Bogota Colombia – Two of Colombia’s most important rebel and paramilitary group leaders apologized to the victims Wednesday as part of a commission aimed at revealing the complicated truths behind the decade-long civil war.
While the testimonies were considered a crucial step as Colombia struggled to fight bloodshed, they also left some of the more than nine million victims of the conflict with a sour taste in their mouths.
“This is a process of constant struggle with our history,” said Sergio Guzman, director of Bogota, Colombia Analysis. “And there is no such thing as a good or bad guy in Colombian history.” That’s what it is. ”
Rodrigo London, more commonly known by his war name Timochenko, led the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a left-wing rebel group that has been at war with the Colombian government for more than 50 years.
Salvatore Mancuso, who also said Wednesday, was the first commander of the United Forces of Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a group formed to fight left-wing rebel groups such as the FARC.
Despite the act of enemies in the Columbia conflict, both groups have committed some of the most atrocious acts of war, including kidnappings, sexual violence, child recruitment and massacres of civilians.
The two leaders expressed remorse to the victims Wednesday as they were testifying before the Colombian Truth Commission. Mancuso spoke from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) establishment in the United States, where he is struggling with deportation to Colombia.
“I reflected on all the things I did or tried, all the things I participated in, on the many people who died, all the families who lost everything because of us,” Mancuso, wearing a uniform orange of prison, said for a livestream to 20 victims of conflict. “I want to be recognized before you for all my responsibility in this conflict.”
Peace Agreement 2016
The Truth Commission was born out of a 2016 peace pact struck between the Colombian government and the FARC. It was created to investigate war crimes committed during armed conflict as part of an effort to help victims recover.
On Wednesday, former leaders of the armed group detailed how they were involved in the conflict and responded to victims ’questions about how they operated and what motivated their groups’ attacks on civilians.
“Unfortunately, the guerrilla attacks were incomprehensible to our purpose, what we fought for and gave our lives for. In the end, we did the opposite of what we wanted: to affect the civilian population,” London said.
Some of the most important information came from Mancuso, said Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, director of the Andes of the Washington Office for Latin America, a nonprofit organization in the United States.
Sanchez said the former AUC chief testified that much of the group’s violence was sustained by the Colombian government and private interests, such as companies and wealthy landowners.
But Sanchez-Garzoli described Wednesday’s testimony as “highly problematic,” since Mancuso said AUC fighters acted out of “self-defense” and that they killed political candidates to consolidate power to provide better health services. and economic stability to civilians. Sanchez-Garzoli also added that London has revealed little new information on FARC actions during the conflict.
“This just scratched the surface for me,” he told Al Jazeera. “Actually, this should be the first of many conversations.”
‘Do everything that benefits you’
Testimony has left a sour taste in the mouths of many victims, including Yirley Velazco, a survivor of an infamous massacre committed by Manusco’s paramilitary group that was one of the bloodiest acts of the Colombian conflict.
“In fact they don’t ask for forgiveness, they don’t do it because they really feel the need to ask for it,” Velazco told Al Jazeera after the hearing.
“Most of all they do … so they can justify everything that happened. They ask forgiveness outside of politics, doing everything that benefits them.”
Previous dialogues falsified by the Truth Commission have been marked by similar criticism.
The commission attracted international attention in late June when Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who has been abducted and held hostage by the FARC in the jungle for more than six years, entered the scene.
The Franco-Colombian confronted her captors for the first time and said she had found FARC excuses for her disgruntled victims. “I wanted to hear you speak from your heart, not from politics,” Betancourt said at the time. “This is a meeting of hearts, not a political meeting.”
But Guzman said the testimonies represent a crucial step forward for a country that has been plagued by cycles of violence for most of its history. The conversation, he said, is an attempt to show the many different perspectives of the Columbia conflict – something bigger than the testimony of Mancuso or London alone.
Guzman said it is “difficult to swallow” in a place where most people have been touched by violence. “I think the main question here is: whose is the truth?” he said. “No one seems to be very willing to acknowledge that the truth is complex and not a very direct issue.”