BOGOTÁ, Colombia – General Mario Montoya Uribe, the lifelong military man and former Commander of the Colombian National Army, knew of the extrajudicial killings carried out as part of the ‘false positives’ case and did nothing to stop them, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that cited former generals.
Montoya Uribe, who was the top man in the armed forces from 2006 to 2008, resigned due to his implication in the ‘False Positives’ scandal.
This was a despicable plan in which, from 2002 to 2008, over 3,000 poor, jobless and sometimes even developmentally challenged men in rural regions were lured with promises of work by Colombian soldiers.
The men were then executed, dressed in military fatigues and passed off as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, the group which had been locked in a war with the Colombian military from 1964 until just weeks ago when a peace agreement was ratified.
Later, many soldiers were paid handsomely in order to keep quiet about the crimes (and the murdered civilians they “recruited”) while the Colombian National Army and the units involved in the killings were rewarded for the “missions accomplished” with promotions and budget raises due to the exaggerated statistics of the liquidations of supposed FARC rebels and rebel camps.
This scandal broke in late 2008 and led to a purge in the military with the ousting of 27 generals and colonels. Montoya Uribe officially “stepped down” but it is commonly thought that he was forced to retire given that he held the high-ranking position during the criminal activities.
In early 2014, that scandal was followed by revelations of the aforementioned instances of hush money; the same generals and colonels that were arrested worked from inside their prison cells where they accepted deals and arranged the reception of payments that they would get from various military officials in order to keep them quiet about the murders. This was done using public money, taken mostly from the army’s Aviation Unit funds.
The taped conversations involving the officials and the imprisoned generals and colonels were recorded in 2012 and 2013 and were released in early 2014. The various figures are heard explicitly referring to “favorable, lucrative contracts” and bribes consisting of up to 50% of certain contracts.
Montoya Uribe, who received military training in the United States at the US Army’s Fort Knox in Kentucky and served as the military attaché to the Colombian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, was summoned to testify last year about his role in the ‘false positives’ scandal in a trial that resulted from the tapes.
His appearance, however, along with the appearances of several other generals implicated in the case, was suspended as the trial has moved at a snail’s pace and has practically stopped altogether.
José Miguel Vivanco, the Executive Director of HRW’s Americas Division, cited the report of the NGO to note the urgency needed to prosecute Montoya Uribe and the others involved and end the troubling culture of impunity enjoyed by figures in the Colombian armed forces.
“Montoya Uribe was the head of the Colombian National Army when some of the worst mass atrocities seen in recent years in the Western Hemisphere were committed and when the levels of extrajudicial kilings by armed forces reached unprecedented heights,” said Vivanco.
The HRW report, citing data from the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, explained that at least 2,500 civilians were victims of extrajudicial killings during Montoya Uribe’s tenure as maximum leader (2006-2008). Additionally, according to data collected from the UN, more than one in every three deaths reported as ‘combat casualties’ could have been victims of executions by the armed forces.
“This case tests the commitment in Bogotá to investigate the criminals responsible for these killings,” Vivanco said in a statement urging Colombian Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez to reactivate the “paralyzed” case.
The HRW’s report concluded that Montoya Uribe knew about the illegal killings through “behind-closed-doors taped confessions of generals” recorded between August 2015 and January 2016. The words of the generals clearly suggested that “Montoya Uribe knew of the extrajudicial executions” and even “placed further pressure on the armed forces to increase the number of ‘deaths in combat’ to alter the statistics.”
“If anybody knew about every single thing that was going on, it was General Montoya Uribe,” said Gustavo Matamoros Camacho, who was Montoya Uribe’s chief-of-operations in 2008 and later the second-in-command of the Colombian National Army until 2011.
“His attorneys can say that he did not know anything, but in my time there, if somebody did not come to report something to him, this person essentially signed his own death warrant. So in this sense, Montoya Uribe was informed and aware of absolutely anything and everything,” Matamoros Camacho said.
While military figures and units in Colombia have been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings and massacres routinely throughout their existence, Montoya Uribe is no stranger to controversy himself.
Montoya Uribe belonged to the extreme-right paramilitary group Anticommunist American Alliance (AAA) and the BINCI, the Colombian National Army’s intelligence division. Both organizations, now disbanded and created with the help of the United States, were involved in many kidnappings, assassinations and bombings of leftist individuals, politicians and publications with the BINCI making the plans and the AAA carrying out the actions. Montoya Uribe’s name was mentioned in several publications concerning the “state terrorism” in Colombia.
In the mid-2000s, Montoya Uribe’s name was included in reports by several organizations (even by the CIA) that outlined the close and illegal links enjoyed by the Colombian National Army and outlawed right-wing paramilitary gangs.
The clearest links were seen during Operation Orión carried out in the Medellín region where military forces, led by Montoya Uribe, were recorded making plans for the operation with leaders of a local paramilitary group that assumed control of the drug trade there after the fall of Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
In 2008, Montoya Uribe was indicted by an Ecuadorian court for his role in leading an expedition of armed forces from Colombia over the border into Ecuador without permission and out of his jurisdiction.
In response to the invasion, which was assisted by the US’ Drug Enforcement Administration and ended with the killing of regional FARC commander Raúl Reyes and 20 rebels, Ecuador qualified the event as a “massacre” and an “act of aggression” against their nation that required the pulling of their ambassador; Venezuela did the same.
In response to the invasive Colombian armed actions, Ecuadorian and Venezuelan military units were amassed near their respective borders that they share with Colombia and diplomatic ties were cut off.
Montoya Uribe, as the top leader of the operation and head of the military, was convicted of the murders of over 20 people in absentia.