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The Colombian Army's Strategy in the Truth Commission

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

23 August 2019

The Spanish State newspaper, El País published an article based on an internal document of the Colombian army where General Martínez talked about their strategy in the Truth Commission and all transitional justice settings.

The first thing that jumps off the page, is that unlike the FARC party, the NGOs and the bunch of cowards in Congress, the army has a strategy.  They don't appear before those bodies not knowing what their intentions are.  As the soldiers that they are, they are fully aware that these bodies are battlefields where not only is a judicial truth at stake in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace but also an historical truth.  They know that the definition of the conflict Colombia went through and is still going through is up for grabs.

According to the document they aim to "fulfil the strategy for the construction of a narrative framework of the historic memory of the Colombian armed conflict that seeks to guide the institutional position in the spaces for truth and historic memory" and "The participation of the National Army in the Truth Commission is a strategic resource for the post conflict processes."  The document states that they have to construct and reconstruct the memory of the conflict, or as they put it 'their truth' and that it is fundamental for the establishment of a historic memory narrative that in line with the institutional position."(1)  It is worth remembering that there are documents of theirs that will never see the light of day, but the Truth Commission will take into account information shared in confidence.  They understand very well that the supposed peace is another theatre of war.  The official position is that they respected democracy and human rights and that they were also victims of the conflict.

That they respected democracy and human rights is absurd, a vile lie, but they will win that particular battle in the Truth Commission as its president Francisco De Roux has already said as much.

I must also acknowledge that I have been unfair when I have generalised about soldiers and police officers in Colombia.  I admit that I have an intellectual and emotive abhorrence of weapons on all sides.  I am a follower of Jesus who once and for all separated God from all wars and preached effective non-violence.  But I know there have been many and increasing numbers of men and women in the Armed Forces who see service to the homeland as a service to the dignity and rights of every human being and the collective good of peace.(2)
The institution will come out of it well even if some members or acts carried out are condemned.  The army's strategy is that we recall the conflict as one of honourable men fighting bandits.  The president of the Truth Commission has already said they are right.  On the other point of them being victims, that is a little more complicated but everything indicates that they have already won half that battle.  The soldiers are participants in a conflict, a soldier that is killed in combat is not a victim neither are guerrillas who are killed in combat.  A soldier murdered after surrendering is a victim of a violation of International Humanitarian Law, and on that point the army is to some degree right but this only covers that soldier in those circumstances and not the military institution as such nor the mass of soldiers who have taken part in the conflict.

The president of the Truth Commission responded calmly to the existence of the army's strategic document regarding truth and said it was normal for an institution to want to coordinate and put forward their vision of the conflict.(3)  Common criminals don't get an opportunity to coordinate their vision of their crimes, but now the army does.  Also there is a long history in the country of the repressive forces of the state coordinating the truth.  When they disappeared the canteen workers from the Palace of Justice, they coordinated their answer, in Operation Genesis they did the same and in the case of the so called False Positives they coordinated their answers.  We know where this ends, it ends in lies and slander.  But they at least understand that they are fighting for how the history of the conflict will be written.  Now we have an uribista managing the National Centre for Historic Memory and the army comes along to complement the harm that this man may do to history with its own attack on the truth.  Of course, many of those who could refute the army's version are not in any condition to do so, the army murdered them a long time ago. Now they are coming after the truth, to murder it as well.

The sad thing about this is that the FARC party does not have a similar strategy, the state's forces seem to be more Leninist than those that for more than 50 years claimed the name of Lenin as theirs.  Neither do the NGOs nor the social democrats in the Congress have a strategy regarding the truth, for them the conflict is over and they trust the state's institutions (yes whether they like it or not, the Truth Commission is a state body, regardless of what is said about its independence and origin).  In the same way that many organisations broke with the National Centre for Historic Memory following the appointment of Rubén Darío Acevedo as director, the organisations that are truly interested in truth should do the same in relation to the Truth Commission.  The experience of other countries indicates that once the truth commissions' reports are published their version ends up being the one that is accepted, unless as in the case of Guatemala an alternative report is compiled.  But in Colombia it would seem that the only ones wiling to fight in a coordinated fashion for their version of history are the military.


(1) El Espectador (21/08/2019) La versión del conflicto que el Ejército quiere posicionar en la Comisión de la Verdad

(2) El Tiempo (01/03/2017)

(3) El Espectador (21/08/2019) Es normal la posición del Ejército: De Roux sobre la versión del conflicto de los uniformados

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