The extermination of the Patriotic Union, the state persecution and the recruitment of paramilitaries and guerrillas in Bogotá

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According to the volume 'Central Region' of the Colombia volume within the Final Report of the Truth Commission, in departments of the center of the country including Bogotá , there was strong repression by the State and paramilitaries against members of the UP and the Communist Party

By

Oscar Mauricio López

The extermination of the Patriotic Union, the state persecution and the recruitment of ‘paras’ and guerrillas in Bogota

According to records from the Truth Commission, violence against the Unión Patriótica grew excessively in the 1990s, especially in the central zone of the country. PHOTO: Infobae (Jesús Avilés)

“How much risk we were exposed to for being at the center of a conflict that was not ours, but that we could not do anything to avoid,” María Belarmina Mora told the Truth Commission. She was the only survivor of the massacre perpetrated on the Palacios family in August 1991 in Fusagasugá. In fact, this was one of the two most violent events in that municipality in the early 1990s, adding to the hundreds of crimes against members of the Union Patriotica —UP— and the Communist Party Colombian.

About 2:45 a.m. on the 19th of that month, several men who wore clothing for the exclusive use of the Military Forces broke into the quiet of the family home and murdered Don Antonio Palacios, 65, a member of the UP, and his children Yaneth, her husband Rodrigo; Blanca and Camilo. According to the investigations, the subjects who carried rifles surrounded the house to prevent their victims from escaping. Never before had a massacre of such magnitude occurred in the town, according to El Tiempo that year.

In total, about 30 men arrived at that house in the Comuneros neighborhood in two white vans, all wearing official clothing. In the house, seven bullet-ridden bodies were found: the five from the Palacios family and two more who were taken alive to that place to kill them as well. After that massacre, the Military Forces affirmed that they had died in combat with the Farc, but the investigations of the Dijin presented another opinion:

At no time was there an exchange of shots and that those shot were found lying on the floor and immobile and that the shots were received at a maximum distance of one meter and all with a cranioencephalic explosion”, concluded the entity after the investigations. Months later, and according to testimony given to the Commission, it was determined that senior officers of the Army's 13th Brigade (currently based in Bogotá) were responsible for that massacre.

Our sin was being from the Patriotic Union, but you and we all know that this is not a crime,” said María Belarmina in a substantive report by the IACHR. This fact marked a series of attacks against members of the Patriotic Union and sympathizers of the PCC. According to figures from the Corporación Reiniciar attached to the report on violence against members of the left-wing community, between 1990 and 1991 there went from 7 cases to 18 attacks in Bogotá and Cundinamarca, and from 26 to 56 in the Central region as a whole ( Boyacá, Tolima and Huila). The responsibility of State agents was also evidenced.

Other testimonies compiled by the new entity of the Peace Agreement signed in 2016, date that added to the state repression (in Bogotá, for example, the High Mountain Battalion of Sumapaz repressed UP militants in the country's capital), guerrillas and paramilitary groups committed various human rights violations, including forced recruitment. According to Reiniciar, between the years following the Fusagasugá massacre (1991 and 2002), 517 acts of violence against UP militants occurred in the Central region.

In Tolima, the persecution and extermination was against the Association of Small and Medium Farmers of Northern Tolima, whose members protested intensely in the 1990s due to the crisis in the coffee sector generated by the opening imposed in the government of César Gaviria and the signing of the International Coffee Pact in 1989. Agrarian forums and strikes were held that lasted entire weeks, where they demanded the cancellation of debts and the delivery of subsidies to curb the plague of borer and investment in the countryside through productive projects.

The public forces, according to the Commission, stigmatized this and other social mobilizations, stating that the guerrillas were behind it. Agreements were reached with the governments of Gaviria and Samper and although they were not fully complied with, there were benefits such as the cancellation of some debts and agreements made with Bancafé, the Coffee Growers Committee and the Caja Agraria.