPS GOT TOO STRONG, SO THEY CUT A FEW HEADS OFF. PARAMILITARIES REMAIN ACTIVE TO THIS DAY. THE GOVERNMENT REMAINS CORRUPT. THE SOLUTION IS COMPLICATED AND POLITICIANS CANT BE TRUSTED.

  • Villalba could be freed soon, because the benefits offered by Peace and Justice Law, as El Tiempo states today. Paramilitary leaders had a rational attitude about the use of terror tactics over unarmed people. They knew exactly what they were doing. This individual case shows up the horrifying face of a slaughter professional, recruited since he was a teenager, now overwhelmed (I do believe he is so) and shocked about his own actions. The terrorist terrified, and his own psychiatric health, and application of justice for mass murder, seriously damaged.
    I agree with O-lu, there are not solid but fake proofs about Farc’s authority in the collar-bomb case.

  • At NACLA, we have the original article about the mass graves translated on our news site: (warning: graphic images)

    http://news.nacla.org/2007/04/29/colombia-searches-for-its-dead/

  • […] Colombia: Paramilitary Scandal, Crimes, and Media ‘Coincidences’ (Global Voices Online) […]

  • I must clarify a thing. It seems that the “collar-bomb” thing was not perpetrated by FARC, as o-lu says on the first commentary to this post above, where she links a news article quoting Colombian government, which retracted of the claims accusing FARC.

    So, casually today Colombia remembers another “creative” crime, the Bojayá Massacre, which occurred 5 years ago, when 139 civilians, sheltered in a church at a remote village, were killed by a “gas cilinder bomb” FARC threw as fighting with AUC paramilitaries.

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