Geopolitics

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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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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