Colombian defense minister calls minors killed by army “war machines”

The declarations of defense minister Diego Molano on national media to justify the actions of the military in the Guaviare department last week have provoked widespread condemnation from social and political sectors

March 11, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Colombian National Army bombed a FARC dissidents camp in the Guaviare department on March 2, massacring some 14 minors in the attack. Photo: Colombia Informa

The controversial statements of Colombia’s new defense minister, Diego Molano, regarding the massacre of minors by the National Army in the Guaviare department last week, have provoked widespread social and political condemnation.

In interviews with various mainstream media outlets on March 10, Molano refused to confirm the reports that children were among those killed in the bombing of a camp of insurgent group made up of dissidents from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who took up arms again due to the violation of peace agreements by the current far-right government of President Ivan Duque. Instead, the minister described the children killed in the military operation in the Calamar municipality in the Guaviare department on March 2 as “war machines” and justified that the army’s action was legitimate.

“We are talking about an operation against a narco-terrorist structure that uses young people to turn them into war machines,” Molano told Blu Radio.

Later, while speaking with RCN Radio, he indicated that minors “cease to be victims when they commit crimes” and added that “unfortunately, they become criminals.”

Molano also said that “there cannot be a discussion about what our army does. Our army complies with the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).” “It is clear that those who are in a camp participate in hostilities and it (the attack) must be carried out for the greater good, for the protection of others.” he commented on the W Radio.

National condemnation of Molano’s statements

Molano’s statements were strongly rejected by numerous social and political leaders and organizations.

Senator Sandra Ramírez of the Common Party criticized Molano and said that he insulted “the innocence of children” whom he ordered to bomb. “They are not war machines, they are victims of an indifferent government.”

Gustavo Petro, leader of Colombia Humana, condemned the attack saying that “bombing of children in Guaviare is not collateral damage, it is a war crime. Its planners must resign immediately.”

Social organization, Congreso de los Pueblos (the People’s Congress), said in a tweet that “the IHL has specific mechanisms that prohibit bombing. Especially if the objective is not certain. This condition is framed by distinction, a principle that differentiates between combatants and civilians.”

Senator Ivan Cepeda Castro of the Alternative Democratic Pole warned Monalo that “If it is confirmed that boys and girls died in the bombing in Guaviare and you had prior knowledge, I will denounce you for serious violations of IHL. It is your duty to rescue minors who are victims of forced recruitment, not to bomb them.”

The Common Party denounced that actually the “war machines are the State structures, which in the midst of the crisis continued to finance the repression but didn’t guarantee its people the basic rights. Those girls and boys should have been studying.”

Likewise, peasants organization Coordinador Nacional Agrario (CNA) or the National Agrarian Coordinator, denounced that the attack as “the dirty war of the Colombian State led by the present government and its cabinet, attacks and massacres people, bombs children and militarizes territories, increases the budget for war and denies access to basic rights for life.”

Contradictory information regarding the presence of children

Hours after Molano’s statements, the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences made its official report public, in which it stated that only one minor under 16 years of age died in the attack.

However, this report contradicted the investigations carried out on the ground by journalist and politician, Hollman Morris. Yesterday, on March 10, Morris on his YouTube channel revealed that at least 14 minors between 10 and 19 years of age died in the attack, according to the testimonies from relatives of the victims. Morris, who is the director of the independent media organization Tercer Canal, reported that there were three bodies of minors in the morgue of the Guaviare department and three other injured children were in hospitals.

Senator Roy Barreras of the Social Party of National Unity, through a tweet denounced inconsistencies in the data presented by the legal medicine institute. Barreras reported that two of the deceased, presented by the institute as 19-year-old citizens, would actually be 10 and 16 years old, according to their identity documents. “Killing children is not a military success but a failure of the state,” said Barreras in a tweet.

Given the uncertainty, the ombudsman, Carlos Camargo, asked the authorities to “clarify what happened and provide details.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened in Colombia. On August 30, 2019, the National Army bombed another area where there were minors. As a result of the attack, at least 7 minors lost their lives. Due to this fact, the then defense minister Guillermo Botero had to resign. This case has once again placed the structure of the current regime  in check.