BOGOTÁ, Colombia — On a Sunday morning in 2008, Idaly Garcerá Valdez returned from a visit with family to find her dwelling empty, her 26-year-broken-down son gone and a explain posted on her entrance door.
Days earlier, her son had told her he had been invited to glide to the Colombian flit for a job alternative — and a possibility to discover the ocean for the first time.
Instead, his mother would later learn, he became once taken a complete bunch of miles from their residence in Soacha, appropriate originate air Bogotá, to rural Norte de Santander department. He became once handed over to members of the Colombian army, and on Aug. 25, shot and killed — one of hundreds of of us slain by government forces and then falsely labeled as guerrilla fighters to increase the number of enemy casualties in the nation’s half-century-prolonged civil war, according to a Colombian court docket.
For 13 years, Garcerá and others gain sought to sustain the nation’s top militia leaders in bellow of what has become is often known as the “Fraudulent Positives” scandal. Their demand, now painted in murals across Colombia: “Who gave the uncover?”
It’s a examine they’ve prolonged build to one man in explicit: Gen. Mario Montoya, the U.S.-trained commander who led the army at the top of the killings, notorious for helping defeat a really powerful rebel community in the war.
On Wednesday, the 13th anniversary of Tamayo’s demise, Montoya regarded in court docket to be formally charged with demolish for allegedly overseeing and incentivizing the killings of 104 civilians, including five younger of us, according to the nation’s attorney overall. The retired overall, who commanded the army between 2006 and 2008, is the highest-ranking militia officer to face accountability in the scandal that continues to hang-out the nation on the discipline of five years after a peace deal ended a long time of armed battle.
The expenses, pursued by an attorney overall intently aligned with President Iván Duque, would possibly well likely likely signal that the government is now willing to reach to terms with one of the darkest points of its militia’s history, acknowledged Adam Isacson, director of the Protection Oversight program for the Washington Office on Latin The US.
“It’s a true blow to the Colombian army’s image,” Isacson acknowledged. “These which would possibly well likely likely be upheld as heroes and as these who are turning the nation spherical 12 or 15 years ago, now facing expenses of human rights abuse.”
At the arraignment hearing Wednesday, attorneys for both Montoya and the victims of the killings debated whether Attorney Customary Francisco Barbosa ought to be granted jurisdiction over the case. Think Fabio David Bernal Suárez postponed the decision till Thursday, leaving Montoya’s criminal expenses in limbo.
But for family members of victims, the retired overall’s look in the courtroom, wearing a suit and a veil, became once a symbolic and foremost step toward accountability. It became once the first time in Colombia’s most up-to-date history that an attorney overall has requested criminal expenses against the pale head of the army, according to Juan Pappier, a senior researcher for Human Rights Look.
“Seeing him there, arriving appreciate all different criminal … that became once crucial,” acknowledged Jacqueline Castillo, a member of the “Mothers of Soacha,” a community of family members of victims of the extrajudicial killings.
No decrease than 6,402 Colombians had been killed as counterfeit enemy fighters between 2002 and 2008, according to a postwar court docket created in 2016 as piece of the peace take care of the left-wing Modern Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The court docket, is often known as the Particular Jurisdiction for Peace, is charged with investigating the details of the war and holding these who dedicated crimes responsible via restorative sentences and, in some conditions, prison time.
In July, the tribunal charged 11 top militia leaders, including a overall, in the deaths of a minimum of 120 of us in Catatumbo, Norte de Santander. The kidnappings and killings of innocent of us, many of them unemployed, homeless or disabled, had been applied in response to strain to meet physique counts as measures of success, the court docket acknowledged. Protection power leaders incentivized infantrymen to murder by offering medals, awards and even vacation time.
The expenses pursued by Barbosa are prick loose a peace court docket investigation into Montoya’s actions, which has not but yielded expenses.
