Colombian Anniversary of Resistance

Colombians at Thursday night’s rally – with the banner they made for the march in support of Palestine last June

A CROWD of over 100 Colombians held a rally on Thursday night in Trafalgar Square to commemorate the martyrs of the April 28th uprising in Colombia last year.

That is when over 75 protesters were killed and over 800 injured by forces of the government of President Ivan Duque.

The protests were opposing massive tax increases, corruption and cuts in healthcare.

The rally heard speakers from Colombia SOS, Pacto Historico MAFAPO and the Julian Assange campaign and was followed by an exciting performance of dances from the Minga dance troupe.

As part of the commemoration Colombian artist John Ponce painted in the square all day on Thursday producing a number of works signifying the struggle of Colombian workers.

Among the speakers Mimi Nunez Trejos from west London said: ‘I am Proud of the tenacity with which our young people decided NO MORE!

‘Today, we commemorate the day our young people took to the streets with only their shirts and voices as a defence from state bullets. Tired of trying so hard but not moving forward.

‘Tired of the lack to opportunities, cronyism the key to gain access.

‘Today, we remember, to never forget, the courage and sacrifice our brothers and sisters made, the ultimate sacrifice in laying their lives down to their voice, having life changing injuries, disappeared, raped, beaten whilst facing their music and dance in style, in a peaceful, cultural, and a creative protest.

‘We remember!

‘The 6,402 “false positives”, the missing and those in prison today for protesting.

‘We recognise today we stand on their shoulders.’

According to MAFAPO (Mothers of False Positives): ‘In 2008, dozens of young people disappeared from Soacha, a municipality near Bogotá. All of them shared similar signs: They were poor, unemployed or with unstable jobs, and they had received calls a few days before their disappearance, with the promise of a job.

‘A few months later it was discovered that these men, who were our sons, brothers, husbands, were taken to the department of Norte de Santander, many kilometres from our homes, where they were systematically murdered and presented by the XV Brigade of the Colombian National Army as members of armed groups killed in combat.

‘These were extrajudicial executions, better known as ‘‘false positives’’, and they compromised the lives of young people across the country, including many of whom we still know nothing about. In exchange, the military protagonists of these events received benefits, permits, promotions and salary increases according to the results presented.’

Since he took power, Colombian President Iván Duque’s regime has been responsible for the targeted killings of scores of Indigenous, Black, social movement, union, and peasant leaders in hundreds of massacres around the country. Over 50 social leaders have been assassinated in 2021 alone.

In Colombia last Tuesday about a hundred relatives were present at a hearing of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) court, which was set up as part of a peace deal between left wing rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signed in 2016.

Eleven Colombian ex-soldiers were giving details about extrajudicial killings carried out by the army during Colombia’s armed conflict.

They are taking part in a public hearing of the special JEP court examining crimes committed during the conflict.

More than 6,400 civilians were killed by the military and falsely passed off as enemy combatants between 2002 and 2008.

This is the first time those involved have given detailed accounts.

‘We murdered innocent people, farmers,’ former soldier Néstor Gutiérrez told relatives of victims.

‘It’s not easy being here,’ Gutiérrez said. ‘I executed – I killed the relatives of those who are here.’

The former soldier recalled how he had lured civilians ‘through lies and deceit’ to the places where he had ‘shot them, cruelly killing them’.

‘I placed weapons on them to suggest it had happened in combat, that they were guerrilla fighters. I sullied their name and that of their family,’ he said of the practice of upping the army’s ‘kill rate’ by passing off civilians as rebels to give the impression it was winning the armed conflict against the group.

‘I robbed children of their fathers and parents of their children.’

Gutiérrez was among six former members of the military who gave evidence on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday. Four more and one civilian are due to appear on Wednesday.

The six took responsibility for killing at least 120 civilians between 2007 and 2008 and passing them off as combat fatalities in the Catatumbo region, in eastern Colombia.

Relatives of the victims also spoke at the hearing. Soraida Navarro was one of them. Her father Jesús was killed by soldiers 15 years ago. The whereabouts of his body remains unknown.

Navarro said that her mother had died three years after Jesús Navarro was killed, leaving Soraida and her siblings orphaned.

‘On special occasions and on holidays, we want to hug my father and my mother, but we can’t. Why? Because you despicable people took our loved ones from us,’ she said, directly addressing the ex-soldiers.

Santiago Herrera, a retired army colonel, described how he had pressured those he commanded ‘to cause deaths and produce results’.

Herrera said he used a ‘carrot and stick’ system – threatening those who did not deliver with bad reports, and rewarding those who did with extra days off and bonuses.

He told the JEP that he himself had come under pressure from the head of the armed forces at the time to up his brigade’s ‘kill rate’. ‘I feel ashamed by the crimes committed by my brigade,’ Herrera said.

Scores of army officials – most of them of fairly low rank – have been detained and convicted of involvement in the ‘false positives’ over the past decades but relatives of the victims hope the perpetrators will be more open at the JEP hearings and reveal who ordered the killings.

The JEP is a transitional court system which was put in place for a period of 10 years to try all participants in the conflict, be they rebels or members of the security forces.

Those who admit to their crimes up front can avoid jail time, but are required to contribute in other ways to reconciliation – such as participating in programmes to remove landmines, build key infrastructure or construct monuments.

• More pictures in photo gallery