Despite mounting controversy over alleged corruption and war crimes, Colombia’s congress voted in favor of a promotion of the country’s national army commander.
A motion to block the promotion was defeated 64/1 in the 106-seat senate
Out of responsibility, we are not endorsing the promotion of General Nicacio Martinez. We ask that it be delayed to allow for the clarification of the facts. We cannot make these painful events incentives for prizes or promotions.”
Senator Antonio Sanguino (Green Alliance)
General Nicacio Martinez is currently under investigation by the Prosecutor General’s office over his alleged role in the embezzlement of army funds and by the Inspector General’s office over concerns that orders he issued could open the door for serious human rights violations.
While the vote did not actually confirm the promotion of Martinez, the military command is now green-lit to promote the controversial general.
After the vote was struck down, the Americas director of NGO Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, lamented the decision, expressing his concern that “the promotion of General Martinez… conveys the troubling message to the troops that serious allegations of human rights violations are not an obstacle for career success.”
Why was the vote defeated?
The senators who voted against the motion claimed they were confident that the allegations Martinez was involved in the extrajudicial executions of civilians are false.
Some accused leading news organisations and NGOs of spreading misinformation and leading a smear campaign. Examples of these include Human Rights Watch, news agency Reuters and Spanish newspaper El Pais who have provided evidence of the alleged war crimes, and the New York Times. who exposed Martinez’s controversial orders to double the number of combat kills and captures.
Senator Jaime Duran (Liberal Party) justified his support for the commander, claiming he could not find one open investigation into Martinez over the false positives from any government body, and dismissed the investigation into the orders alleged by the New York Times as irrelevant.
The lawmaker also accused the news media of peddling “false narratives”.
Several right-wing senators, including Paola Holguin of the far-right Democratic Center party and Juan Diego Gomez of the Conservative Party defended the promotion and claimed that the left were running a smear campaign against the armed forces.
Why was it tabled?
Senators of opposition parties motioned to delay the vote on Martinez’s promotion until after the completion of a preliminary investigation against him.
The vote did not seek to block Martinez’s promotion, merely to delay it until the charged against him could be clarified.
In May, the investigation into Martinez was opened after a New York Times article citing multiple sources within the military alleged that he had ordered the armed forces to double their captures and kills in 2019.
These allegations sparked widespread condemnation amid serious concerns that the orders would endanger the lives of civilians.
Between 2002 and 2008, similar numbers-based policies led to the murder of an estimated 5,000 civilians by soldiers looking to artificially inflate their kill counts and claim the rewards on offer for doing so.
Indeed, Martinez himself is heavily implicated in the scandal.
A Human Rights Watch report published in February named Martinez on a list of nine generals implicated in the scandal, for crimes allegedly committed while he was a colonel in the 10th brigade of the armed forces.
One particularly concerning allegation against he paid one million pesos to an informant for information leading to an operation which resulted in the killing of a 13-year-old girl, who was dressed up as a FARC rebel after her murder.
Martinez later described this operation as a “great success.”
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