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Colombia: Reward for FARC Guerrilla for Killing His Commander

On March 7th, 2008, it was revealed that guerrilla commander José Juvenal Velandia, aka Iván Ríos, had been killed. Ríos was a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Secretariat, whose number two in command, Luis Édgar Devia, aka Raúl Reyes, had been killed earlier in the month, unleashing a diplomatic crisis with Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (Reyes died in a camp inside Ecuador).

First it was thought that the Colombian Army had killed Velandia, but as the afternoon passed, the truth came to light: it turned out Pedro Pablo Montoya, aka Rojas, one of his bodyguards, had murdered Ríos to get a reward from the Colombian government:

Montoya […] shot his boss Rios with a single bullet to the head, and then killed Ríos's girlfriend. He then cut off Ríos's right hand to take to the security forces to prove he had killed the rebel leader, a member of FARC's seven-man secretariat.

One week later, and after a controversy, on March 14, the government decided to pay Montoya and another guerrilla member a US $2.5 million reward, for the “information” which allowed Iván Ríos to be found. But according to weekly news magazine Cambio‘s March 13 issue, a former guerrilla gave the information which allowed the Colombian Army to infiltrate FARC's Central Bloc and, through the help of the informant, who was in contact with Rojas, to instigate the latter to kill his commander.

At the digital magazine equinoXio [es], Marsares says:

Al dificultarse su captura, se le da instrucciones para que lo mate, como efectivamente lo hizo, convirtiéndose en instigador del crimen el propio Gobierno que se coloca por encima de la ley. Sencillo. Si no puedes capturar a tu enemigo, ¡mátalo!
A Ríos se le acusaba de haber cometido delitos de lesa humanidad, crímenes de guerra y delitos comunes, es cierto, pero según la Constitución, debía comparecer ante los jueces de la República para luego de ser oído y vencido en juicio, imponérsele una pena. Su ejecución extrajudicial no diferencia al Gobierno de las que hace la misma guerrilla, porque ambas carecen de legitimidad y violan nuestro ordenamiento jurídico. Al gobierno sólo le compete la labor de capturarlos, salvo un enfrentamiento armado que determine su muerte.

When his capture became difficult, they [the Colombian Army] instructed [Rojas] to kill him, as he indeed did, making the Government, who puts itself above the Law, the instigator of the crime. It's simple. If you can't capture your enemy, kill him! Ríos was accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and common crimes, that's true, but according to the Constitution, he should have appeared before the judges of the Republic to be, after being heard and defeated in trial, sentenced. His execution outside of the law does not differentiate the Government from those perpetrated by guerrilla, because both lack legitimacy and violate our legal system. The Government has the duty to capture them, unless there is an armed confrontation which determines their death.

Liberal Colombiano [es] seems to agree with Marsares in his blog:

No se pueden lograr buenos objetivos con malos medios. No se puede mejorar la seguridad y alcanzar promoviendo y pagando por asesinatos. La política de delaciones esta bien para DELACIONES. Nunca para asesinatos. El estado no debe pagar por el crimen de “Ivan Ríos” a menos que de verdad se demuestre que fue en legítima defensa. El derecho a la vida es inviolable e inalienable. […] Ojala que lo sucedido con Rojas lleve a algunas personas a la reflexión sobre los límites de la acción estatal.
La pregunta de fondo siempre será: que le esta permitido al Estado?

You can't achieve good goals through poor means. You can't improve security by promoting and paying for murders. The tip-off policy is fine for TIP-OFFS. Never for murders. The State should not pay for Iván Ríos’ crime unless it's really proved that it was in legitimate defense. The right to live is inviolable and inalienable […] I wish what happened to Rojas leads some people to reflect about the limits of State action. The bottom question will always be: what's the State allowed to do?

Bloggings by Boz summarizes the debate. These are the pros:

Rojas did bring an end to a top FARC commander (which is the reason the reward exists), possibly saving lives in the process. Additionally, the government wants to create the incentive for other FARC combatants to desert and turn over information about their commanders, and failing to give Rojas the reward could harm that effort. This reward has the added bonus of possibly creating internal dissent within the FARC.

And here are the cons:

Most of the reasons not to give the reward focus on the fact Rojas was a FARC combatant for 16 years and confessed to murdering his commander. Private citizens murdering other citizens does not help the Colombian government's overall goal to enhance the state's legitimate authority across the country. Rewards are meant for citizens to provide information for the government to act on, not for them to act as a mercenary.

At the end, Boz finds himself

tempted to support giving the reward because I want to see the reward program work and I want to see more mid-level FARC commanders desert and turn in information about their superiors. However, a democratic state should not offer mercenary payments. It's a tough rule, but the Colombian government is not going to win back control of the state by taking short cuts.

Finally, Ricardo Buitrago Consuegra is overtly supportive of the payment [es]:

Nadie cuando se instauro la política de recompensas, previo este caso, como nadie, alcanzo nunca a imaginarse, la degradación a la que llegarían los grupos al margen de la ley y la misma sociedad. La recompensa debe pagarse. No hacerlo, seria un pésimo mensaje a miembros de la guerrilla susceptibles de delación de que el estado no cumple. Se constituiría en un retroceso en la aplicación de la política de recompensas, que ha sido fundamental, en el quiebre que ahora se vislumbra en la organización guerrillera. ¿Si el país entero se alegra por la muerte de delincuentes, cual es la razón de privar de la recompensa a quien propicia la alegría? Por lo tanto, o dejamos de ser hipócritas y aceptamos la degradación de nuestros principios, o nos convencemos que en guerra, el pago de este tipo de recompensas se mira desde otro contexto. En ambos casos, a pagar se dijo.

When the reward policy was established, no one could ever imagine to what point the illegal armed groups would go and where Colombian society would reach. The reward must be paid. Not to do it would be a dreadful message to the members of the guerrillas willing to tip-off that the State does not carry out their agreements. It would become a step back in the application of the reward policy, which has been essential getting a glimpse into the guerrilla organization. If the entire country is pleased with the death of the criminals, what's the reason to stopy the reward to those that provide that joy? Therefore, either we stop being hypocrites and accept the degradation of our own principles or become convinced that, in a war, the payment of this kind of rewards can be seen from another context. In both cases, it's time to pay.

On Wednesday it was learned that Rojas will have to answer for other crimes [es], such as “conspiracy for drug trafficking, terrorism, and multiple homicide” relating to massacres he allegedly helped to perpetrate, according to Colombia's Attorney General Office. This should keep the former FARC guerrilla in jail for a while. At the moment, Rojas is staying in a military facility in Risaralda Department, Western Colombia.

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