More than three years after a brutal massacre of two families in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombian prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 15 Army soldiers for participating in the killing and for terrorism. (Fiscalía press release, March 27)
The arrests were based on the chilling testimony of a paramilitary member who participated in the killing. He told prosecutors that he and others had suggested taking the children to a neighbor’s house, but that their commander refused, saying six-year-old Natalia Bolivar and her 18-month-old brother Santiago would become guerrillas. Their father, he said, begged on his knees for them not to kill the children, before he himself was killed and, like the others, his body cut into pieces.
An hour’s hike from there, Luis Eduardo Guerra, his son and girlfriend were also killed—directly by army soldiers, according to a witness.
At the time, high officials—President Uribe, Vice President Santos and the Defense Minister —said publicly that the army was not responsible, that evidence pointed to the FARC, or accused community leaders of belonging to the FARC.
The arrested soldiers include three lieutenants and 12 foot soldiers from the Velez Battalion of the Army’s 17th Brigade, the brigade accused by the Peace Community of participation in many of the crimes committed in the area. Last November, prosecutors arrested a captain from the same battalion, and earlier called 69 soldiers in for questioning about the massacre.
“The truth that has always sustained the community, a truth of the victims, is once again reaffirmed,” the Peace Community said after the arrests. The community expressed appreciation for all those “who have believed and been with the victims, their dreams and lives for a different world. This encourages us to continue building alternatives of true peace.”
But the community said that paramilitary threats against its members also continue. On March 24 in the city of Apartadó, paramilitary men approached people close to the Peace Community and told them that the community’s leaders “could be sure that sooner or later they would kill them, that they had to carry out a massacre in San Josecito or La Unión [the two largest settlements of the Peace Community], and that everything was already worked out with the police.”
FOR applauds the steps taken to bring to justice those responsible for the massacre, after which our field team accompanied the community in the exhumation of bodies and through their grief. We see these positive steps as the result of persistent and brave actions by Colombians and acts of solidarity by many people around the world who were impacted by these events and acted and spoke for justice.
We also have some questions still with us. How did paramilitaries commanded by the notorious “Don Berna” come to be working with the Army’s Velez Battalion? When will those who killed Luis Eduardo Guerra’s family, an hour’s hike away, also be held responsible? And who will hold accountable the president and other high officials who mounted a cover-up of the army’s responsibility for this and other crimes? Our work is far from over.
Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Program March monthly update