• Mon. Oct 3rd, 2022

Weston man prosecuted under US Torture Victim Protection Act

The Colombian army in front of the courthouse watches as a tank forces its way through the entrance. Photo: The Bogota Post

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

A retired Colombian army lieutenant colonel now living in Weston, who spent nearly eight years in prison for his role in the deadly 1985 siege by M-19 guerrillas at the Bogotá Courthouse, was prosecuted under the US Torture Victim Protection Act. .

Three daughters of magistrate Carlos Horacio Uran Rojas, who was among more than 100 civilians who died in the attack that claimed the lives of 11 Supreme Court justices and 11 cafeteria workers, filed a complaint in court on Tuesday. U.S. District of Fort Lauderdale vs. Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega. A jury trial was sought for unspecified damages.

News footage showed magistrate Uran Rojas with a leg injury leaving the building in military custody shortly after the siege ended. “His brutalized body” was found inside the courthouse later the same day “undressed and washed, with a point-blank gunshot wound to the temple,” the 20-page complaint states.

torture
Former Colombian Army Lieutenant Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega in 2016 Photo: Ciudad Weston Newspaper

The Torture Victims Protection Act of 1992 grants U.S. citizens and noncitizens the right to file suits seeking damages for torture and extrajudicial executions committed in foreign countries. Lawsuits can be brought against persons acting in an official capacity, but only after the plaintiffs have unsuccessfully sought redress in the country where the crime was committed.

The siege of the courthouse began on the morning of November 6, 1985, when 35 armed M-19 guerrillas entered through the basement parking lot of the four-story building and quickly took about 300 hostages. The commanding general, who also ended up going to jail, put Plazas Vega, the head of a specialized armored fighting vehicle brigade, in command of the military operation to retake the Palace of Justice, according to the complaint.

Within about two hours, armored tanks entered the building and the soldiers began “eliminating the guerrillas by force” and escorting the civilians until a large fire broke out and forced a retreat to the next morning when operations resumed. The fighting lasted until late afternoon on November 7, the complaint states. All but one of the M-19 guerrillas were killed in the attack.

” AN ILLEGAL SYSTEM “

“As part of its takeover of the Palace of Justice, the military deployed an illegal system designed to identify, interrogate, forcibly disappear, torture and, often, extrajudicially kill any suspected guerrillas or sympathizers among the hostages,” indicates the complaint. “After their death, the army then denied ever having detained these people.”

This system, documented in army and police records and internal radio communications, included the segregation of people nicknamed “especiales”, or specials, who were then violently interrogated before being taken to a military installation. , including one led by Plazas Vega.

The “lucky few” who managed to escape by convincing the military that they were not involved in guerrilla warfare, or that they had their own connections to superiors, “lived to provide first-hand accounts of the especiales system,” the complaint states.

“The army tried to cover up their crimes by getting rid of the remains of their victims. Some of the missing were never found. In a few cases, the military returned the bodies to the courthouse and claimed they died in the crossfire during the siege,” the complaint states.

Helena Uran Bidegain and the cover of a 2020 book she wrote about her father’s murder.

This false “crossfire” story is what the daughters of Uran Rojas allege the military told their family about their father’s death.

Uran Rojas’ eldest daughter is Helena Uran Bidegain, who, as the personal representative of her father’s estate, is the principal plaintiff. She was 10 when her father was killed and is now a German citizen living in an unspecified location in the United States. Mairee Uran Bidegain, who was 5 years old at the time of her father’s death, is a French citizen residing in Chile. Ximomara Uran is an American citizen who lives in the United States. She was one year old when her father died.

PLAZAS VEGA ROLE

Complaint details Plazas Vega’s role in taking over the Palace of Justice and the illegal ‘especiales’ system, including his order to transfer especiales to military installations where he ‘reprimanded’ guards for being too lenient with them.

In addition, the complaint exposes the ensuing military cover-up: how the few especiales who were released were “ordered to be silent and threatened” with further harm if they told anyone about the torture they had suffered; how family members, journalists and lawyers seeking information on those killed or missing were intimidated; how the crime scene at the courthouse was mishandled and evidence was concealed.

But a sustained campaign by relatives of the dead and missing eventually led in 2007 to a criminal investigation in Colombia into military officers involved in the siege. According to a BBC report, Plazas Vega was soon charged with the enforced disappearance of 11 people and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2010. In 2012 a Superior Court upheld the sentence but only for the disappearance of two people , including the guerrilla survivor M-19. In 2015, the Supreme Court overturned his sentence and he was released.

Carlos Horace Uran Rojas

In 2008, prosecutor Angela Buitrago was assigned to investigate the death of magistrate Uran.

According to the complaint, however, when Buitrago sought to interview “prominent military officials,” her boss removed her from the case and reassigned her to the National Human Rights and International Law Unit. humanitarian aid, thus ending the investigation.

The daughters of Uran Rojas seized the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2014, the court “finded that Colombian state actors tortured and killed magistrate Uran after he left the courthouse, and ordered the Colombian government to investigate and prosecute those responsible. To date, no individual has been investigated or held responsible in Colombia for the murder of Magistrate Uran.

In 2016, retired Lt. Col. Plazas Vega “began to travel to the United States – the first time he had done so since new evidence regarding Magistrate Uran emerged in 2007”, the statement said. complaint.

Plazas Vega “conspired” with other members of the army, including General Arias Cabrales, in a “common plan, design and scheme to carry out the torture and extrajudicial executions or enforced disappearance” of guerrillas and suspected sympathizers.

Complaint seeks jury trial to determine damages for “severe emotional and physical abuse and agony” Uran Rojas suffered during his torture and extrajudicial execution, as well as mental pain and suffering suffered by members of his family.

The case was filed by attorneys from California law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and attorneys from the Center for Justice & Accountability in San Francisco.

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