At least 128 former members of the FARC guerrillas have been killed since Colombia signed its peace accord in November 2016. That’s not even counting 7-month-old Samuel David Gonzalez Pushaina, killed in an April 15 attack on his parents, both demobilized FARC members, in La Guajira.
But the case of Dimar Torres, a former FARC militia member killed in the Catatumbo region of northeast Colombia, is even more serious because it involves the security forces. Colombia’s military is going on the offensive in Catatumbo, a region of smallholding farmers with lots of armed groups, coca, and proximity to Venezuela. Catatumbo has big security needs—but in the past, the armed forces have been complicit in serious human rights violations there. Those include aiding and abetting a paramilitary terror campaign, with multiple massacres, that was most intense there between 1999 and 2002.
So this account of what happened to Dimar Torres on April 22, recounted by Jineth Prieto in La Silla Vacía, is especially concerning:
His fellow campesinos from the village of Carrizal, in the district of Miraflores [in Convención municipality], noticed his absence after hearing shots. They went out to look for him when they realized that he was the only one not answering calls. They demanded that the Army [camped nearby] produce him. They entered into the camp and found him dead with three shots (one in the head), half naked and lying next to a road.
They realized that the soldiers were digging a hole that was big enough to bury him and his motorcycle, and they cordoned off the area after sending an alert on WhatsApp -with videos and audios- to request that media and authorities arrive at the village to verify what was happening.
Dimar Torres Arévalo, excombatiente de las Farc, fue asesinado por militares del Ejército en Norte de Santander, según señalan habitantes de la vereda Carrizal. Los militares iban a esconder el cuerpo en una fosa común.— Ana la vecina (@LaSinEstilo) April 24, 2019
Three big takeaways here:
- It’s encouraging that the residents of Carrizal, Convención—a remote area far from the nearest paved road—were bold enough to confront the Army about what had happened. We also have modern smartphones to thank for getting the word out. One wonders how the worst years of Colombia’s conflict (late 90s, early 00s) would have gone if campesinos had cameras and broadband back then.
- Right now, the Army’s campaign in Catatumbo, just getting underway, could go one of two ways: horrific scorched earth, or “hearts and minds.” The spectacle of soldiers digging a grave for an extrajudicially executed civilian is a big warning sign of the former. Prieto’s article discusses some other recent incidents involving military personnel. Colombia needs to bring the Dimar Torres case to justice swiftly and conspicuously, or the military can forget about winning the trust of Catatumbo’s population. Note added April 28: the commander of the military task force in Catatumbo has acknowledged the crime and asked forgiveness. This is no substitute for a judicial process, but it is a very good first step on the “hearts and minds” front.
- Almost exactly 1 percent of demobilized guerrillas have now been killed. (Not counting dissident guerrillas killed in combat.) Colombia needs to get a handle on this quickly, improving protection and punishing those responsible, or the gains of the 2016 accord will evaporate.