[Marxism] Colombia Army’s New Kill Orders Send Chills Down Ranks

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 19 12:01:39 MDT 2019

(A stupid article insofar as it is concerned with the army's 
apprehensions but it still should be read to understand the polarization 
in Latin America that will eventually lead to a stiffer resistance than 
that mounted by the "red tide" governments.)

NY Time, May 19, 2019
Colombia Army’s New Kill Orders Send Chills Down Ranks
By Nicholas Casey

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The head of Colombia’s army, frustrated by the 
nation’s faltering efforts to secure peace, has ordered his troops to 
double the number of criminals and militants they kill, capture or force 
to surrender in battle — and possibly accept higher civilian casualties 
in the process, according to written orders and interviews with senior 

At the start of the year, Colombian generals and colonels were assembled 
and told to sign a written pledge to step up attacks. Daily internal 
presentations now show the number of days that brigades have gone 
without combat, and commanders are berated when they don’t carry out 
assaults frequently enough, the officers said.

One order causing particular worry instructs soldiers not to “demand 
perfection” in carrying out deadly attacks, even if significant 
questions remain about the targets they are striking. Some officers say 
that order has instructed them to lower their standards for protecting 
innocent civilians from getting killed, and that it has already led to 
suspicious or unnecessary deaths.

The military tried a similar strategy to defeat Colombia’s rebel and 
paramilitary groups in the mid-2000s, before a landmark peace deal was 
signed to end decades of conflict.

But the tactics caused a national outrage when it emerged that soldiers, 
aiming to meet their quotas, engaged in widespread killings and 
disappearances of civilians.

Now, another incarnation of the policy is being pushed by the new 
government against the country’s remaining criminal, guerrilla and 
paramilitary groups, according to orders reviewed by The New York Times 
and three senior officers who spoke about them.

The new orders have sent a chill down the ranks of the army. Colombia’s 
military remains under investigation for the series of illegal killings 
in the mid-2000s, known as “false positives.”

Soldiers repeatedly killed peasants and claimed they were guerrilla 
fighters, sometimes even dressing them in fatigues and planting weapons 
near their bodies. The tactics stemmed from superiors demanding 
increased body counts, prosecutors say.

Two of the officers said in lengthy interviews that Colombian soldiers 
were under intense pressure yet again — and that a pattern of suspicious 
killings and cover-ups had begun to emerge this year.

In a meeting recounted by one of the officers, a general ordered 
commanders to “do anything” to boost their results, even if it meant 
“allying ourselves” with armed criminal groups to get information on 
targets, a divide-and-conquer strategy.

Beyond that, officers said, soldiers who increase their combat kills are 
being offered incentives, like extra vacation, in a pattern they fear is 
strikingly similar to the unlawful killings of the mid-2000s.

“We have gone back to what we were doing before,” said one of the 
officers, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of 
reprisals by their superiors.

Major Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel, the top commander of Colombia’s 
army, acknowledged issuing the new orders and having officers set 
concrete goals for killing, capturing or forcing criminal groups and 
militants to surrender.

He said he had issued the written order that instructed top commanders 
to “double the results” because of the threat that Colombia continues to 
face from guerrilla, paramilitary and criminal organizations.

“The criminal threat rose,” he said. “If we continued at the pace that 
we were going at, we would not have completed our objectives.”

Still, the general disputed how officers have interpreted his instructions.

“The orders are that you are operationally effective,” he said. “Some 
told me they wanted a 10 percent increase, good, you do 10 percent. Some 
told me they wanted a 50 percent increase, but with no dead. Some said, 
‘I want a 100 percent increase.’ There are some who have kept their 
word, and others that haven’t been able to.”

He also acknowledged that the orders tell commanders to conduct 
operations when they are still uncertain about their targets.

However, General Martínez argued that the instructions referred only to 
planning missions, not to carrying them out.

“Respect for human rights is the most important thing,” he said. 
“Everything has taken place within the letter of the law.”

But the order itself says, “You must launch operations with 60 to 70 
percent credibility or exactitude” — leaving enough room for error that 
the policy has already led to questionable killings, two of the officers 

The new orders signal an increase in military campaigns against 
guerrilla and paramilitary groups in Colombia, which reached a peace 
deal with the nation’s largest rebel group — the Revolutionary Armed 
Forces of Colombia, or FARC — just two years ago.

Peace has been elusive. Many former guerrillas have returned to 
fighting, while other criminal and paramilitary groups have expanded 
their control over parts of the country.

One rebel group that never signed a peace deal carried out a deadly car 
bombing in the capital in January.

