Years ago, Gloria Martinez’s son, Daniel, went out to look for a job and never came back. Gloria would spend months searching for him, with no news. What would soon become clear is that she wasn’t alone — many others also had been mysteriously disappearing. Many were from where Gloria lived, a neglected neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, called Soacha.

Months after Daniel went missing, his body was discovered in a mass grave in Ocaña, a city that is 400 miles away. Strangely, although he was never involved with the FARC, a leftist guerrilla group, Daniel was recorded as a guerrilla fighter who had been killed in combat with the Colombian military.

In 2008, months after Daniel went missing, the “false-positives” scandal broke — and revealed that the Colombian military had been systematically killing innocent civilians as part of a body-count policy they adopted in their nearly 60-year conflict with the FARC. Investigations found that the military had kidnapped and killed mostly young men from rural and poor urban areas, in order to inflate the number of enemy kills in combat to appear that they were succeeding in the conflict. Soldiers could be rewarded for kills in combat by receiving promotions, time-off, or even money.

Over a decade after the scandal was exposed, mothers like Gloria and relatives still struggle to find the truth of what happened to their loved ones, and to seek justice for the crimes.

Editor’s Note: After the publication of this story, the Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (known as the JEP) issued an order for ex-general Mario Montoya to appear in front of the tribunal and testify about his involvement in the “false positives” cases. The hearing was set to take place on February 12, 2020.

Featured image courtesy of Angelina Mosher Salazar.

This episode originally aired in December 2019.

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One thought on “Colombia’s Secret War Against Civilians

  1. What kind of people are they who, as soldiers, could grab random innocent civilians in their own country, dress them in uniforms, kill them, and turn in their corpses as enemy combatants? Just for some leave time, promotions, or maybe money?? Does this happen around every domestic war, such as the American Revolution or the Civil War? Or are Columbians special, that 1,300 would go along with the plan? Nazi Germany, from the top down, did something similar, on a larger scale, to a specific ethnoreligious group in their midst, 1% of the population of Germany and the countries they overran. I never hear of the Soviet and other secret polices having a shortage of abductors, torturers, and murderers. Mexican cartels commit endless atrocities against the people of Mexico, but America encouraged that condition by outlawing drugs that millions of addicted Americans eagerly pay $billions for. 40,000+ Mexicans have been murdered by other Mexicans, just to sort out how the dirty cash is to be divided up in a poor country.

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