The attorney overall’s office acknowledged it would possibly well in reality likely likely observe the pale army commander with a number of counts of aggravated demolish and concealing, altering or destroying evidence. Montoya is accused of ignoring a directive issued by the commander overall of the militia forces to prioritize captures over fight deaths. Instead, according to the attorney overall’s office, he compelled the leaders of divisions, brigades and battalions to reach a plot that rewarded commanders who reported casualties.
Andrés Garzón, a lawyer representing Montoya, acknowledged the retired overall denies all expenses. Garzón argued that the attorney overall’s office would not gain jurisdiction over the case and that the peace tribunal does.
“All people must solution for their actions, and at no time did Mario Montoya’s actions give rise to these heinous events,” the lawyer acknowledged. “We appreciate the pain of the households in these 6,400 events and we demand that these conditions be clarified.”
The arraignment marks a steep topple from grace for a commander who became “the face of this modernizing militia on the offensive” in the civil war, Isacson acknowledged.
Montoya became once “a darling of the American citizens,” Isacson acknowledged, in particular as head of Colombia’s Joint Assignment Power South, the chief recipient of U.S. assist in the early days of the anti-drug-trafficking and anti-insurgency initiative Thought Colombia.
He led the army at a time when “the pendulum crossed a midpoint and began to walk inevitably in the direction of a win for the Colombia government over the FARC,” acknowledged William Brownfield, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia between 2007 and 2010.
Maybe most famously, Montoya became once one of the chief orchestrators of Operation Jaque, in which the Colombian army liberated 15 FARC-held hostages, including the Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. A photograph of the general raising a fist beside Betancourt after her rescue became once broadly circulated in Colombia as the nation notorious the victory.
Brownfield, now a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Reviews, dealt in most cases with Montoya. He described him as “a soldier’s overall.”
“He became once nearly Pattonesque in terms of how he projected himself,” Brownfield acknowledged. “I would possibly well likely maybe not be surprised if, given his leadership vogue, Customary Montoya had made it crawl to his sub-commanders that he anticipated to discover results. And results, from his standpoint, became once taking the fight to the FARC … and producing evidence of victory.”
Ordinarily, Montoya would possibly well likely likely be sentenced to 50 to 60 years in prison if convicted. But while he’s additionally being investigated by the peace tribunal, the attorney overall’s office will not be ready to proceed with a trial, according to attorneys representing victims’ households. Unexcited, the expenses would possibly well likely maybe provide vital evidence to make stronger the peace tribunal task, lawyer Sebastián Escobar acknowledged. Pappier acknowledged they’d additionally provide incentives for Montoya to cooperate with the formula.
If he had been charged in the peace court docket, he would gain two choices. He would possibly well likely likely settle for accountability for the crimes and face five to eight years of restrictive measures, corresponding to residence arrest. Or he would possibly well likely likely walk to trial and, if convicted, face five to 20 years in prison.
Castillo acknowledged she hopes to discover Montoya “acknowledge and settle for that these are true details.” But she and others desire to discover authorities retract the case additional up the chain — to determine any feature performed by pale president Álvaro Uribe.
Uribe has denied wrongdoing and condemned the total peace court docket task. He described a most up-to-date document from the court docket as an “assault” supposed to discredit him.
In an announcement offered by a spokeswoman Wednesday, Uribe described Montoya as “an even particular person” and acknowledged “it would possibly well in reality likely likely never walk the president’s soul to think that the general had ordered deaths.” “Uribe demanded results,” the pale president acknowledged in testimony before Colombia’s Truth Commission closing week. “That is their tall accusation against me. … So I’ll explain: Some incapable of us believed that producing results supposed producing crimes.”
German Romero, one more lawyer representing households in the Montoya case, acknowledged he doubts both court docket will pursue a case against the pale president, who is exempt from expenses in the peace tribunal. Montoya, the lawyer acknowledged, “is the tall prize.”
But Garcerá acknowledged she hopes the pale army commander will retract accountability and “speak who else became once working with him.”
“I alarm I’m going to die without finding justice, without knowing the truth,” acknowledged Garcerá, now 73. “Who killed my son?”