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Did Colombia Murder Innocents To Boost The FARC Body Count?

A former soldier accuses the Colombian Army and aides to former President Álvaro Uribe of ordering the killings of innocent civilians amid a "dirty war" against FARC rebels.

Victims on all sides in Colombia, including officers executed in 2011 by FARC
Victims on all sides in Colombia, including officers executed in 2011 by FARC
Santiago Villa

BOGOTAThese were the words allegedly uttered by a former commander of the Colombian Army, General Mario Montoya: "Take them down, take them down. Don't bring me prisoners. And if there is nobody down sic, just find a way."

Such is the testimony of jailed former captain Enrique Guevara Cantillo who has been making allegations about the complicity of senior military figures in the affair of "False Positives," the extra-judicial killings of civilians that have tarnished the Colombian Army's reputation.

The statements made by Guevara, a soldier until 2004 but also a member of a paramilitary gang beginning in 1998, were published last month on the website Las2Orillas (hacked that day to prevent their diffusion).

The words contain assertions that confirm what many of us have long suspected: that the early successes of President Uribe's Democratic Security policies, which dramatically curbed violence and crime in Colombia, were the fruit of an alliance between the Armed Forces and right-wing paramilitaries. It seems the unresolved scandal of False Positives - hapless civilians murdered and later "counted" as guerrillas shot in combat - was a policy of the Colombian state.

Guevara was the face of this alliance, simultaneously belonging to two armed groups, with full knowledge of his commanding officers and of paramilitaries, he says. Among paramilitaries, the captain was known as 101, and considered a very close associate of Jorge 40, a paramilitary chief and trafficker extradited to the United States in 2008. Jorge 40 is suspected of taking part in or ordering several massacres, and has confessed to at least one - in that case, of 40 fishermen.

"Rogues," really?

The former captain spoke about his activities in those years in an interview with the journalist Gonzalo Guillén given in a prison in the port of Barranquilla in September 2013, but revealed only now. These he said, included implementing General Montoya’s direct orders to execute “false positives.”

Let's look at some of Guevara's revelations. The former captain firstly describes a meeting from 2002 held in the Sierra Nevada national park in northern Colombia, at a time when FARC kidnappings were one of the country's main problems. The Army and paramilitaries decided to divide that area and coordinate their operations, and by 2004, kidnappings had dropped substantially. The agreement made then included Captain Guevara leading paramilitaries dressed as professional soldiers during operations.

Any description of the Democratic Security policy must recognize that the alliance between the military and paramiltaries was neither anomalous nor exceptional, but an integral part of the strategy to fight the guerrillas in Colombia. The successes attained in reducing crimes such as kidnapping were the result of that illegal alliance.

Secondly, "false positive" killings followed pressures from the Presidential office, which wanted quantifiable results in the fight against FARC. What Guevara Cantillo has said is that General Montoya was constantly asking for casualties, even if they were not guerrillas killed in combat.

The former captain describes the system as follows: Senior officials or commanders demanded deaths, and officers sometimes coordinated with paramilitaries who should be killed, then legalized their victims as "false positives," through written orders to carry out fictitious operations. Those executing "false positives" were junior officers and the rank-and-file troops.

Explanations given about "rogue elements" killing to claim promised rewards do not take into account the scale of this problem. State institutions would be shaken in their entirety if there were a public showdown over this issue - which is why it is merely picked at on its peripheries.

General Montoya and Colonel Édgar Iván Quiñones Cárdenas (a major when Guevara was captain, and today the deputy-head of the Army's Ninth Brigade) are the officers most damaged by Guevara's allegations.

At one point, we find out that the State ordered a halt to the practice of "false positives." If there had not been complicity at all levels, that order would not have been followed so quickly by different levels of the military hierarchy. Those so-called "rogue elements" would have merrily continued their killing spree.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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