Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Raw Wound Reopens

Soldiers attacking the Justice Palace in 1985.
In a dramatic and incendiary decision, a Bogotá court has ordered Colombia's military to publicly ask forgiveness for human rights violations committed during the retaking of the Justice Palace after a 1985  guerrilla attack.

Bogotá's City Hall: New mayor
Gustavo Petro was a leader of the M-19 guerrillas. 
The M-19 guerrillas had violently invaded the Justice Palace, on Plaza Bolivar, with the apparent assistance of narco Pablo Escobar, and demanded that democratically elected Pres. Belisario Betancur give himself up for a trial by the guerrillas. Instead, the military counterattacked violently. The building went up in flames - the cause is still controversial - and about 100 people died, including 11 of the 12 high court justices. At the time, the military were heroes. But since then evidence has emerged of human rights violations committed by the military, and a consensus has formed that the military used too much violence in the palace's retaking.
The new Justice Palace building. 

Col. Alfonso Plazas Vega, who commanded the counterattack, was convicted of violating human rights, but several other military officers were tried and acquitted.

A plaque in City Hall condemns
the guerrillas' 1985 attack. 
However, the M-19 guerrillas' fate has been very different. A few years after the disasterous attack, the group demobilized and turned into a political party. They participated in the 1991 writing of Colombia's new and quite progressive Constitution, and today several one-time leaders of the M-19 are in government - including Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro.

Military officials ask how it is that the guerrillas, who started it all, are getting off scott-free, while the military who retook the palace are being tried and asked to apologize.

Retired military officials have rejected the court's ruling. (The court also ordered ex-Pres. Betancur's role to be presented to the International Criminal Court.)

A plaque on Seventh Ave. commemorating the people who
disappeared during the military counterattack. 
The El Tiempo newspaper criticized the ruling in a strong editorial, and asked why the guerrillas, who staged the attack, should not have to apologize as well.

"Ordering the Army to carry out an act of public contrition for an attack initiated by guerrillas is both humilliating and excessive," El Tiempo wrote.

ordenar al Ejército que haga un acto de contrición pública por una toma de inspiración guerrillera es tanto humillante como excesivo. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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