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Outsourcing violence in Colombian government

Leon Hernandez | Flickr

Over recent decades, various countries have been accused of outsourcing brutal violence through third-party agents to eliminate perceived “enemies of the state.” In Colombia, private violent actors allegedly affiliated with the state have reportedly carried out mass murders with de facto impunity.

A report last year from the Special Jurisdiction of Peace revealed more than 5,000 members of the Patriotic Union have disappeared or been killed over the last decade.

The Patriotic Union, a leftist Colombian political party, was formed in 1985 initially as a peace negotiation outcome between the guerrilla and the Belisario Betancur administration. It has garnered increased recognition and support through the past few general elections.

Following its initial electoral success, the party’s members faced a disturbing escalation of violence and unjust arrests by paramilitary groups and unidentified individual gunmen.

While some of the gunmen were later caught and convicted, their motives remained questionable, causing doubt on the intellectual culpability of those ultimately responsible.

Following a series of UN member assassinations, Jaime Leal, the party’s leader, was killed on Oct. 11, 1987, reportedly by a group of four individuals, including a 14-year-old.

Shortly after Leal’s death, Bernardo Ossa, who had been very vocal in condemning the government’s disregard for the paramilitary forces’ violence, succeeded him but was later also killed by a 16-year-old in 1990 while traveling with his family.

The murderer, Gutiérrez Maya, was captured, but due to his age he was sent to a minor facility. There was a call sent anonymously to news media that revealed there was a clear attribution between the murderer and the paramilitary organization Fidel Castaño was behind.

Even though, during the period spanning from 1987 to 1990, Colombia’s authorities have faced accusations of involvement in hundreds to thousands of assassinations and murders, the government has consistently denied any affiliation with arrested individuals or connections to drug cartels and paramilitary groups implicated in these crimes.

In 1988, Amnesty International, an international non-governmental human rights organization, accused Colombian security forces under the government of violating human rights. They alleged these violations stemmed from a “deliberate policy of political murder” within the armed forces. 

Rona Weitz, Amnesty’s Latin American program coordinator, publicly addressed reporters, asserting that the government was attempting to “act with impunity” in response to the massive killings and disappearances. She claimed that most of the deliberate killing and violent coercive actions perpetrated by paramilitary groups were “sanctioned at the highest level.” 

“The Colombian government’s denial of support for death squads has been proven inaccurate,” Weitz said.

“Our evidence shows the government has involvement.”

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