Colombian Military Museum Honors Fallen Soldiers

Colombian Military Museum Honors Fallen Soldiers

By Dialogo
November 20, 2015

The Armed Forces of Colombia are a good example for their Latin American counterparts when it comes to the fight against narco-terrorism. We have a lot to learn from this tough and expensive experience. On December 23, I'm going to get to know Bogotá. I would like to visit the museum and need to know the address. I really liked the Diálogo website. And I give homage to all those military personnel who died in the campaign against the FARCs. They gave their lives to free Latin America from this cancer called communism, which is in cahoots with drug trafficking.

Colombia’s National Army recently inaugurated the Sergeant Libio José Martínez Estrada Room of Memory and Dignity at the Military Museum in Bogotá.

The interactive exhibition, which honors Colombia’s fallen Soldiers and police officers, is named after an Army Sergeant who was killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after being held captive for more than 14 years. It features an interactive timeline with videos, newsreels, and detailed information about incidents in which illegal armed groups violated the Geneva Conventions or the human rights of Soldiers.

“I want this place to be a permanent space for memory, one that shows Colombia the way forward so as not to repeat this 50-year tragedy… and one where society’s consensus revolves around peace,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said during the opening ceremony on October 8.

The room depicts 22 events, including attacks on police stations, the use of minefields, and the numerous kidnappings of Troops like Sergeant Major Luis Alfonso Beltrán, who the FARC captured in the department of Caquetá in March 1998 after his Army unit clashed with more than 1,300 guerrillas over nine days. Along with nine other soldiers, Sgt. Maj. Beltrán, who was 28 years old at the time, surrendered once their food and ammo was depleted. A chain was placed around his neck and connected to a fellow captive, and he spent 14 years in the jungle, always attached to a comrade until the FARC released him in March 2012.

“This is an opportunity to tell the world and the new generations about all the atrocities that the Public Force has also had to undergo during our internal conflict,” Sgt. Maj. Beltrán said standing in front of a screen with information about his capture in the Room of Memory and Dignity one morning in late October. “We are also victims.”

Constant threats

After capturing Sgt. Maj. Beltrán, FARC guerillas constantly threatened him throughout his captivity. At one point, he was denied food for 21 days after the terrorist group’s supply was destroyed by an Army strike. During that time, he kept what he called his “assault bag,” in which he carried a Bible, messages from his family, a toothbrush, a cup, and a pair of socks. This bag and the belongings of other kidnapped Soldiers and police officers are on display in the Room of Memory and Dignity.

The exhibition also tells the story of Sergeant Major Amaón Pantoja Flórez, who was captured by the FARC on August 3, 1998, in Miraflores in the department of Meta, following a 24-hour attack on an Army base.

Sgt. Maj. Pantoja was a FARC prisoner for almost 10 years, during which time he was held alongside former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors who taught him English. He still recalls the powerlessness, constant humiliations, the weight of the 106-link chain around his neck, and being locked inside barbed wire enclosures in the jungle.

A dramatic rescue by the Colombian Armed Forces

Colombian Armed Forces freed Betancourt, Sgt. Maj. Pantoja, and 13 other hostages in July 2008 after infiltrating the illegal armed group. Soldiers tricked the FARC into placing all of the hostages aboard a helicopter so they could meet with one of their commanders, Alfonso Cano. But when the helicopter took off from a remote patch of jungle about 200 miles southeast of Bogotá, Armed Forces commandos subdued the two FARC operatives who had escorted the hostages onto the helicopter, which belonged to the Military.

“It’s an abominable situation for any human being,” Sgt. Maj. Pantoja said shortly before visiting the Sergeant Libio José Martínez Estrada Room of Memory and Dignity in October.

Military personnel, the families of kidnapped victims, and a few civilians visit the exhibition daily, and it’s common for guides to lead groups of officers in full uniform.

“This is more important than any combat victory or hundreds of kills,” said Colonel Rafael Ávila Salas, a member of the Army’s Inspection General who was visiting the room for the first time late in October. “This is our history.”