Justice | 4/22/2009 12:00:00 AM
Why Did They Kill the Children? (II)
On this second part SEMANA reveals the efforts to cover up the massacre and how the justice system finally took action
From the beginning, Father Javier Giraldo pointed his finger at the army. “I spoke with
many campesinos and their versions of the story convinced me of their guilt.” However,
criticism rained down on him. Who could imagine that the army could be involved in a
crime the principal victims of which were children?
The dead had not even been laid to rest when the media began to broadcast the testimony of two supposedly demobilized FARC guerillas, who accused the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó of having ties to guerillas, and who declared that the guerrillas had carried out this terrible massacre. The ex-guerrillas were Elkin Tuberquia and Apolinar Guerra, and were under the protection of Colonel Néstor Iván Duque, the then commander of the Bejarano Battalion of the Seventeenth Brigade. Their claims were quite implausible, but they confused the matter from the start.
Also, the commander of the Army, General Carlos Alberto Ospina, made an effort to
explain, with maps in hand, that the coordinates of the troops’ location demonstrated that they were far from the area where the massacre had occurred. We now know that an
official ordered that their location be altered from the moment that the operation was
planned. As if that weren’t enough, even the government, before lamenting the massacre and pressing for an explanation, passed judgment on the community by denying the presence of military and police in the area. Justice was at a standstill because although it was clear that the massacre had been an act of the military troops and paramilitaries, no one knew where to start because the Peace Community refused to talk. It ended up being the testimony of ‘Melaza’ that began to unravel the web of conflicting stories.
The Justice System Finally Takes Action
Everything could have remained in the shadow of impunity if it had not been for the
diligent work of one government lawyer. Since the Peace Community was overcome by
distrust and refused to speak with representatives of the justice system, the government
prosecutors and investigators began to scrape together evidence wherever they could.
Two years ago, the Attorney General’s Office, in an effort to break the apparent pact of
silence, made the very unusual move of calling in for questioning 60 members of the
Seventeenth Brigade, who might have participated in the crimes.
At the end of 2007, the plot took a definitive turn. ‘Melaza’ had been captured during the investigation of the death of Carlos Castaño. Although he was initially going to
participate in the attack on the head of the AUC, he was later dismissed and in the end
was not involved. He had already been absolved of the crime and was about to be set
free when a prosecutor remembered that in a book by Germán Castro Caycedo, someone
called ‘Melaza’ was mentioned in association with the massacre in San José de Apartadó.
He was called to testify in the case. All ‘Melaza’ was able to say was “I didn’t kill those
children.” From prison in Itagüí, where he spoke with SEMANA, the ex-paramilitary stood by his story, “the government asks for the truth, but what for if they can’t handle it.” From the beginning, his testimony incriminated Captain Gordillo. Gordillo, in turn, incriminated his superiors by saying that in November of 2007 “I met with General Fandiño in an apartment of the 106. He showed me ‘Melaza’s’ statement and said that I would probably be called in for questioning… he told me that under no circumstances was I to admit that we had armed civilian guides or any personnel with us who weren’t soldiers… that statements had already been made by two FARC informants (Tuberquia and Guerra) indicating that those people had been killed by the 58th Front.”
But Gordillo’s luck had run out. By the end of the month he had been captured. Shortly
thereafter, upon hearing the charges against him, he realized there was nothing he could
do. He pled guilty and accepted a plea agreement. He confessed that his troops had gone on patrols with paramilitaries and it was understood that they did this in order to commit barbarous acts that would incite terror. Because of this, ten members of the military have been called to trial, including Colonel Espinosa and Major Castaño. The prosecutor, Mario Iguarán, announced that General Héctor Fandiño, the commander of the Brigade at the time, would also be investigated.
At least six of the paramilitaries who participated in the massacre have died. The
paramilitary with the alias ’44,’ who had key pieces of information regarding what
happened, was murdered last year in Valencia, Córdoba. ‘Melaza’ and ‘Kiko’ are being
closely guarded in prison because of the threats they have received.
History has vindicated the much-criticized Father Javier Giraldo. His claims, which
seemed inconceivable, were gradually confirmed. However, he himself is close to
imprisonment due to an accusation of slander lodged against him by Colonel Duque, to
which Giraldo has responded with the radical claim of being a conscientious objector and has refused to appear in court and give testimony. Ironically, the strong man of the FARC in San José de Apartadó, ‘Samir,’ the one who the military accused of committing the massacre, was demobilized in December and since then has participated in the Seventeenth Brigade’s operations all around Urabá. His testimony will be key in this case.
The justice system is trying to unravel the questions still being raised in this complex
investigation. Who planned the joint operation? Did it have to do with revenge against
the community for FARC offensives? Was justice intentionally thwarted?
In the meantime, Gordillo, without a shade of regret in his eyes, awaits judgment in a
military prison. In a second military prison, the 10 members of the military awaiting trial
continue to deny everything.
*Translation by by Anne Schoeneborn, a CSN volunteer translator