The soldiers I have met

Posted on: May 12th 2023

The soldiers I have met

Oscar Conde Ortiz, Socio Fundador

During 37 years of professional practice as a litigation lawyer (Conde Abogados) I have met dozens of members of the Public Force who seek legal advice most of the time because they have been injured in service activities (military operations), injured in training, operational displacements, or outside the service, who have been retired because of PSTD which is sufficient to be dismissed in an untimely manner.

Without the requirements to obtain a DoD disability (there is no working hours reduction that exceeds 50%) or without enough time to access a retirement pension, they are left out in the open, without job skills, without being prepared to "reintegrate into society". Facing the personal and family drama of an uncertain future without receiving work income, salary and welfare benefit and most worryingly, without the medical and hospital services to continue the treatments needed to stabilize or improve their health condition.

There are also specific but also tragic situations: families with children who become drug addicts during their military service (regular soldiers) and professional soldiers, young soldiers diagnosed with HIV or other diseases contracted in the military community, such as tuberculosis, or those who develop mental illnesses, which become "a problem" for military commanders. And here comes the first conclusion: there is no institutional policy prepared to "deal" with these young people who present these situations that affect their health.

In addition, there are the soldiers who are beaten by their superiors, killed by their own peers, who are not given permission to visit their parents in serious health condition, and so on..

Military life is sometimes not as epic or heroic as it is presented in institutional propaganda.

Backed by an important jurisprudence that has been developed to protect these young men and women and by judges and magistrates who understand that decisions must be made from the perspective of solidarity, respect of labor rights, especially labor stability, added to the fact that military activity is not only physical, Conde Abogados has managed to reintegrate almost all of them. Sometimes I say that we have reincorporated so many soldiers that there would be enough to form a battalion.

All these events have occurred and continue to occur in this immense theater of insurgent and counterinsurgent operations that our department has become.

I have also shared with high-ranking military officers, especially now that the Historical Pact is in government, and I must say that not all the active and reserve military think like General (R) John Agudelo; there is a great majority, without ignoring the dissident voices, of officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who show respect for the institutions and without any hesitation recognize the President of the Republic as the legitimate Commander of the Military Forces.

A great debate is taking place on the training and instruction of our military force regarding the respect of Human Rights, the relations they should have with the civil society, the treatment of those who protest and the recognition of social and political sectors as legitimate institutional actors who were considered for years, if not decades, as "internal enemy" and who now govern the country.

The demonstration on May, the 10th, was more than a concentration of the reserve of the Armed Forces. It was a political act where leaders of the Colombian right wing strutted. Although they always considered the military and the police as their natural political allies and believed they are legitimized to overthrow the government of Gustavo Petro, within the Public Forces and the Colombians concerned about defending and supporting the institutionality are thinking otherwise.  

This government is making great efforts to solve the serious problem of labor, benefit and welfare dysfunctionality that hits the military and police (just one example, the pension allowance 14 was eliminated not only for workers but also for members of the Public Force, guess by whom?), the job stability of active and wounded military and police, a new form of promotions in the military and police career, etc..

This context, which sometimes seems to be tense, occurs when Salvatore Mancuso tells the story of the development and execution of the national paramilitary operation with the collaboration and coadjutant of military and police commanders, politicians and businessmen of the public and private sector, with all the drama that involved the implication of the most serious violations of human rights.