10th October, 2020
Author: Luis Carlos Palomino
On the past third of October, through a letter addressed to the Chamber for the acknowledgment of truth and responsibility (SRVR, from its Spanish initials), the FARC recognized their responsibility in the assassination of six relevant figures of the Colombian political landscape between 1987 and 2002.
This admission of guilt took the country by surprise for several reasons. First, it took place in a quite convoluted moment in the political context, given the increasing social pressure due to police brutality in the last months, the general discontent with the handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the preventive arrest of ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez, and the historically low rates of approval of the presidential administration.
Secondly, this recognition was not part of any current legal process on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP, from its Spanish initials). The fact that the JEP operates through Macro-cases —which encompass the punishable actions towards collectives— prioritizes truth and effectiveness over individualization of the actions. Currently, the JEP has seven operating macro-cases, none of which relate directly to these particular assassinations. Thus, it is odd that the decision to disclose such information was taken when there is no process that requires it.
Thirdly, this early recognition of guilt is something extraordinary in the political culture of our country. The perpetrators of these kinds of crimes usually hide as much as possible from the spotlight and the responsibility of their actions, even insisting on their innocence against mountains of hard-evidence that incriminates them. Seeing a perpetrator not only accepting responsibility but also taking the initiative in pursuing justice is something out of the ordinary. For some, this is a sign of an honest compromise with the victims and the truth, while for others it is just a sign that raises the alarms of something eerie happening behind curtains.
Alvaro Gomez Hurtado (1919-1995) 1
The peculiarity of this recognition has provoked a strong controversy in the country, especially regarding the case of the former conservative presidential candidate for 1974 and 1986 elections, Alvaro Gomez Hurtado. The critics of the peace process and the family of Gomez Hurtado, have stated that this is an attempt to sabotage the current investigations made by the traditional prosecution, by transferring them to the JEP. On the other hand, those who have been supporting the peace process see this as an honest attempt to contribute to the truth about cases that could not be solved by ordinary justice in more than 15 years.
This set of reactions is just another symptom of the chronic polarization that the country has experienced in the last years that prevents any progress on the construction of peace in Colombia. To navigate properly the seas of disinformation about this case, and to understand the true meaning of this letter it would be important to understand how the JEP works (beyond partisan opinions on its structure).
The letter sent by the FARC does not mean that the case is closed, but it just opens the door for it to be investigated by the JEP. This allows to allocate resources of the transitional justice system to solve this case and to complement the already existing information of the ordinary justice with the one provided by the FARC.
Also, it is important to take into consideration that by taking these cases, the JEP does not throw away the current evidence on the issue. Instead, it expects to be able to cooperate with the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, by receiving the information already gathered by said institution. The JEP was designed, not to obstruct ordinary justice, but to put its resources in harmony with the ones of transitional justice. This has been particularly challenging due to the close relationship between the Attorney General and the president, who opposes the peace process.
The main hypothesis held by those opposing the JEP in the case of Gomez Hurtado, is that the FARC did not commit the crime, but that this is a state crime, which responsibility falls upon the former President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998), who allegedly was trying to cover his relationships with the emerging drug cartels. If this is the case, it would be plausible to assume that this crime was part of the actions taken by the state in the frame of the Colombian conflict, therefore making it part of the jurisdiction of the JEP. It is important to remember that the transitional justice system is designed not only to persecute the crimes of the FARC, but all the crimes associated with the conflict, even those committed by the state.
Reality is more complex than a simple dichotomy of white and black, and the truth behind these cases is not an exception. In order to not only find, but also understand those truths, it is important to overcome this simplistic and polarized worldview by allowing institutions such as the JEP to operate in their whole range to reach justice.