For the Peace Community, threats and dangers don’t always come in the form of massacres and extrajudicial executions. The international attention and outcry that recent massacres and killings have generated isn’t all that convenient, so the army and the state have had to look elsewhere for ways to attack the Community’s stance of neutrality and non-cooperation with armed actors. In looking elsewhere, the “testimony” – often coerced or purchased – of demobilized armed actors has come in quite handy. The state has used these montajes (false evidence) to launch investigations into Community leaders for things like “rebellion”, murder, and other preposterous claims.
The Peace Community’s most recent comunicado (Community bulletins denouncing actions against them) describes what it fears to be the state’s most recent efforts at using legal means to discredit and weaken the Community. In early December 2008, a former commander (he had just been demoted) of the FARC’s 5th front (one of the two fronts that operates in the region near the Peace Community) turned himself in to the army’s 17th Brigade. Usually when a guerrilla turns him or herself in, the military shouts it from the rooftops (or at least broadcasts it via the major news outlets) as a demonstration of their presumed success in combating the guerrilla groups.
This time, however, there was no news broadcast – only the initial rumors that alias “Samir” had turned himself in, then whispered warnings about Samir and the 17th Brigade planning something against the Peace Community and some of its Colombian supporters. Concern and suspicion continued when it became clear that even as the weeks passed, the Brigade had not handed Samir over to the Fiscalía (Colombia’s equivalent of the U.S.’s Justice Department) as is required for the demobilization process for armed actors who turn themselves in. The Peace Community continues to worry that montajes will be launched based on “testimony” from Samir – likely either under intense pressure, threats, or offers of cash – for use against Community leaders. Recent phone calls from someone claiming to be a colonel in the 17th Brigade offering upwards of 2 million pesos (just under a thousand US dollars) to a community member in exchange for collaborating to destroy the Community confirm many the Community’s fears and suspicions.
This sounds like some kind of legal thriller movie, right? It’s no fictional film, however; such montajes have happened before. For example, in late 2005 a young man from the community was arrested at a military checkpoint for not having his papers in order. He was taken to the police headquarters, where he was accused of being a guerrilla, based on “testimony” from 4 reinsertados (guerrillas who have turned themselves in). The lawyer they gave him put in her report that he had admitted he was a guerrilla, even though he had told her the opposite. A couple of weeks later someone from the Fiscalia’s office arrived at his cell with a stack of paper. The attorney told the young man that if he signed, his sentence would be 6 years or less, but that if he didn’t sign he would be in jail for at least 9 years. The young man signed, but being illiterate, had no idea that by signing the papers he was in fact “admitting” to being a guerrilla! In the end, he was sentence to 2 years. Later, it was confirmed that at least one of his accusers had been paid to give testimonies against various campesinos in the region. At least the young man got one useful thing out of the experience: during the time he was in jail, the young man not only learned to read, but completed schooling through the 7th grade.
The Peace Community is particularly worried about Samir because the Community has always had a conflictive relationship with him. The Community publicly denounced Samir for his responsibility in the deaths of various Community members in years past – including young children. In turn, Samir openly criticized the community for not siding with any armed actor (presumably he wanted them to side with him). Because of these past conflicts, Samir will be more than willing, the Community assumes, to “confirm” the false testimony of other reinsertados. The Fiscalia, after all, seems to operate under the assumption that multiple lies make a truth.
In response to the increasing use of montajes of late as well as the growing fear about what is being planned with Samir, the Community has asked that Colombia’s High Court declare a state of “unconstitionality” in Urabá, given that many constitutional principles have bee violated: separation of powers, equality of citizens under the law, the right to be judges by independent, impartial and competent judges and tribunals, etc. It waits to be seen whether justice will in fact be served here. After all, the Community is still waiting for justice in the 2005 massacre in which 5 adults and three children were brutally murdered by the army and paramilitaries. The new Obama administration, as it reconsiders its previous opposition to the Free Trade Agreement (!) and updates to Plan Colombia, should strongly consider pressure and support for a stronger, fully independent judiciary system in Colombia.