Army Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega was sentenced to thirty years in prison over his role in the Palace of Justice incident in 1985. Plazas led the army response against the brazen attack by the now-disbanded M-19 rebels who took dozens of people hostage including the judges of the Colombian Supreme Court. The resulting 27-hour siege between guerillas and soldiers left over 100 people including all the rebels and eleven of the high court judges. There were also eleven survivors who disappeared supposedly under Plazas’ orders:
One witness in the trial, a former army soldier, testified that when someone asked Plazas what to do with the survivors he responded: "Hang the sons of bitches."
The witness said the survivors were tortured for eight days in a military compound in Bogotá. "They were hung by their wrists, they were beaten in the stomach, electricity was applied with wires to both men and women. Other testimony showed that Plazas wanted the survivors to sign statements saying they had received money to buy the weapons used by the M-19 in the assault.
The families of the disappeared as well as human rights groups hailed the verdict. “With this groundbreaking ruling the victims' families… have begun to break the silence that has for so long protected those responsible," said one researcher with Amnesty International.
The judge presiding over the Plazas trial recommended that he be transferred from hospital to a maximum-security jail in order to fulfill his sentence. Lawyers for the 65-year-old declared the sentence as "unjust" and vowed to file an appeal.
The landmark sentence could signal the beginning of the end to impunity by the military, a possibility that apparently worries Colombian president Álvaro Uribe. After meeting today with the country’s defense leaders Uribe is expected to announce in a speech tonight his proposal to shield senior military officials from prosecution.
Online Sources- BBC News, The Guardian, Amnesty International USA, People’s Daily Online, AP, El Espectador