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Colombia: Santos, Whitewashing His Image, Washing His Hands

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

12 June 2021

Banner protesting False Positives (Photo: G.O.L)

Santos appeared before the Truth Commission (CEV) to confess and accept his role in the 6,402 false positives acknowledged by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).  Well, that is the Alice in Wonderland version, in reality he did nothing of the sort, he openly lied, he made a mockery of the victims and he tried to place all the blame on his accomplice in these murders: Uribe Vélez.

If there is a testimony that shows that the CEV is of no use in clearing up cases of state terrorism it is the one Santos gave.  First of all, Santos even used the term "sin" to describe what happened.  No sir, it was no sin, nor a mistake or slip up, it was a crime against humanity, for which you and Uribe should be charged.  Santos went on to lament the events in the tone of a sinner in the confession box before the president of the CEV, Francisco de Roux, who also acts as a priest and for the last few decades has been forgiving and demanding we in turn forgive the elites of the country.  Santos stated:

This should never have happened.  I acknowledge that and I ask the mothers and all their families, victims of this terrible event for forgiveness.  From the depths of my soul, I hope that this never happens again.(1)

I am left with the remorse that during my term as Minister, many, very many mothers lost their children through this ruthless practice.  Innocent youths who should be alive today.(2)

Santos feels remorse, but the families feel a deep pain and emptiness in their lives which won't be solved by an "acknowledgement" that does not accept his real role in the murders.    Various right wing politicians came out to criticise him.  They are all hypocrites as they too bear responsibility in the affair and some did similar things.  One of the first was Armando Benedetti who was a loyal servant of Uribe and Santos during the worst stage of the false positives.  Nowadays he is trying to reinvent himself as a human rights defender, in the same way Samper did, after his misdeeds.  All he is missing is the Communist Party inviting him to preside over a discussion at its next congress.  However, he is not wrong in what he says.
Why did @JuanManSantos not resign his position as Minister of Defence in Uribe's government when he realised that they had different views on the war?  He stayed and was elected thanks to Uribe, something everyone has forgotten.(3)
It is a good question, if he realised all of this, why did he stay?  Maybe for the same reasons Benedetti did not break with Uribe back then.  Benedetti was in the Party of National Unity, one of main bulwarks of Uribism, from 2005 until 2020 when he decided to reinvent himself and cross over to Petro's ranks.  In 2009 when false positives were already public knowledge he reaffirmed his support for Uribe.  "He insists that he will 'back Uribe in any scenario', but he asserts that 'this does not apply to the rest of the Cabinet'."(4)  Of course, he supported Uribe's re-election.  So, unlike Santos he may not bear any legal responsibility for the false positives and other atrocities carried out, but he does have a political and moral responsibility in the matter.  So when he states "I hope Juan Manuel Santos appears before the Commission of Accusations and also the JEP to judicially resolve the false positives and that it not just be left as an expression of "remorse" in a tweet",(5) we should question his sincerity.  It is part of a cheap strategy to distance himself from the bloodbath he supported at the time.

Banner depicting child murdered and mutilated by army (Photo: G.O.L)

Santos, for his part, says that he found out about the false positives thanks to the investigation by his deputy minister Sergio Jaramillo and at the same time distances himself from his other deputy minister "Juan Carlos Pinzón who was pushing in the opposite direction, i.e. to keep denying it."(6)  Of course Pinzón is currently tainted by family connections to drug traffickers.  But if this were true he has to explain why he appointed the negationist Pinzón as his Minister of Defence, a position he held between 2011 and 2015 when Santos appointed him as ambassador to the USA.  It is not credible.

Then he tries to paint himself as a valiant Don Quixote fighting against the false positives.

I repeated the same message over and again throughout the country, in every division, every brigade, every battalion:  You have to fight with a rifle in one hand and the Constitution in the other. We can never forget that respect for the rule of law and human rights is what differentiates us and imbues us with a moral superiority over the enemy that we have to vanquish and will vanquish.(7)
Then he immediately states that they ignored him.
The proof of the negligence by the commanders of those units, given the evidence of procedures that broke, in every aspect, with the doctrine and training in operations, intelligence, logistics, was overwhelming and the body of irregular operational results was so terrifying that we decided we had to remove 20 officers and seven NCOs from the ranks, including three generals and four colonels for failures that took place on their watch. (A further thirteen officers left in November and another eleven in January 2009).(8)
This isn't true either.  Santos and Uribe removed various officers only due to the pressure of families, human rights organisations and also because a number of them had court proceedings underway.  He did not do so willingly, but rather reluctantly.  Proof of this can be seen in the attitude taken to the statements by Uribe in March 2009 that there were only 22 false positive cases.(9)  He did not express any disagreement with Uribe over the figure of 22 cases, nor with the term "only" as if the murder of 22 youths or whatever number it was, was a minor matter.  He was still Minister of Defence at the time.

"According to his statement, it was only at the beginning of 2007, when "the scales fell from his eyes" on the issue, after receiving confidential reports form international organisms and following an investigation by his then deputy minister Sergio Jaramillo".(10)  This is not credible either, as there is a 2007 Risk Report from the Public Defenders' Office on the recruitment of youths for work outside of Bogotá, although it initially spoke of paramilitaries and not the army.(11)   This report never became an Early Warning Alert(12) and we all know what happened to the youths in Soacha.

Santos seeks to present himself as another victim and not as the one responsible for what happened.  We shouldn't believe a word he says.  Another hypocrite who said a few home truths about Santos' testimony is Rafael Pardo.  Like Benedetti, he also wishes to wash his hands of it.  Pardo as Minister of Defence in the government of Cesar Gaviria (1990-1994) signed the decree that gave us the legal facade for the paramilitaries known as the Convivir (Rural Security Cooperatives). But what he has to say is true and should be applied to both himself and Santos.

Mr Santos should be called to account; he was not the Minister of Health or the Environment. He was the Minister of Defence and everyday he would come out to boast about what the state's security forces were doing... and as such he got a lot of medals and awards and he stuck his chest out at home and abroad.(13)
It is true, both of the former Ministers of Defence should be called to account for their acts.  Shortly after Santos' testimony a man who had always accused Santos of being the intellectual author of what had happened died.  Don Raúl Carvajal, whose son was a professional soldier who refused to take part in a false positive and for this very reason was murdered by the army, passed away.  He didn't live to see Santos nor Uribe in court.  I hope one day we achieve justice and Uribe and Santos go to jail.  I hope that all those left politicians who called for a vote for Santos in 2014 accept their moral responsibility for supporting such a criminal.  Or do they want to whitewash Santos' image once again? Or, do they just want to wash their hands of the affair?





(4) El Tiempo (23/07/2009) Armando Benedetti, un uribista 'rebelde'

(5) El Tiempo (12/06/2021) Políticos reaccionan a declaraciones de Santos sobre falsos positivos

(6) El Tiempo (11/06/2021) Presión para producir bajas dio a 'falsos positivos': Santos

(7) Ibíd.,

(8) Ibíd.,

(9) Caracol (23/03/2009) Uribe dice que solo existen comprobados 22 casos de 'falsos positivos'

(10 ) El Tiempo (11/06/2021) Op. Cit.

(11) Informe de Riesgo No. 48-07

(12) Risk Reports are intelligence reports prepared by the Public Defenders' Office, they are not public documents.  Early Warning Alerts are based on them and issue instructions to or call upon public bodies to take measures to avoid the loss of life, displacement etc.


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