Thursday, August 7, 2008

Some hope for the living and the dead

Last week I held in my arms the newest member of the Peace Community, just an hour after she was born. She was sleepy, happy, and beautiful, with some very big baby feet. They let me feed her – with a bottle, of course – and after a few moments she got the hang of it and began happily sucking away, continuing when only a bit of milky foam remained in the bottle. I feel quite honored that the family let me share in those first few moments of her life.

Since that day last week, I can’t help thinking with mixed feelings about a comment I heard as I sat with several community members as I sat waiting for news of the baby’s birth. “Here’s a new community member to make up for all those we’ve lost,” someone said, referring, I’m sure, to the more than 180 Peace Community members who have been killed since the Community’s founding. Of course, even a birth, while a wondrous occasion to celebrate, can’t actually make up for the theft of another life, particularly one taken so violently. Nonetheless, it seems that Community members draw a lot of hope from this and other births. In violent situations like this one, hope has to come from someone, and the birth of a beautiful baby girl is a wonderful reason to celebrate with hope. 

This week, the community has another reason to celebrate and hope: it appears that, 3 long years later, the first army official implicated in a brutal massacre committed against the Community in 2005 may finally by punished.

On February 21st, 2005, 8 members of the Peace Community – including two young children and a baby – were brutally murdered. Some of the bodies were beheaded, and the rest cut into pieces before being thrown into a common grave.

Ever since the massacre, the Community has maintained that the murders were perpetrated by paramilitaries working in concert with the army, and have called for a full investigation and punishment for the perpetrators. Nonetheless, over 2 years went by without hardly mention of an investigation from the government. When anyone was exposed as possibly having a role, it was always, conveniently, someone who had already died and was therefore unable to be tried or punished.

Finally, however, there seems to be hope for some justice to be servecd. Under the Justice and Peace Law of 2006, demobilizing paramilitaries have been confessing past crimes in exchange for reduced sentences and financial support for reinsertion into civilian life (see my recent post for more explanation). In the past several months, a number of paramilitary leaders have confessed, among other horrible crimes, their involvement in the 2005 Peace Community massacre, and have also implicated, by name, several army officials in the massacre; significantly, many of those named are still living, and thus could actually be tried and punished. Based on testimony from a paramilitary leader, alias “Pirulo,” Captain Guillermo Gordillo Sanchez was arrested last October. He refused to talk, however, so continued to sit idly in jail. 

In March of 2008 another paramilitary, known as “Melaza,” gave testimony that corroborated Pirulo’s implication of Gordillo as well as several other members of the army. Based on those two testimonies, Colombia’s justice department began an investigation of 69 members of the army, and in April arrested 15. In May, the infamous paramilitary leader “Don Berna” began his testimony. Don Berna described how, under his leadership, the paramilitary bloc Héroes de Tolová worked hand in hand with the military in carrying out the massacre, and named several army officials, including Gordillo. Ten days later, Gordillo decided he was finally willing to talk. 

In his confessions, Gordillo confirmed that the 2005 Peace Community massacre was not a spontaneous act; in fact, officials in his battalion had planned the massacre together. Gordillo also named several army officials involved in the massacre, including the the-General of the 17th Brigade, which operates in this region, and the Colonel who commanded Gordillo’s batallion, Orlando Espinosa Beltrán. 

Last week, on July 29th, Colonel Espinosa was called in for questioning by the justice department for his alleged participation in the massacre. Thanks to some quick investigation by FOR staff, we have discovered that Espinosa is a School of the Americas graduate – in other words, he was trained by Uncle Sam. Two days after Espinosa’s subpeona, Gordillo accepted responsibility for his role in the massacre, and should be sentenced soon. Justice may finally be coming to life for the Peace Community, slowly but surely.


JMW said...

Moira, I'm so enjoying reading your blog. It clarifies the tiny snippets of info I'm getting here about Colombia, and I'm also appreciating your strengths as a writer. Keep it up!


Daniel said...

your posts always lead me through a full range of emotions.
thanks for taking the time to enlighten us and share your experiences.
i'm glad that the community has such great things to celebrate.
que te vaya bien!