The article details an event, hosted by the Colombian armed forces’ human rights department, held to attend to dozens of Colombian soldiers recently released from prison. The soldiers, who still await trial, are accused of participating in a plot to kidnap young men in the poor BogotÃ¡ suburb of Soacha, kill them, and then present their bodies as those of armed-group members killed in combat, thus reaping rewards.
The Soacha “false positives” scandal, which came to light in September 2008, shocked Colombia and those who carry out Colombia policy here in Washington. As a result it was very troubling to see, in January, nearly all of the defendants released from preventive detention after a court determined that the pre-trial procedures had taken too long. Though the judicial delays were largely caused by defense lawyers’ maneuvers and efforts to move the cases to more lenient military courts, the soldiers were let out of jail and immediately confined to a base in BogotÃ¡.
There, El Tiempo reports, the soldiers were given a day with their families, who were brought from all over Colombia to see them.
The event started at 8:00am with a Catholic Mass attended by two generals of the institution, followed by a conference held by several psychologists.
Around mid-morning, the soldiers were separated from their families: the uniformed personnel were taken to one of the casinos, decorated with candles and aromatherapy scents. According to one person who attended the event, they then had a long relaxation and meditation therapy.
Simultaneously, the wives, mothers and sisters of the militaries received aÂ â€˜spaâ€™ treatment in the other casino. They got facials, massages and hair dyes done by a renowned beauty brand. Meanwhile, the children were entertained by a group of clowns.
El Tiempo spoke to five of the families that attended the event, who pointed out that the militaries were told to go on vacation once they were released, but when the minister [of defense] gave the order to confine them, they were sent back to BogotÃ¡ immediately.
I contacted the Colombian Army’s human rights office about the event. (It is unclear why this event was the responsibility of the human rights office, which presumably exists to offer training, channel human rights complaints, and cooperate with judicial investigations.)Â An official there was clearly displeased with El Tiempo’s coverage, contending that the reporter who wrote the story was not present at the event, and that the lunch was “austere,” not suckling pig. He added that since the soldiers were not allowed to leave their bases, the event sought to give them a chance to see their families, whom some had not seen since 2008. The event did consist of a mass and psychological support for the soldiers, as well as clowns (“soldados payasos”)Â for the soldiers’ children.
While this clarification is helpful, this treatment for soldiers who may have dome something unspeakably awful contrasts very poorly with the treatment being given to the relatives of the young men killed in Soacha. Their mothers, who live at or below the poverty line, are still receiving threats, getting few responses from the government, and even had to pay their sons’ funeral expenses. This disparity in the government’s responses to perpetrators and victims is very troubling.