Militarization in Colombia in the post-agreement era
“In Colombia the war comes after the post-war era”
Juan Manuel Roca
There are various faces of militarization in Colombia. While mandatory military service has been, historically, one of the key antimilitarist struggles, there are a variety of other forms of militarisation also taking place. The police force, for example with the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron, has been militarised; the new code of police guidelines criminalise protest; and the current approach to state politics has led to 10,000 extrajudicial executions of young civilians between the years of 2002-20101 by the Colombian Army. These killings were aggravated homicides of unarmed people, who had been framed as combatants. In 2019 we see that this continues to be reinforced by the Ministry of Defence.
With respect to mandatory military service, a new law passed in August 2017 economically incentivised young people to take part in military service. In a country with the third highest level of inequality2 according to3 the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)4 military service has become a gateway to survival for the young people and their families. Thanks to the struggles of peace organisations in Colombia the right of conscientious objection was recognised, even in times of war, but the same difficulties continue in ensuring this is recognised. The Constitutional Court, in its Unified Judgement 108 of 2016, created a commission including a psychologist, a doctor and a lawyer to evaluate each request for conscientious objection.
Mandatory military service is a form of martyrdom for young people as well as for our society as a whole, and remains a colonial inheritance of the construction of the modern states which continue to maintain classist, racist and patriarchal structures of domination over the population. Maintaining the military institution is, for some, a way of conserving power for the heterosexual, male, privileged few.
This succeeded in part because this “obligation” was only applied to the most impoverished ethnicities and to the rural and urban peripheries5. Of the young people recruited between 1995 and 2015, 80% of them were from the poorest income brackets6. There is also a between “peasant”, “regular” and “graduate” soldiers, implying that some lives are worth more than others; the peasant has to give 24 months of their lives, the regular 18 months, and the graduate twelve months.
In Colombia, if you don’t determine your status regarding military service - by completing military service, successfully apply for conscientious obection or receiving an exemption - you are classed as ‘remiso’ and you are wanted by the authorities. There are more than 650,000 remisos7 who do not have a military passbook, which in turn limits their right to work. Previously, an individuals right to higher education, the possibility of taking a driving test and even the right to leave the country were also determined by whether or not they had completed military service.
If the above was not enough, thanks to a debate on political control8 conducted in 2017 in the Republican Congress, we know that between 1995 to 2015, 35,237 young people didn’t complete military service, of whom 1,294 were killed and 7,552 were left with affected for life-changing physical or mental injuries.
Within the international context and the Colombian armed conflict, the recruitment of minors by non-state, illegal armies is often mentioned, and which we condemn and reproach greatly. What is rarely mentioned is that between 1993 and 2015 the National Army of Colombia illegally recruited 19,000 underage9 recruits. We see that the approach that has been taken regarding the recruitment of children and young people by the army is insufficient; the Colombian military is the biggest illegal recruiter in the country with one of the biggest humanitarian problems in the world.
The other distinct face of militarization separate to military service is how military logic10 has permeated institutions like the police. The Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (Mobile Anti-Riot Squardon or ESMAD) is a section of the armed forces created in February 1999 during the Transitory Directive of 0205 as one of the requisites of the Colombia Plan, the principal program of Cooperation that exists between the United States and Colombia. Since its creation, ESMAD has been caught up in different violations of human rights. The Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CINEP) has documented "448 attacks with a total of 3,950 victims, in which members of the police forces and the ESMAD were allegedly involved, of which 137 cases of injured persons are reported, 91 cases of arbitrary detentions, 107 cases in which individual and collective threats, 13 cases of extrajudicial executions and even 2 cases of sexual violence were reported”.11 From January to June 2016 there were 682 victims of this squad reported.12
Another general aspect to highlight from ESMAD is that on 26 June 2018 on the commemoration of the International Day of Support to Victims of Torture, it was confirmed that ESMAD has been the subject of the most complaints of torture in Colombia. According to a report of March 2018 from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights13, 14 people were assassinated during protests in 2017, including seven protesters who were victims of extrajudicial executions in Tumaco during demonstrations in the month of October.
In addition to the actions of ESMAD, there is a violence that comes deeply entrenched within the new police code which returns to a more oppressive approach to demonstrations. According to this regulation, it is necessary to ask for permission from the local authority to hold a demonstration if organisers plan a march against the governor it is very probable that permission will be denied or a large amount of armed force is sent in order to intimidate the participants.14
In terms of the factors of militarism and militarization in the post-agreement era, a new military doctrine called the Damasco doctrine has been constructed. The Damasco doctrine sits at the centre of the agreements made with the FARC-EP and the ELN. For some sectors of the army it did not make sense to continue the classic counter-insurgent doctrine in a country that has entered in to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)15. At the same time, towards the end of his time in government ex-president Juan Manuel Santos, who was polemically named as the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2016 and who was Minister of Defence in the Government of Alvaro Uribe Velez, signed an agreement NATO, agreeing to collaborate with the global war effort in favour of capitalism.
