Thursday, June 26, 2014

No More 'Off to the Army Now'?

'Let's see those papers!' Soldiers review a young man's documents to see whether he's done the obligatory military service.
The batida has long been a disturbing and controversial institution in Colombian cities.

A young man is walking across a plaza or down a street, when he is stopped by soldiers who demand his papers. If the youth cannot demonstrate that he did the obligatory military service by displaying his libreta militar, he's detained and loaded onto a truck headed to a military base. Suddenly, he's in the Army now.
Some of these soldiers appear to have more
than recruitment on their minds.
Colombia has obligatory military or police service of one to two years for all young men - in theory. In practice, it's legal to pay to get out of the military service - referred to as 'purchasing the libreta militar.' As a result, wealthy Colombians generally pay their way out of the service, while the poor who end up trudging thru the jungle amidst mosquitoes, marshes and guerrillas.

The military service law does have exceptions: for only sons, conscientious objectors and those with physical disabilities.

Some rights activists argue that the public batidas are illegal - an issue which has been fought over in court.

You're in the Army now! A truckload of young men
caught in redadas are driven off to camp.
Of course, military service can be a positive experience. I've known parents who wanted their sons to join the Army in order to learn skills, discipline and to improve their future job prospects - as well as to get them out of the house and out from underfoot.

During his successful reelection campaign, Pres. Santos, who had been minister of defense, and whose son did perform military service, promised that if the government reaches a peace treaty with the FARC guerrillas, Colombia's military draft would be ended.

Perhaps sometime soon, young men will breathe a bit easier when they go out for that walk.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


thellamadiaries said...

Hi Mike! Thanks for talking about this- these illegal detention, also known as batidas, happens all the time, especially in cities outside of Bogota, as Petro´s office is cracking down on batidas in Bogota. Batidas are actually defined as illegal, both according to international law as well as Colombian, where they are called arbitrary detentions. And while conscientious objection is defining as a right in the constitution, it is very difficult to access, as there is no legal route through which to claim such a right. Many youth that identify as COs, and that my office accompanies, are currently undergoing legal processes through the courts and face serious threats, often from the military itself. One of our current challenges is the formation of a law that creates an easy to use route that actually allows someone to define as a CO, including the possibility of alternative service.

Miguel said...


Thanks for the comment - and correction, as I believe that 'batida' is the correct term.

I had heard that a court ruled that the practice was illegal, but that the military simply ignored the ruling. I see batidas taking place frequently in central Bogotá. What organization do you work for?



Hello World! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thellamadiaries said...

I work for Justapaz, and organization of the Mennonite Church that works for nonviolent change and peace with social justice. Our website: and facebook page: