Colombia’s ex army head sentenced for Palace of Justice scandal, 30 years later

Former Colombian Army Colonel, Colonel Sánchez Rubiano, has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the crime of aggravated forced disappearance during the siege of Bogotá’s Palace of Justice, which took place between November 6 and 7 1985.

Now demobilized left-wing guerrilla group M-19, took 350 judges, lawyers and palace employees hostage in the 1985 siege, lasting 27 hours and leaving 98 dead, including 11 supreme court judges.

The colonel’s trial had finished more than two and a half years ago, but a decision had still had not been made on the case.

Immediate arrest

Sánchez Rubiano, who is currently free, was commander of the B-2 group at the time of the attack. He was in charge of those rescued from the courts. An order for his immediate arrest has been made by a judge.

Since 2013, the process has been under consideration by Colombia’s Court 52, sentencing Sánchez to 40 years in prison for the disappearance of ex-Colonel Carlos Augusto Rodríguez Vera, courthouse cafeteria manager, and Bernardo Beltrán, a cafeteria employee.

Sanchez is accused of the disappearance of seven cafeteria employees, three Palace of Justice visitors and M-19 guerrilla Irma Franco Pineda.

According to the investigation, Colonel Sánchez Rubiano was the person coordinating the rescue from a station located in Bogotá’s Museo de la Independencia (Museum of Independence), from the identification and isolation of those rescued from the Palace was carried out.

“It’s clear that people pulled alive from the Palace of Justice by members of the army and the different bodies of state security who participated in the operation resumption of the building were taken to the Museo de la Independencia, where they were considered suspects belonging to or collaborating with the subversive group M-19,” states the ruling.

Denied freedom

In the decision the judge left open the possibility that Sánchez Rubiano be tried for the disappearance of Irma Franco, for which he was acquitted by the Military Criminal Justice.

Major Oscar William Vasquez Rodriguez was also sentenced to 40 years in prison  for his role in the disappearance of Carlos Augusto Rodriguez Vera, Bernardo Hernandez Beltran and guerrilla Irma Franco Pineda.

The judicial office has denied both the colonel and the major the benefit of a home detention or a temporary ruling, suspended their liberty. “As a consequence the sentenced will be discounted the penalty of effective restriction of freedom,” the office stated.

In October 2015, the prosecution called 14 officers for questioning, including the retired colonel Edilberto Sánchez Rubiano, for events relating to the alleged torture of two law students who were in the Palace justice during the siege; identified as Yolanda Eduardo and Matson Santodomingo in addition to civil servant Orlando Quijano.

Latin Correspondent | by Steven James Grattan

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