On Tuesday, relatives of the victims of Operation Orion in Colombia commemorated the 16th anniversary of a brutal military operation in Medellin, which led to at least 70 people being executed, almost 300 disappeared, 450 illegal detentions, and around 2,000 people being forcibly displaced.
On Oct. 16, 2002, months after a current senator and then President Alvaro Uribe was sworn in as president,1,200 soldiers entered the working-class neighborhood known as Comuna 13 to “re-establish” public order in following a series of clashes between forces, guerrilla fighters, and urban militias.
While there is no exact number of victims, dozens of their relatives, many of whom continue to search for their disappeared loved ones, have called for a thorough investigation to uncover the truth, along with compensation from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which is currently investigating the operation.
Activists, relatives of the victims, and human rights defenders formally submitted a report on Operation Orion to the JEP before General Mario Montoya is to give his version of events Wednesday.
Together with Leonardo Gallego, head of Medellin’s Metropolitan Police, Montoya led the deadly 48-hour military operation. Activists say there is sufficient evidence to conclude excessive use of force during the operation. There is also testimony linking military actions to paramilitaries in the region.
Former paramilitary boss Diego Murillo Bejarano, alias Don Berna, told a federal court in New York that the Cacique Nutibara block, which he led, participated in the operation in alliance with the fourth brigade of the Colombian army. Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory found that the territories taken from guerrilla groups through Operation Orion “were captured by the Cacique Nutibara (paramilitary) Block.”
The communities of Medellin have organized a series of commemorative events. Since last Thursday, they organized conferences on urban memory and forced disappearances, in which many of the witnesses of the Operation Orion shared their testimony and experiences while demanding #OrionNeverAgain. The call is particularly relevant due to the fear of the militarization of Colombia’s Comunas being imminent.
“For those who defend human rights in Comuna 13, military alternatives are not the right ones to regain control of the territories. There are other ways that can generate more respect and better coexistence,” Hernando Montoya of the community organization ACJ (Christian Youth Association) said.
Colombians are also sharing their experiences via social media. Daniel Suarez tweeted Tuesday “16 years ago I was hiding under my bed with my two cousins, we could hear a helicopter shooting from the sky. My aunt asked us to be calm, to not go out. 16 years ago I stopped going to high school, 16 years ago the conflict was only blocks away.”
Members of other working-class neighborhoods, or comunas, joined the events with a symbolic embrace of Comuna 13.