Gen. Ã“scar GonzÃ¡lez, the new chief of Colombia’s army.
Feeling euphoric over the important human rights steps that Colombia has taken over the past week? The firings of top army officers for involvement in extra-judicial executions, and yesterday’s resignation of hard-line Army Chief Gen. Mario Montoya, were both significant steps forward. But steps backward, unfortunately, are also plainly occurring.
Here are two items to dampen your enthusiasm:
- Colombia’s president is still unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between respected human rights defenders and guerrilla collaborators. On Monday, Ãlvaro Uribe had this to say about JosÃ© Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch: “Before Mr. Vivanco, that defender of the FARC, before Mr. Vivanco, that accomplice of the FARC, comes here to criticize the Democratic Security policy, we are making an effort to move this country forward.”
- Today’s edition of the Colombian daily El Tiempo has this to say about Gen. Montoya’s replacement as chief of the Colombian Army:
“Gen. Ã“scar Enrique GonzÃ¡lez, new commander of the Army, who a year ago assumed command of the Caribbean Joint Command, had arrived there from the Army’s Seventh Division, based in Antioquia and one of the units most seriously questioned for ‘false positives’ [cases of civilians being disappeared, murdered, and later presented as armed-group members killed in combat].
In fact, when complaints about this practice began in the department [Antioquia] in 2006, he told El Tiempo that the denunciations were part of the guerrillas’ ‘political-judicial war’ against the state.
In an interview about several cases, gathered by the UN and the Vice-President’s Office, of civilians who died in supposedly illegal operations, Gen. GonzÃ¡lez – then the head of the Seventh Division – said, ‘The number of complaints is directly proportional to the success of the units. … This is what some sympathizers of the subversives do to try to halt the military’s operations.‘ Several of those cases, however, ended in guilty verdicts against uniformed personnel.