Colombian Mayor’s Incentives Echoes False Positive Controversy

The mayor of Santa Marta, the capital of Colombia’s northern department of Magdalena, announced a number of incentives for authorities that display good conduct through the use of proper protocols in terms of making arrests, preventing crimes, and quickly responding to criminal activities.

A Gateway to “Social Cleansing”

The city has started a fund of one billion pesos ($254.5 thousand USD) in order to facilitate these incentives, which include gift vouchers, coupons, vacation packages, and further time off. Critics and analysts have raised concerns over the plan, as these incentives align closely with Colombia’s “false positive” controversy under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe between 2006 and 2008. Uribe is currently facing a court case for witness tampering and bribery following an investigation into the former president’s alleged ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.

Both the mayor and the Secretary of Security, Carlos Pinedo Cuello and Gustavo Berdugo respectively, have defended the policy, with Berdugo telling Semana that six officials have already been rewarded before arguing that businesses use similar methods to promote good work.


Current mayor of Santa Marta, Carlos Pinedo Cuello. (Photo – Opinion Caribe)

“What we are doing is also seen in companies; it is not something new. In the private sector, they give bonuses to their employees for good results. Here we want to highlight the work of the uniformed personnel and, every day, improve security. Above all, we are interested in prevention,” Berdugo told Semana.

Among the plan’s critics is the governor of Magdalena, Rafael Martinez, who raised concerns regarding the possibility of another false positive scandal alongside a supposed “social cleansing.”

“Dangerous exercise of Santa Marta’s mayor’s office. With one day of leave as an incentive, the fatal door was opened to false positives from Alvaro Uribe. Would the billions of pesos of rewards offered by the illegals protected by the Democratic Center Movement be lent?” the governor said in a post on X. “Does it turn out that our taxes because of this will end up financing ‘social cleansing’ and even end up tipping the balance towards one of the two sides that are fighting for control of the bus?”

Cuello fired back on X, criticizing an unnamed figure believed to be Martinez for his supposed belief of being “the champion of good management.”

“From his profile in X and believing himself to be the champion of good management, the other corrupt errand boy came out to talk about security. They do not do, nor do they let others do. In its downward spiral, it grabs hold of whatever it takes to remain current. Better get to work, pay Davila [likely Semana’s director, Vicky Davila], and stop being a toad.” Cuello said in a post on X.

A Closer Look at the Scandal

During the false-positive scandal, the Colombian military offered a number of rewards for soldiers with a large kill count against Colombia’s Marxist guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). These incentives led to the deaths of an estimated 6,402 civilians who were lured to rural areas of the country, killed, and dressed in FARC uniforms before being passed off as guerillas.

After the scandal was discovered, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a transitional court system that played a massive role in facilitating the peace deal between the FARC and the government in 2016, began an intensive investigation into multiple figures in the military, with more than 3,500 members of the military being placed under investigation.


A Colombian soldier at the scene of the illegal mining. (Photo – X/@FuerzasMilCol)

During these investigations, officials have stated that many of the false positives were conducted in order to please ranking officers, with former commander of the Colombian army and retired general, Mario Montoya, being accused of at least 130 killings. Officials testified that Montoya ordered soldiers to prioritize kills over captures of rebels.

In the trial, prosecutors alleged that three generals, including Montoya, did not take sufficient action to prevent the false positives from occurring, while further claiming that some of the defendants had given orders directly to their subordinates to misidentify and murder civilians.

“From the command they occupied, they were permissive, lax in controls, and did not exercise their powers of prevention, investigation, and sanction. This facilitated the dissemination, permanence, and concealment of the crimes. Their omissions contributed to the consolidation of the three macrocriminal patterns documented in the Huila Subcase, one of the six areas prioritized in the investigation,” a document alleging the crimes stated.

Military units under the command of the generals are believed to have been responsible for a significant number of civilian executions, with 192 of the 264 deaths between 2005 and 2008 reported by the units being thought to have been civilians who were purposefully misidentified as guerillas.

This new policy has raised concerns due to the perceived ease of corruption and abuse that comes with the laid-out parameters. Critics have argued that the incentives will encourage police to investigate bogus claims, harass the general population, and treat suspected criminals more harshly regardless of the nation’s belief in innocence until proven guilt, a right enshrined in Colombia’s constitution.

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent Barr is an Intelligence Analyst for Atlas News. He has years of experience and is trained in open source intelligence gathering. Trent Barr specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs while also holding an interest in Europe as a whole.

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