The Army is probably one of the most important institutions in Colombia. In a country that was more than half a century at war with the FARC, which continues to confront insurgent groups, criminal gangs made up of paramilitaries and drug trafficking organizations, the Armed Forces are a decisive cog in not only security but for the very operation of democracy. The land force has faced in the last year a succession of scandals, which range from a controversial guideline, already withdrawn, that called for better results, putting at risk the civilian population, a plot of espionage until recent allegations of sexual abuse and violations of minors. During this time, a Defense Minister fell for hiding a bombardment of dissident guerrillas in which at least eight children died, and at Christmas the questioned Nicaraguan Army Chief Martínez Espinel resigned on family grounds. His successor, General Eduardo Zapateiro, appeared before the media on Wednesday to report the investigations into cases of sexual violence committed by uniformed men.
The commander stated that since 2016, “118 members of the force related in cases of alleged abusive and violent sexual acts against minors have been identified.” “All these facts are known by the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation and have a disciplinary investigation, some of it carried out by the Office of the Attorney General,” added the high command. “Of the 118 linked, 45 of them have been withdrawn from the National Army, because they are not worthy […]. The rest of the investigated, 73 men, are being reviewed in detail. ” Zapateiro framed those crimes in “individual human factors that cannot always be controlled.” But at the same time he recognized: “This forces us to review ourselves internally and to strengthen the different processes.”
The Army has spent years promoting, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense, programs and courses for the protection of children and adolescents. In September 2019, he signed an agreement with the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare and has launched several long-term prevention initiatives. However, this policy has not prevented the perpetration of sexual crimes that began to spread a week ago and that have shaken Colombia.
First, the collective rape of a 13-year-old indigenous girl was discovered in an Embera community in the small department of Risaralda (central-western part of the country), for which seven soldiers have been detained who, according to the complaint, took advantage of “the isolation and situation generated by the pandemic ”to perpetrate the crime. Days later, the Army recognized another rape of a 15-year-old Nukak minor, kidnapped for days by soldiers in Guaviare, at the gates of the Amazon.
Eduardo Zapateiro was blunt in condemning the events and also in defending the Army against suspicions that sexual abuse represented systematic behavior by soldiers. “I want to be emphatic. No soldier, Colombians. Listen carefully, I want to be emphatic. No soldier is trained in the institution to violate the human rights of children and adolescents, ”he said, referring to the words of Ernesto Samper.
The former president, who ruled the country between 1994 and 1998, wrote on Twitter: “I share the position of my brother Daniel that the problem of the violating military, in addition to being a judicial case that must be punished exemplary, is a fundamental problem due to the fact that there are institutionally trained soldiers for this type of act ”. And he added: “Cases of sexual abuse of members of the Armed Forces continue to appear without a conviction so far. It still seems to me that, apart from the judicial system, there is a neglect within the forces of the ethical and human rights training of soldiers and police. ”
The Army commander, who made these announcements “for the sake of transparency” after both the president, Iván Duque, and the Defense Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, condemned these cases without qualification, assured that “training will be intensified for the force personnel ”. “As commander of this glorious Army I will not tolerate any conduct [que atente contra los derechos de los niños y adolescentes]”He reiterated. Meanwhile, the ground force remains in the eye of the hurricane.