Colombia unravels, step by step, the skein of more than half a century of armed conflict and is approaching, with ever greater determination, even in the midst of the pandemic, the painful – and it is hoped that it is restorative – truth of war. As part of this difficult effort to heal wounds, two of the top commanders of both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries appeared this Wednesday before the Truth Commission, which emerged from the peace agreement with the former FARC. A virtual meeting between once irreconcilable enemies with great symbolic weight, which ended with two requests for forgiveness.
Interpellated by the Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, the president of the Commission, Rodrigo Londoño, better known as Timochenko when he belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and Salvatore Mancuso, who commanded the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, recognized their responsibilities by recounting without going into too specific details their rise as ‘warlords’, their decisions in arms and the degradation of a conflict that also involved state forces, and left nine million victims. An unimaginable scenario until very recently, which had the virtual presence of Londoño, from his home study, and Mancuso from the prison where he is being held in Georgia, in the United States. In the end, the former paramilitary also reiterated the request to be accepted in the peace court.
“We are not judges. The Truth Commission is a space where we meet to tell each other the truths ”, with transparency and clarity, said De Roux in his introductory words, in which he expressed his full confidence in the work of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) , the transitional justice system, and acknowledged that both Londoño and Mancuso “are playing for peace” despite the risks involved in their contributions.
When it was his turn, Timochenko, president of the Comunes political party, reviewed his communist training and decades of experience in the insurgency, which he joined in 1976. “It never crossed my mind to leave the armed struggle. We were convinced. Now one is self-critical, ”Londoño pointed out in an extensive and at times disorderly dialogue, in which he accepted the damage caused in the midst of the maelstrom of war. “Life gave me the privilege of being the signer of the peace, which represents a lot because we were in a confrontation that generated deep wounds in society, but I have the possibility of working to heal those wounds,” he said.
“The complexity of the Colombian armed conflict does not admit one-sided truths. It is a network of situations that involves the voice of one and the other. This composition is the only one that can provide an extensive and real vision of what happened, ”said Mancuso, who connected with the orange uniform that distinguishes many inmates in prisons in the United States. “It is not justification or apology, it is only what happened years ago, when we were actors in the war,” he said, recounting how at first he was a victim of extortion, and later the brothers Carlos and Vicente Castaño invited him to found self-defense groups that they spread in the departments of northern Colombia. It was a political, military and economic project, he said.
He also described the ties with various institutions and the Convivir, a sort of legal self-defense system accepted by the State. “There was always a direct coordination that made it possible to advance with the self-defense groups,” he said. Mancuso submitted to the Justice and Peace process during Álvaro Uribe’s government (2002-2010), and was later extradited for drug trafficking in 2008. At that time, he said that with his departure they were extraditing the truth. He has already served his sentence in the United States, and is waiting to return to Colombia, where he is accused of coordinating more than a hundred massacres. At the end, when reading a request for pardon, he announced that he intends to request his presence as a witness before the JEP in the case related to the ‘false positives’, the euphemism with which the extrajudicial executions of civilians presented by the army are known as casualties in combat. So far, the peace court has rejected it.
In one of the segments, the victims’ questions followed one another, and about twenty of them accompanied the session from the Commission’s headquarters in downtown Bogotá. “Why were they cruel to peasant women?” The representative of the Montes de María groups, in the Colombian Caribbean, snapped at them. The commissioners’ interventions also included harsh recriminations.
The entity has always put the dignity of the victims in the foreground, and worked with them in preparations that sought for the encounter to have a restorative effect, in addition to helping to understand what happened to contribute to non-repetition, one of the pillars of agreements. “This scenario is not and cannot be to glorify oneself as war actors, but to show the immense debt that you and all the other actors in the conflict, the State and Colombians, have with the victims and with all those who were murdered, mutilated. , kidnapped, taken from their lands, displaced and humiliated, ”De Roux warned Londoño and Mancuso on March 18, when he presented the route of the contribution to the truth and recognition of the responsibilities of the former commanders.
Despite the pandemic, the Commission has worked without pause, supported by virtuality. Among many other activities, it has organized the voluntary appearances of former presidents Ernesto Samper, César Gaviria and Juan Manuel Santos, and is preparing that of Andrés Pastrana. Last month, a group of victims of the kidnapping – which included the former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt– He confronted face to face, for the first time, the leadership of the extinct FARC. In that shocking face-to-face meeting in a Bogotá theater, Londoño apologized to the many guerrilla victims, as he did again this Wednesday. “I know that forgiveness is something very personal,” he said, but he was willing to reiterate that request “until the last day of my existence.”
The Comprehensive System for Peace, which includes both the Commission and the JEP, accelerates its pace in 2021. Although the Commission concludes its three-year mandate in November with a final report, the Constitutional Court is studying a demand to expand that period. “I want to invite the victims not to lose hope, we will fight so that this truth from everywhere is brought to light in Colombia. We want our Final Report to make their suffering and their cry of anguish and pain felt ”, Father De Roux concluded this Wednesday.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.