30 Years Later: Remembering the Palace of Justice

This past summer I walked through the pigeon-filled Plaza de Bolivar. People walked by offering to take pictures of you next to a llama. Others sold kernels to feed the hoards of pigeons. Even in the commotion of a holiday afternoon, things were peaceful.

But on November 6, 1985 the commotion was different.

It’s been 30 years since 30 members from leftist guerrila group M-19 sieged the Palace of Justice. Nearly 100 people died, including magistrates as the military tried to re-take the Palace.  Those in the video produced by El Tiempo are family members of people who disappeared between November 6 or 7.

The motivation for the attack was to force the court justices to try then President Belisario Betancour and his defense minister for violating a peace treaty reached 18 months prior.

There’s still ambiguity and for many, there’s not closure. Eleven people disappeared after a tumultuous and fiery 28 hours. They haven’t been found since. Authorities mishandled identifying bodies: destroying evidence and moving victims’ bodies from where they were. It’s still not clear–or there’s not concrete proof–that Pablo Escobar had a hand in financing the siege.

But the wounds are still deep and the distrust still lingers. The military has been accused of violating human rights for forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings. A 2013 Truth Commission showed that the military knew of M-19’s plot, and “let it happen, hoping to launch a ‘ferocious response’ against the guerrillas,” according to a Business Insider article.

Everyone was caught in the crossfire between the government and the drug cartels during these years, whether directly or indirectly.