Santo Domingo Massacre in Colombia


[Note: On December 13, 1998, in what has become one of the most notorious war crimes in Colombia, the hamlet of Santo Domingo was attacked by a U.S. cluster bomb from a Colombian Air Force helicopter.  Seventeen civilians, including 7 children, were killed as a result of the bombing.  As the L.A. Times has well-documented, this bombing was carried out at the behest of Occidental Petroleum which provided the skymaster plane utilized by its security contractor (AirScan) to give the coordinates for the bombing and which hosted the planning of the bombing raid at its offices in Cano Limon, Colombia.  

            Originally, to deflect blame, the Colombian military claimed that the Santo Domingo victims were not killed by an aerial bomb, but rather, were killed by a truck bomb set by the FARC guerillas.  This claim by the Colombian military has been long-debunked by even the FBI which did its own forensic investigation of the attack and by the U.S. State Department which has accepted the FBI’s version of events.  Now, the Wall Street Journal, in an article published September 23, 2005, and against the well-established facts of the massacre, has tried to rehabilitate the Colombian military’s “guerilla truck bomb” theory.  The article below was written by Santo Domingo survivor Luis Alberto Galvis in response to the Wall Street Journal piece.  The Wall Street Journal, in rejecting publication of the piece below, defended its original article on this subject, stating that it saw nothing wrong with presenting the Colombian military’s side of the massacre, even to the exclusion of the other, better-documented version of events.

            As a final note to this piece, we point out that a GAO report on military aid to Colombia just confirmed what human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have speculated upon for some time – that Occidental Petroleum provides direct military assistance to the military (including the notorious 18th Brigade of the Colombian Armed Forces and the air force) as well as to the local Fiscalia (prosecutor’s office) which, in pertinent part, issued the warrants for the 3 social activists murdered by the 18th Brigade in August of 2004.   Along with Ecopetrol (the Colombian-owned oil company), Occidental provides $8.65 million in such aid per year. -- DAN KOVALIK]

 The Truth About The Santo Domingo, Colombia Massacre

            As a former resident of Santo Domingo, Colombia and as someone whose life was devastated on December 13, 1998, when my mother, sister and cousin were killed by a cluster bomb dropped by a helicopter upon our town,  I am writing to respond to the September 23, 2005 Oped entitled, “Seeking the Truth About a Massacre in a Colombian Hamlet.”  This opinion piece, written by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, does not in fact seek the truth about this massacre, but in fact, attempts to obscure what is known to be the truth of how 17 civilians, including 7 children, came to be killed on that tragic day.

            I personally witnessed the bombing of Santo Domingo on December 13, 1998.  Specifically, I saw a helicopter fly over the town, heard an explosion and saw smoke coming from the helicopter.  When I ran to my house to see what happened, I was fired upon by a helicopter (I’m not sure if it was the same one) belonging to the Colombian Air Force (“CAF”).  Other residents, some of whom were holding up white shirts to signify that they were unarmed, non-enemy civilians, were also fired upon by (“CAF”) helicopters.  When I reached my home, I discovered that my family’s house had been severely damaged, that my father had been seriously injured and that my mother, sister and cousin were killed by whatever had been ejected by that helicopter. 

            Another resident, who testified along with myself and 3 other Santo Domingo residents at a tribune of international opinion held by the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law, also saw the same helicopter eject what she described as “things that looked like rolls of white paper coming out of the helicopter.”  She testified that then everything turned dark and she could not see anything.  This same individual’s shoulder was fractured by shrapnel, still lodged in her arm, which came from whatever was dropped by that helicopter.                                 

In order to preserve evidence of what happened on that day, residents of Santo Domingo, all of whom I grew up with and whom I know personally and trust, collected the shrapnel they found strewn throughout the town.  This shrapnel, along with shrapnel removed from the bodies of the victims of the bombing, was later analyzed by the FBI itself which determined that it came from a U.S. cluster bomb dropped from the air.  In addition, a doctor named Ciro Pena, who also performed the autopsies of the dead, including my own family members, himself concluded that they were killed by shrapnel from a cluster bomb.  In order to silence Dr. Pena, the Colombian government placed Dr. Pena under arrest for two years, accusing him of pro-guerilla activities.  These charges were recently dropped on the basis that there was absolutely no credible evidence to support these charges.   The Colombian military also tried to silence me for speaking out against the bombing, arresting me on two separate occasions, beating me, and telling me to stop talking about what happened in Santo Domingo.   I am now living in Canada where I am seeking refugee status.  My friend, Angel Rivero Chapparro, who also testified at the tribune of international opinion, was permanently silenced for speaking the truth about the bombing of Santo Domingo.  Thus, shortly after appearing at the tribunal, he was gunned down by paramilitaries in my home in Tame, Colombia.

In light of all of this, I cannot express the pain and anger I felt at reading the ill-informed Oped by Ms. O’Grady who attempts to rectify a long-discredited theory that it was guerillas — rather than the Colombian Air Force with the assistance of Occidental Petroleum and AirScan — who caused the deaths on December 13, 1998, through use of an explosive they allegedly planted in a truck parked in town.   This theory has been refuted by the FBI; Dr. Pena’s autopsy reports of the victims; a civilian court in Colombia which recently ruled that the Santo Domingo victims are entitled to damages from the state because of the CAF’s role in the bombing; and by the audio  tape of the U.S. AirScan pilots who, while flying along on the December 13 bombing mission for which they gave the coordinates, are heard in English cursing about the fact that the CAF was attacking civilians.   This theory is also contradicted by the unanimous eyewitness testimony of Santo Domingo residents, none of whom witnessed any truck explosion, but a number of whom saw something fired from a helicopter flying overhead.

In the end, the discredited theory which Ms. O’Grady attempts to resurrect depends upon an incredible claim that the bodies that were examined after the massacre by the FBI and by Dr. Pena, and which clearly showed signs of being attacked by an aerial cluster bomb, were brought into town by guerillas who wanted to frame the Colombian military.  I can say for certain that my mother, sister and cousin, whose bodies were among those examined, were not dragged into town after the massacre.  Rather, these family members of mine were killed just where their bodies were found afterwards – in their home in Santo Domingo.  Ms. O’Grady’s wild claims to the contrary simply have no basis in the terrible reality which I know and which haunts me to this day.

Luis Alberto Galvis Mujica

Santo Domingo Survivor

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