Following the signing of the peace as a result of the agreement with the FARC-EP which was sustained rather than by the rule of combatants, but by the communities, the social organisations and the human rights defenders; in 2017 a cease fire was achieved for the first time in 50 or 60 years of conflict, a partial silence of the guns and, as described by the Semana magazine, to “A decrease in the amount of armed men in the country. In 2017, the military forces had 237,000 uniformed soldiers, 36,000 less than in 2008, which marks a reduction of 13% in a decade (…) As was predicted with the peace agreements, the battles have abruptly diminished. Between 2010 and 2017, they reduced by 87%, from 1,251 per year to 168”16. Despite the decrease in foot soldiers, a huge sum of money is being invested in the modernisation of planes, frigates and other weapons made obsolete by new technology According to the Comptroller this increasing public expenditure on the military and means “Colombia maintains itself as the country with the fourth highest number of foot soldiers in Latin America, after Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela(…) with 49 soldiers for every 100,000 inhabitants”17.
Since the failure of the yes campaign in the referendum on the agreement, when the Colombian people voted over whether to accept the agreement between the government and the FARC, is there evidence of the “regression in civilian security... in 2017 the rate of homicides was 22.4 per 100,000 inhabitants – the lowest figure since 1970 – it was calculated to be 24.8 in 2018.”18
In addition, according to the Open Truth newspaper, the “exponential increase of deaths in combat and confrontations is also evident. In the first semester of 2019, the number of battles rose by 82% and deaths by 87%, according to FIP. confrontations between the Armed Forces and illegal armed groups increased by 82% in the first semester of this year compared to the same period in 2018. Thus, whilst from January to June of the previous year 34 battles occurred, in the first 6 months of 2019, 62 were counted19”.
This generalised militarism in the country makes it so Colombians take this pedagogy of cruelty and apply it over who we consider to be less than ourselves: “64% of the citizens in Bogota approve of taking justice into their own hands” (…) “at least 300 people died in the country as a result of community lynchings. The origin of this phenomena is, according to a study by the Free University of Colombia, that 70% of citizens do not have confidence in the law. Another factor that influences this phenomenon is that 99% of the judicial proceedings do not end in a sentence and that there are barely 11 judges for every 100,000 inhabitants, which does not meet the demand for the number of cases.”20
Since the beginning of the Uribe government of Duque in 2018 until the first half of 2019, it has become clear that there is a weakening and sabotaging of transitional justice in Colombia via the post-agreement framework. There is a new and a violent context, concerning the responsibility of the Colombian army in a new wave of extrajudicial executions. On the other hand, there are also issues related to the lack of security guarantees for commanders who have denounced the murder of civilians placed as combatants of non-state or other armed groups. According to statements reported in the magazine "Semana", General Eduardo Quiroz, head of the Counterintelligence Support Command, summoned 15 soldiers to his office for a surprise meeting and told them sharply: “Whoever brings me the source of the information the press has received will receive 100 million pesos or six months of leave.”21, 22
The Ministry of Defence and the army have kept silent in light of the revelations of the Semana magazine which also included corruption allegations against 4 generals of the current military leadership - Nicacio Martinez, Eduardo Quiroz, Anselmo Fajrado and Jorge Romero. In the case of Quiroz, he made demands of his subordinates in order to obtain money for private expenses, and Jorge Romero authorized secure dispatch pipelines.23 In the case of Fajardo, it is not the first time that he has accused of corruption; in 2014 a complaint was made against him because he took a helicopter as the then Attorney General of the Military Forces for a family vacation.24
This is the context of militarization that exists in the country and in the face of which, as a collective, we believe that it is vital as antimilitarists to focus our efforts on:
1) the victims, as much as from the armed conflict, as from the socio-political violence, such as our colonial/patriarchal violence. We must fight for that which is effective in guaranteeing no repetition of this. It is impossible that, in the midst of this historical juncture, we do not work for imperfect peace, one that allows us to dream still.
2) the feminisms; as part of a global context of counterattacking, the patriarchy is delegitimising the feminist fight as “gender ideology” or feminazism. As antimilitarists we must resist the root of all militarisation and militarism, this is the patriarchy, the system of domination that humiliates us, violates us and kills us. This does not imply stopping behind the historical fight of elimination of mandatory military service, of disarmament, of conscientious objection and tax resistance, but that we recognise that isolated we cannot put an end to all forms of domination.
6 In Colombia the social classes are determined by socioeconomic layers and amongst the lowest layers they find themselves made to be the most excluded, impoverished and violent by the capitalist system which places them on this scale. The layers consist of generally ethnic, rural populations or from the urban low-income sectors.
8 There are spaces of parliamentary debate in Colombia where they configure alliances between social movements, civil society organisations, congress and academia, among others. In these spaces a public day was planned where themes relevant to the nation or the region were discussed. For the debate on political control that mentions this article, it is seeking to position grave human rights violations against Young Colombian men which the Colombian army has incurred by arbitrary detention with the aim of recruitment.
10 It is the logic of the military institutions that has to do with the structure of state or non-state armed organisations