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Home Facts Victims and Survivors Colombia The Impact of the SOA in Colombia
The Impact of the SOA in Colombia PDF Print E-mail
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the U.S. Office on Colombia released a groundbreaking report entitled Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications, which exposes serious problems with the implementation of U.S. foreign military training.  An executive summary of the report can be accessed here.

Once again, detailed research continues to uncover the connections between SOA/ WHINSEC graduates and instructors with extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations.

SOA Trained Battalion Commanders in Colombia

The researchers selected an important graph from the report that depicts extrajudicial killings in Colombia from 2002 to 2009 attributed to brigade divisions in the Colombian military, and matched the brigades with SOA-trained commanders.  The results are startling, showing a high level of extrajudicial executions in areas under the command of SOA graduates.  While the data focuses on those in command and is not entirely inclusive of all the soldiers in each unit, at a minimum this research demonstrates the failed efforts of the curriculum at the SOA/ WHINSEC to prevent human rights violations.

The report isolates the specific role of SOA/ WHINSEC attendees as part of their research, noting that in 2009, “30 of 33 brigade and division commanders who could be identified attended one or more courses at the School” and that “it is significant that the United States has trained virtually the entire class of Colombian Army commanders.” One of the cornerstones of the report (high numbers of reported killings after receiving U.S. military assistance, despite reports of killings before military assistance was approved) is also connected with training at the SOA/ WHINSEC, a form of U.S. military assistance. (page 12)

Unit Studies

According to the research, of the 33 brigade and division commanders who could be identified, only the commanders of the Second, Fifth and 13th brigades did not attend SOA/ WHINSEC. All seven division commanders attended the school.  Here are summaries of a few of the unit studies in the report, with human rights violations attributed to units commanded by U.S.-trained Colombian officers:

  • Codazzi Battalion (operating as part of the Third Brigade): In 2004, CINEP reported on the killings, reportedly by members of the Codazzi Battalion, of Carlos Rodrigo Largo in Corinto, Cauca on June 16 and of Claudia Patricia Morales in Palmira, Valle, on March 14. The killing of Largo was part of a village raid in which Codazzi troops reportedly threatened, robbed and beat villagers. In 2007 the Codazzi Battalion was identified as the author of ten civilian killings, and the same number again in 2008. Although the Third Brigade has 12 battalions, the Codazzi was reportedly responsible for 22 out of 53 executions attributed to the brigade. (page 18)
  • Ninth Brigade: The brigade’s commander from at least September 2006 to November 2007 was Colonel Jaime Alfonso Lasprilla Villamizar.  In 2002‐03, then‐Lt. Col. Lasprilla served as an instructor at WHINSEC, after also being trained at the school as a cadet. During his term as Ninth Brigade commander, at least 49 civilian killings were reportedly committed by the army in the brigade’s jurisdiction, 31 of them attributed by witnesses directly to Ninth Brigade soldiers. Lasprilla was subsequently promoted to the rank of brigadier general and commander of the U.S.‐supported Task Force Omega. (page 19)
  • Sixth Brigade: During 2000 to 2005, 50 civilian killings by the military were reported in the brigade’s jurisdiction, including the well known Cajamarca massacre of five people in April 2004.  A high percentage – 87.5% – of the 42 civilian killings in Tolima attributed to a unit were reportedly carried out by members of the Sixth Brigade.  In 2008‐09, and again this year, the United States has been fully assisting a brigade in whose jurisdiction the Army reportedly killed 124 civilians since 2002, in clear violation of the Leahy Law. (pages 19-20)
  • Eighteenth Brigade: This brigade operates in the conflictive and oil‐producing Arauca Department, on the border with Venezuela. The 18th Brigade became a prominent focus of human rights and labor groups and the U.S. Embassy in 2004, when troops killed three trade unionists. The previous year, eight killings were attributed to the brigade, including a massacre of four indigenous persons and the rape of four teenaged girls on May 5, 2003, allegedly committed by members of the ‘Navas Pardo’ Engineering Battalion dressed in paramilitary uniforms.  Most – 75% – of the 44 civilian killings in Arauca attributed to a unit were reportedly carried out by members of the 18th Brigade. (pages 21-22)
  • Fourth Brigade: This brigade has been a powerhouse of the army, with several of its commanders rising to leadership of the military in recent years.  Extrajudicial killings by the army in the brigade’s jurisdiction also outnumber by far those of any other brigade – 608 since 2002, with more than 100 a year from 2004 through 2007.  The current commander, Brigadier General Alberto José Mejía Ferrero, trained and studied for several years in U.S. military institutions, including the SOA/ WHINSEC; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; the Army War College; and the Naval Postgraduate School. (pages 22-23)
  • Seventh Brigade: A total of 256 civilian killings by the army have been reported in the brigade’s jurisdiction since 2002; of these, 81 were attributed either to the Seventh Brigade or one of the mobile brigades. Officers of the Seventh Brigade and its Joaquin Paris Battalion were implicated in the Mapiripán massacre in 1997, in which paramilitaries massacred or disappeared 49 residents over the course of five days. There were 12 killings attributed to the 12th Mobile Brigade, at the time commanded by Colonel Carlos Hugo Ramírez Zuluaga, who took the Cadet Orientation at the SOA/ WHINSEC in November 1980.  Colonel Zuluaga was named in the 1994 book Terrorismo de Estado de Colombia as a paramilitary death squad collaborator. In April 2006, according to CINEP, soldiers from the 12th Mobile Brigade opened fire on a civilian dwelling in San Juan de Arama, and continued shooting even after people fleeing the dwelling shouted to stop and the wounded were heard crying out. The soldiers killed 10 people, including three children. (pages 24-25)
These unit studies are likely the tip of the iceberg.  Given the Department of Defense refuses to disclose who has trained or instructed at WHINSEC since 2004, there is a high probability even more graduates are connected to human rights violations in light of the fact that thousands of Colombians have moved through SOA/ WHINSEC programs without any oversight.

Important reports like the one described above are essential resources for Congress and Administration officials making decisions about foreign military training. Despite the value of transparency, openness, and the public’s right to know, the Obama Administration made a clear decision to value secrecy instead, and to prevent further exposure of the negative impact the SOA/ WHINSEC has in Colombia and the rest of Latin America.

Click here to take action and urge the State Department not to certify Colombia’s human rights record in August 2010

Note on summary above: the content of these summaries was taken from the FOR/ U.S. Office on Colombia report entitled Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications.  In some cases, footnotes, graphs and other documentation in the original report will provide additional background to the information you read here.

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