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Colombian State Responsible for Violent Suppression of the Patriotic Union Party


Patriotic Union Colombia
IACHR declares Colombia responsible for the extermination of the Patriotic Union. Credit: Juan C. Pachon / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has declared the Colombian State responsible for the violent suppression of the Patriotic Union, this group being the first attempt to create a leftist party, which took place between the 1980s and 1990s in the country. In its ruling, the organization blamed Colombia for acts such as murders, massacres and forced disappearances against members of this group with the participation of the insurgency coming from the now-extinct FARC-EP, during the peace negotiations with President Belisario Betancur, in 1985.

This was announced yesterday, January 30, by the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office after the Colombian State itself admitted its responsibility. The ruling originated from the cases of the forced disappearance of Jhon Ubate and Gloria Bogota, both members of the Patriotic Union, in 1995. Consequently, the court ordered the publication of the judgment through the official social networks of different state agencies as a measure of reparation, with the aim of making society aware of what happened so that it does not happen again.

The success of the Patriotic Union

Today, the Patriotic Union is one of the member parties of the government coalition, Historical Pact, which supports President Gustavo Petro. Although it is a small party, almost 40 years ago it became the first manifestation of a broad and plural leftist party that overcame the limitations of the traditional and minority Colombian Communist Party.

The Patriotic Union emerged after the establishment of the Uribe Peace Accords, dialogues between the FARC-EP guerrilla group and the Colombian government, based on a truce that would allow the insurgency to participate in politics through a legal political party. It was made up of members of the FARC itself, the Colombian Communist Party and broad progressive sectors throughout the country. Its main success was to lay the foundations so that a significant number of members of the armed group could return to legality and civilian life.

It was not, as some detractors said at the time, the political arm of the FARC. The party was the first successful attempt to bring together different leftist options within Colombian political life. The voters rewarded it with more than 320,000 votes in 1986, a real record for left-wing options in Colombia. However, the party’s resounding success was paralleled by the violence that was exercised against it.

From the very moment it was founded, its militants began to be assassinated. Jaime Pardo and Bernardo Jaramillo were two presidential candidates of this party who were assassinated in 1987 and 1990. To them must be added congressmen, councilmen and an endless number of militants who suffered assassination, disappearance and torture; a total that has been calculated at more than 6,000 people.

The party ended up being suffocated in the violence and lost its legal status in 2002, although it was restored eleven years later by the Council of State, which recognized then that the party had been the victim of an “extermination campaign”. In 2021 it joined the Historic Pact coalition, and the following year it obtained the largest number of left-wing legislators in congress and the presidency, which has since been held by Gustavo Petro.

Three decades of litigation

The Colombian Prosecutor’s Office declared these murders in 2014 as crimes against humanity, concluding that it was a plan by political sectors, in alliance with state security agents, drug traffickers and paramilitary groups, to prevent the rise of leftist movements in Colombian politics. However, it has taken thirty years of judicial litigation to finally produce this important declaration by the IACHR.

“Colombia is responsible for the human rights violations committed against more than 6,000 members and militants of the Patriotic Union party from 1984 and for more than 20 years thereafter as a consequence of an extermination plan directed against the party and its members,” said Judge Ricardo Perez, president of the court.

The actions against the Patriotic Union were organized by paramilitary alliances, in collaboration with traditional politicians, businessmen and members of the security forces, which resulted in violence against members of this legal political group.

“These acts constituted a form of systematic extermination against the Patriotic Union political party, its members and militants, and were carried out with the participation of state agents, as well as with the tolerance and acquiescence of the authorities,” states the IACHR ruling.

According to the court, 3,170 extrajudicial executions, 1,596 forced displacements, 521 forced disappearances and 285 victims of attacks or attempted homicides were proven to have been committed.

“The day of justice”

“This is the day of justice for the Patriotic Union, because for the first time a court rules that the extermination was caused by the state. It is a very big step,” party senator Aida Avella, who survived an attack with a bazooka in 1996 when she was a Bogota city councilwoman, told The Associated Press. After that criminal act, Avella lived in exile in Europe for 17 years.

Avella, who is now the party’s president, lamented that many relatives of the deceased and those who disappeared died without being able to see this historic sentence. “There are children who did not resist the death of their parents,” said the senator.

For his part, the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, stated that his government will support “national and international justice against impunity” and rejected “a murderous state that should not return, a society of privileges that murders rather than allows change.”

The repair

The sentence asks the Colombian state to make reparations to the victims. In reality, it is a more moral and symbolic than effective reparation, but the members of the party and its supporters celebrate that, at last, the facts are recognized.

First of all, the identity and kinship of the victims must be ascertained. Likewise, the search for the disappeared must be carried out and the responsibility of the state in the events must be publicly acknowledged. Finally, the state must establish a national day in commemoration of the victims of the Patriotic Union and must build a monument.

The important thing, in these cases, will be the construction of a story in the country that explains to the new generations what happened in Colombia. The knowledge and assumption of these tragic events will serve to recognize ourselves as a society. The understanding of one’s own reality and of a recent traumatic and cruel past will be the basis for the construction of a better society, one that recognizes and accepts difference and works for non-repetition.

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