Colombia is also under pressure from the Trump administration to show 
progress in cracking down on drug trafficking, a battle that has shown 
little progress despite $10 billion in American aid.

As the pressure mounted, President Iván Duque, a conservative who 
campaigned against the peace deal because he thought it was too soft on 
the rebels, replaced the country’s top army commanders in December.

Mr. Duque’s government appointed nine officers linked to killings in the 
mid-2000s, including some who now hold top positions directing military 
offensives throughout Colombia, according to documents published by 
Human Rights Watch. One of the commanders linked to the killings, 
according to the rights group, is General Martínez, who at the time held 
a mid-ranking position.

General Martínez says he did not participate in any of the unlawful 
killings and that he is not under investigation by Colombia’s attorney 
general’s office.

The unlawful killings are a particularly contentious chapter in 
Colombia’s recent history. From 2002 to 2008, as many as 5,000 civilians 
or guerrillas were killed outside of combat, according to the United 
Nations. At least 1,176 members of the security forces have been 
convicted of crimes related to the illegal deaths, according to the 

Two of the officers who spoke to The Times said they had served during 
the killings and risen in rank through subsequent periods of reckoning 
and reform.

But a major shift took place, they say, when General Martínez called a 
meeting of his top officers in January, a month after assuming command 
of the army.

The meeting included the country’s top 50 generals and colonels, who met 
in a hangar in the mountains outside of Bogotá. Many were eager to hear 
whether there would be a new direction under the new leadership.

After a break, the commanders returned to tables where they found a form 
waiting for each one of them, the officers said. The form had the title 
“Goal Setting 2019” at the top and a place for each commander to sign at 
the bottom.

The form asked commanders to list the “arithmetic sum of surrenders, 
captures and deaths” of various armed groups for the previous year in 
one column, and then provide a goal for the following year.

Some of the commanders seemed confused — until they were instructed to 
double their numbers this year, the officers said.

Soon afterward, the same order appeared from General Martínez, this time 
in writing.

“The goal is to double the operational results at all levels of 
command,” read the orders, which included his signature.

Colombian soldiers patrolling the surroundings of the Francisco de Paula 
Santander International Bridge in Cúcuta, Colombia, in February, after 
protests in the region over Venezuela’s president temporarily shutting 
the border with Colombia that prevented humanitarian aid from 
entering.CreditLuis Robayo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
At the meeting, the officers said they were told, “We have to do 
anything now,” including using illegal paramilitary groups provide 
information on rival armed groups “in order to get results.”

The suggestion of working with one armed group to defeat another created 
a hush among the people there, said one of the officers.

On Feb. 19, a new document titled “50 Command Orders” emerged. One order 
demanded “opportune and massive strikes” against the enemy.

But the instructions on the threshold required for ordering deadly 
attacks were the largest shift from previous policy, the officers said.

In the past, they argued, military operations needed to be carried out 
with at least 85 percent of certainty of the target, after a series of 
meetings between commanders and intelligence agents to approve a strike. 
The new order called for a lower standard.

Soon after, the officers said they began identifying suspicious killings 
or arrests.

One of the officers cited the killing of what an army report called the 
death on Feb. 23 of a member of the paramilitary group Clan del Golfo. 
The report said that three members of the group had fought an army 
platoon, and that the fight ended in one death and two arrests. A pistol 
and revolver were found with the men.

The report was provided to The Times by the officer. He found it 
unlikely that three lightly armed criminals would combat an entire 
platoon of 41 men.

Perhaps the most disputed killing since General Martínez took command 
occurred around April 22, when the body of Dimar Torres, a former 
guerrilla who had disarmed under the peace deal, was found outside a 
village near the Venezuelan border.

Cellphone video circulated by villagers showed Mr. Torres’s body shot 
through the head. Villagers could be heard screaming epithets against 
paramilitary groups.

It turned out Mr. Torres was killed by the army. Colombia’s defense 
minister, Guillermo Botero, at first defended the shooting by saying Mr. 
Torres had been killed during a struggle over a weapon with a soldier. 
But days later, the general in charge of the region offered a public 

José del Carmen Abril, a peasant leader in the village, said townspeople 
had found soldiers near Mr. Torres’s body trying to “dig a grave to make 
him disappear” that night. Cellphone video showed soldiers near a 
half-dug grave.

The officers said they had also been told that the soldiers were trying 
to hide Mr. Torres’s body. While the case has become a national 
controversy, the officers said that other killings were likely to go 

They produced a copy of a slide from a February presentation with the 
title “Days Without Combat.” It listed brigades and task forces, 
tallying how long each had gone without doing battle. The instructions 
were clear, they said: Increase kills, captures and surrenders.

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