Monday, June 29, 2015

The FARC: Never to Blame

Bojayá townspeople walk thru their church,
destroyed by a FARC bomb.
When the FARC guerrillas apologized late last year for their 2002 massacre of 117 civilians in the town of Bojayá, some thot it marked a milestone in efforts to make peace.

Sure, Bojayá was one of the most terrible single acts in Colombia's half-century of conflict. In May, 2002, guerrillas and paramilitaries were fighting over this small, impoverished town of indigenous people and Afro-Colombians. The guerrillas fired one of their notoriously innaccurate homemade mortars at the paramilitaries, only to have it land on the church, where civilians had taken refuge. More than 10% of the town's residents died.

But if many hoped that the guerrillas' grudging acceptance of responsibility marked a shift in which the guerrillas would admit their innumerable crimes against civilians and accept punishment, permitting the healing of Colombia's war wounds, we've been disappointed.

The best proof is the guerrillas' response to their own bombing on the 22nd of a oil pipeline near
A giant turtle killed by oil spilled by the FARC guerrillas.
(Photo: Noticias RCN)
Tumaco. Presumably, the guerrillas thot of it as an attack on big business and the government. But hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil poured across biodiverse jungle, into the Mira River and along the coastline. More than 100,000 residents of Tumaco, a mostly poor city, were left without drinking water.

What's been the guerrillas' response? Apologies? Offers to aid the long-suffering residents of Tumaco, who only days before were left without electricity after the FARC blew up an electricity transmission tower? The most the FARC would say was that the environmental destruction and poisoning of Tumaco's water were a "non-desired result" of their attack. Their statement quickly shifted blame onto the government for "escalating the confrontation."

(Some observers pointed out that, only days before, the FARC had praised Pope Francis's encyclical about protecting the environment.)

This is only the latest in a long series of FARC crimes against civilians, which include massacres, forced displacement, kidnappings, recruitment of children, rape and the planting of landmines.

In Colombia's long conflict, all sides have committed gross human rights violations. But the fundamental difference between state forces and the guerrillas is that the government has held its own people and and institutions to some degree of responsibility. Not enough, certainly, but some degree.

Two army officers are doing long prison terms for killings, tortures and disappearances committed during the 1985 retaking of the Palace of Justice from the M-19 Guerrillas (several of whose ex-leaders, in contrast, are now in government).

Soldiers and officers are being prosecuted and doing prison terms for participating in the False Positive killings, in which military units kidnapped and killed young men and disguised them as guerrillas in order to win bonuses and time off. And now, higher army officials may be charged because they set general policies which made the False Positive killings possible.

And, the inspector general is considering charges against 9 military officers in relation to a FARC ambush of a military unit in El Cauca on April 15, in which 10 soldiers were killed. The officers may have been drunk the night of the massacre and ordered the soldiers to sleep in an unsafe location.

But if the FARC punished their fighters who launched the bomb onto the church in Bojayá or who bombed the pipeline near Tumaco, they haven't said so.

Until the FARC acknowledge their crimes and accept responsibility - and punishment - for their actions, Colombia is not likely to reach a peace agreement, much less any lasting peace.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: