General Mario Montoya was the star soldier who oversaw the defeat of Latin America’s most powerful insurgency, a US-trained professional acclaimed for turning a demoralized army around and plotting a series of brutal attacks against Colombia’s left-wing guerrillas. .
After taking command of the South American country’s army in 2006, he regularly appeared on television news, the face of a modern army that even spoke the language of human rights.
“General Montoya was in command of the army at the height of the conflict, when the military was taking the fight to the guerrillas with unprecedented intensity,” said Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight for the Washington Office for Latin America. “It looked like an emblem of a new, more professional, and more effective army working closely with the United States.”
However, Montoya now faces murder charges, allegedly overseen for the kidnapping and execution of up to 104 civilians, including five children, who were falsely described as rebels to increase the statistics, in a scandal known in Colombia as the “false positives. “. .
“Montoya’s legacy is very different from what he and the Colombians expected it to be in mid-2008,” Isacson said. “Since then, he has come to be seen as a general who measured success through body counts and who created an internal climate that tolerated human rights abuses.”
Colombia’s attorney general’s office announced Sunday that charges will be brought, piercing the aura of invincibility of the now-retired general and giving victims hope that light will finally be shed on one of the darkest chapters of the country’s internal conflict.
The vast majority of “false positive” murders took place between 2002 and 2008, when the government of then-President Álvaro Uribe was at war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Farc), a leftist rebel group that finally made the peace with the government in 2016.
A special peace court, known as the JEP, found in February that at least 6,402 people were killed as “false positives.”
The soldiers who carried out the executions were rewarded with benefits including time off and promotions, while their superiors used the figures to justify significant military aid from the United States.
Montoya, whom Uribe once described as “a hero of the homeland,” was in command of the army during the abuses and was in close contact with its commander-in-chief. Resigned in 2008, when the news of the false positives scandal was first known.
One of the victims was Julián Oviedo Monroy, who disappeared in 2008 after being recruited near his home near Bogotá with false promises of work. His body was eventually found in a mass grave near Colombia’s eastern border with Venezuela.
“As one of his victims, I tell Mario Montoya that I want him to face justice, to face the truth,” said Blanca Monroy, Julián’s mother. “I am happy that the Colombian justice system is finally giving some results, and I hope that he will be charged and pay many years in prison for what he has done.”
While more than 1,000 lower and middle-ranking soldiers have been convicted and imprisoned for their role in the executions, no general has yet faced serious legal danger. Montoya, who is one of the most decorated Colombian military officers alive, would be by far the highest profile officer.
Few prominent figures were quick to defend Montoya after the attorney general’s announcement, although a disjointed hashtag on Twitter, #ISupportGeneralMontoya gained some traction. Neither Montoya nor Uribe have made any public comment on the looming charges.
But analysts say the charges are more symbolic than practical, given that in 2018 Montoya, who previously denied wrongdoing, began cooperating with the JEP’s investigation into extrajudicial executions, preventing him from facing justice in court. ordinary, at least for now.
If Montoya is sentenced by the JEP, he would serve between five and eight years, out of prison, and of community service, although he could face the rest of his life behind bars if his case ends up in ordinary court.
“The announcement is important, but above all it is symbolic while Montoya and other generals are before the JEP,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “But he will have to fully confess his crimes before the JEP or he could be expelled from that process and will have to face the ordinary courts.”
Whatever happens to Montoya, the impending charges have once again highlighted former President Uribe’s role in the conflict. Activists led by mothers of victims like Monroy have used the slogan “Who gave the order?” on murals in cities of Colombia.
“Montoya drew his power from having a direct line with Uribe,” Vivanco said. “He was so powerful that Montoya understood that he could keep everyone at bay like that.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism