Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The False Positives, an Endless Crime

A protest march by the mothers of the disappeared in Soacha. 
In 2008, about 17 poor young men disappeared from the impoverished south Bogotá neighborhood of Soacha and soon after appeared in mass graves near the Venezuelan border, labeled as dead guerrillas.

Two Soacha mothers. 
Many of the dead youths were troubled, some were drug addicts and others were small-time criminals. But their families quickly showed that the young men had not been guerrillas. Rather, they became some of the most notorious examples of  'falsos positivos' - young men allegedly kidnapped and killed by military units and then falsely labeled as guerrillas in order to earn awards and pay bonuses.

Among the many terrible chapters of Colombia's long armed conflict, the Falses Positives stand out not only because the killings were committed by the military but also because of the calculated and cold-blooded way that the crimes were carried out.

Now, more than three years after the Soacha killings came to light, the victims' mothers have made a documentary which is being shown around Bogotá. Here's their Facebook group.

The mother of a False Positive victim
before her son's photo. (Photo: Global Post)
In all, human rights advocates estimate that some 3,000 youths were murdered by the military as false positives - a scandal which in another nation would likely have brought down the government. But decades of conflict have left Colombians so inured to killings and rights violations that the scandal barely touched then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe's popularity.

On the positive side, the killings were not covered up. And, in the end, a group of high-level military officials were fired over the scandal. But legal prosecutions for the killings have been few and progressed slowly. In the case of the Soacha youths, El Tiempo reported in May that only one of the prosecutions had advanced, while cases against some other soldiers had been dropped because time limits had expired. Eight soldiers were convicted in this case.

Meanwhile, the mothers who continue fighting for justice for their sons are gaining a moral stature similar to that of the Argentinean mothers who lost children in that nation's 'Dirty War.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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