Here is a translation from Friday’s column in El Tiempo by former Colombian Finance Minister Rudolf Hommes. He is part of a group calling itself “Citizens for Life” who have posted an online Christmas card in solidarity with the victims of the Colombian military’s extrajudicial executions. The card is at www.nofalsospositivos.com.
Citizens for Life
By Rudolf Hommes
To judge by what stands out in the media, nothing other than money - like in the case of the pyramid schemes - or Uribe’s reelection seems to move the country. Cases keep appearing of murdered civilians who are classified as “false positives.” They kill the husband of an indigenous leader at 4:00 in the morning, when he is going to pick her up [at the airport after a trip to Geneva], and the discussion is limited to whether the civilian justice system, the UN or another authority should investigate the crime. The majority of our fellow citizens don’t seem concerned that Colombians, especially those with low incomes, young people in the large cities’ slums, union leaders, indigenous and campesino leaders cannot travel freely without fear of being killed, of being treated like suspects who tried to escape, or of having their bodies end up disguised, post mortem, as those of guerrillas.
The worst aspect of these repeated “false positives,” crimes that don’t even have anything to do with war and are committed with the purpose of inflating statistics that intend to measure the performance of those carrying out a security policy, is that the people who perpetrate those crimes feel supported by the bureaucracy, or even authorized by their superiors to carry them out. And in any case, society doesn’t pay much attention to these acts, even though they are an attack on society and against our youth. This situation is very similar to that described by the philosopher Hannah Arendt in her writings, particularly in her article about Eichmann’s trial in Israel, which caused the concept of the “banality of evil” to be popularized. It illustrates how common citizens, who in everything else follow laws and fear God and the State, are willing to commit acts of cruelty against other human beings, without pangs of conscience, when they believe that these acts have the support of a respected institution.
The publication of these articles coincided with a moving report in El Espectador about the mothers of the young men in Soacha who were killed so that their deaths could be registered as “false positives,” and the appearance in this daily of an article by Antanas Mockus [two-time mayor of Bogotá], who expressed alarm about the “undignified and unrestricted conversion of human beings into instruments to improve some statistics.” Mockus is concerned that, “as in times of German Fascism, human beings reduce other human beings to primary material for their will,” and this happens when society suffers from anomie, which is a “social situation that is produced when society inculcates (and celebrates) the achievement of results, without inculcating (or defending) at the same time respect for limits over the measures employed in the achievement of these results.”
At the end of the article, Mockus invites his readers to join together and act in support of life. He, Claudia López and I resolved to follow this recommendation and conceived the idea of publishing a Christmas card illustrated with a powerful photograph of Óscar Pérez - which eloquently expressed the pain of the mothers of Soacha and the dimension of the tragedy - to be massively distributed through different media. It invites readers to reflect on this situation during this Christmas, and to join in solidarity with the victims of this form of violence.
The response that this initiative has received has been very encouraging. It now counts with the support of numerous people of very diverse professional and political origins, among them distinguished columnists from this and other dailies, who have spontaneously congregated as Citizens for Life. Many of them had not fully realized the seriousness of what has been happening until we communicated the idea to them, and they reacted. The card is being distributed now through several media, and I hope that it might contribute to defeating indifference, so that the majority of Colombians might be Citizens for Life.