Monday, August 10, 2009

"Witness" paid to testify against Peace Community

Last week the demobilized paramilitary known as "HH" testified that he gave money to the Colombia army to in order to bride demobilized guerrillas into claiming that the FARC was responsible for the February 2005 massacre in which eight members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó were brutally murdered.

From the moment Peace Community members learned of the massacre, in which 8 Community members, including a 21-month-old baby, were killed and dismembered, they attributed the crime to the Colombian military in cooperation with paramilitaries. The government and the army’s 17th Brigade, which operates in the region of Apartadó, were quick to refute the denouncement, instead accusing the Community of collaborating with the FARC and attributing the crime to the very same guerrillas. It was not until 2008, when paramilitaries and subsequently army officials started confessing their role in the massacre that the government began to admit that perhaps the guerrillas weren't responsible after all.

The testimony of HH, whose real name is Ever Velosa García, however, is key because it not only reconfirms the role of the military and paramilitaries but also demonstrates the lengths that military officials have and will go to cover up their crimes and discredit those who oppose them. In his testimony HH describes how he was asked for money by then-coronel Néstor Iván Duque López to pay demobilized FARC guerrillas: “On that occasion, he went with a bunch of papers and told me that he was defending himself from some denouncements from San José de Apartadó and asked me to give him 2 million pesos [about a thousand dollars at current exchange rates] to give to some witness who were going to testify about the massacre of San José de Apartadó,” Velosa testified to Colombia’s Attorney General’s office.

At the time of the massacre Coronel Duque was the commander of the Bejaranos Battalion, the army unit that participated in the slaughter. The massacre wasn’t the only collaboration between Duque and the paramilitaries, however: “Duque collaborated with us in the region of Urabá and we coordinated [troop movements] with him,” HH testified.

One of the individuals who probably received the cash has confirmed HH’s statements. A campesino from the region named Apolinar Guerra George, who had acted as a miliciano (a FARC helper, though not a combatant), in June retracted his testimony from April 2005 in which he had fingered the FARC as responsible for the massacre and accused two of the massacre’s victims as belonging to the guerrillas. Guerra George has since received threats from Coronel Duque for having retracted the story for which he was paid.

Apolinar’s retracted testimony and HH’s new revelations about the payments put into question other “witnesses” who have denounced the Peace Community or accused it of collaboration with the guerrilla. The newest in a line of such "witnesses" is alias Samir, who, as I mentioned in a February post, turned himself in late last year and has since made widespread and damning accusations against the Community (see my teammate Peter’s account of Samir’s recent forays into being a “witness”).

For Guerra George, it’s clear that Samir’s testimonies are more of the same strategy against the Peace Community: “They will bring other demobilized [guerrillas] and they will say that what the others have said is true, things that in reality are false, and they will continue testifying that they are true because they are still bought by Coronel Duque.”

No comments: