President Petro has apologized on behalf of the Colombian state for the victims of “false positives.” In a public apology event organized by the government at Bolivar Square in Bogota, the head of state was accompanied by the Minister of Justice, Ivan Velásquez Gomez, the Commander of the Army, General Mauricio Ospina Gutierrez, the families of the 19 victims, their representatives, as well as delegates from national human rights organizations and the international community.
With this tribute, the state aimed to remember the over 6,000 victims of the practice of “false positives,” in which innocent civilians were killed by the security forces and falsely presented as guerrillas killed in combat in exchange for benefits and privileges. The event on October 3 was the first in which the highest representative of the Colombian state publicly recognized and apologized for these crimes.
Public Act of Contrition
The families of the victims had been waiting for this moment for nearly 20 years. As Petro himself acknowledged, it had to be the person who denounced these crimes when he was a senator of the Republic who apologized on behalf of the state for these murders that continue to cause shame and controversy in the country.
“This day is not easy. It was not in my calculations when I tried to foresee my life – days and years in advance – that after making denunciations, I would have to apologize on behalf of the state. These are the paradoxes of history,” said President Petro from the podium set up in a covered area at Bolívar Square in the capital of the country.
The event served to remember the 19 young people from Bogota and the municipality of Soacha, south of the capital, who were killed by the military between 2004 and 2008, as determined by the courts, which ordered this act of apology and acceptance of responsibility for state crimes.
“I take the liberty to ask for your forgiveness, mothers. You are the mothers of all of Colombia; you are the motherland; the blood of your children, I hope, irrigates the furrow of the beautiful Colombia that we will be tomorrow, the powerful army that we will be tomorrow. Not to kill but to live the beautiful life that we will be tomorrow, the world-class powerhouse of life in Colombia,” said the Colombian president amidst the emotion of the relatives of the murdered victims.
Killed for Greed
According to President Petro, the victims were “killed to concentrate wealth, to take over lands, they were killed here to control oil, they were killed here to control cocaine profits,” and he added, “that greed and that power killed 6,402 young people,” referring to the total number killed by the security forces between 2002 and 2008, during which time the courts determined that the practice of “false positives” was organized.
Iván Velasquez, the Minister of Justice, also participated in the act of contrition on behalf of the state and recounted some of the horrifying cases involving young people from humble families.
In all the stories narrated by the official, the same strategy was described: defenseless civilians, in some cases as young as 14, traveled to cities far away from their homes, lured by false job offers. They would then disappear, be reported as missing, and later be found in mass graves, reported as casualties in battles with guerrillas.
One of these victims was Jaime Valencia Sanabria, who disappeared on February 8 after speaking with his sister and “telling her that he was in the municipality of Ocaña (Norte de Santander); she had no further information about him until October 29 when his body was handed over to his mother by the Legal Medicine Institute after he had been reported as killed in combat by the 15th Infantry Battalion of Santander,” the minister recalled.
Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos
Among the attending audience, relatives of the victims, there were calls to clarify the truth to its fullest extent. In this regard, there were no shortage of calls for former presidents Alvaro Uribe, who was the head of state when the events occurred, and Juan Manuel Santos, who was Uribe’s defense minister, to explain what they know about those state crimes.
One of the mothers of the murdered victims, Carmenza Gomez, expressed this sentiment: “The same goes for Mr. Alvaro Uribe Velez, for Juan Manuel Santos, who was the defense minister at that time, may they have many more years of life, because they have to pay, because divine justice always arrives. Here we are, the mothers of Soacha, the ones who uncovered that rotten mess that our Armed Forces had in Ocaña and in many corners of our country,” said the mother, remembering the murder of her son, Víctor Fernando Gomez, in February 2008 in Ocaña, at the hands of the 15th Mobile Brigade of the Army.
Former President Uribe’s Reaction
Hours later, during a campaign event in Villavicencio, former President Uribe reacted to the apology event in Bogota. According to the former president, he always demanded results from the military, but always based on respect for human rights.
“President Gustavo Petro says that our government paid for killing innocent people. That is not true. Not a single payment was made for killing innocent people; our policy always favored demobilization, and indeed, there were 53,000 demobilized,” stated the former president.
Additionally, to demonstrate that his government fought against these illegal practices, Álvaro Uribe indicated that nearly 2,000 military personnel were incarcerated and discharged during his administration due to allegations of extrajudicial executions. “The Minister of Defense visited me with a group of high-ranking officials and presented me with 27 cases of individuals who could be involved in ‘false positives.’ Without being asked, I made the decision to remove them from the armed forces,” explained the former president.