The Resurrection of Fabian Ramirez
By Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
Fabián Ramirez was pronounced dead by the Colombian government in November 2010. He had apparently died in an aerial bombardment of a FARC camp. His death was announced with much fanfare, a heavy dose of gloating and glee. They were only slightly more calm than the crowds at US election rallies when the candidate is announced as having won a primary. "Former Guerrillas" were paraded out to say it was true. So it is easy to imagine the response when he turned up on Colombian TV in an interview given to former CNN correspondent Karl Penhaul.
There was no hoopla this time. The Ministry of Defence complained about the time given over to a "terrorist" rather than deal with the falsification of his death. Others preferred to deal with what he had to say about peace, an end to kidnappings etc. The print media however, carried tiny articles, downplaying the carnival of feasting on the corpse that had occurred in 2010.
Ramirez's resurrection is symptomatic of a wider problem in reporting the conflict in Colombia. It is now common knowledge that the army regularly dressed up children, mentally handicapped people, common criminals and desperately poor people in search of work, in guerrilla uniform and then murdered them presenting them to the media as guerrillas killed in combat. These are the so called false positives. However, there are other false positives that do not involve murdering children. They just murder the truth.
The army regularly emits communiqués where they claim to have killed or captured so many guerrillas. The Minister for Defence did the same on TV in the midst of the interview about Fabian Ramirez. The figures are fake. Between 2002 and 2007 the Colombian State reported that they had captured 27,290 guerrillas, despite there only being about 9,500 political prisoners in the jails at the moment. They further claim to have killed 9,841 and that a further 13,333 had demobilised giving a grand total of 50,464 guerrillas who were no longer part of the conflict for one reason or another. Simply not true. It would mean that between the FARC and ELN the State had reduced it to zero almost twice in 5 years. Where are all the prisoners? Disappeared? Or is that they have never existed. The media in Colombia report official military communiqués in a manner akin to Evangelical Christians talking about the Bible.
Walk around the Colombian countryside long enough and you will hear and come across stories the media don't report. Soldiers killed in combat is one of them. They are consistently under reported. One even comes across stories where guerrillas are killed and for whatever reason decisions are made not to report it. Generally, because it is an area in which the State claims there are no guerrillas. If the region is now under the total control of the State, reporting guerrilla deaths with fanfare just won't do.
Ramirez's resurrection has proven what we have always known, particularly under the Uribe regime, the war is fake. Military deaths are far higher than they let on, guerrilla deaths are far fewer and the False Positives were a media strategy to redress the balance. A media strategy that has caused thousands of deaths.