The M-19 Palace of Justice Takeover in 1985: New Documents

The amazing National Security Archive strikes again, this time showing how the Colombian army is responsible for the deaths of 70 people when they raided Colombia’s Palace of Justice following the guerrilla group M-19’s takeover of it in 1985.

The most striking note in it, that accords with anecdotes I’ve heard from people who were around at the time and knew people who died, was the two contradictory cables that came from the US Embassy, spaced two days apart:


The amazing National Security Archive strikes again, this time showing how the Colombian army is responsible for the deaths of 70 people when they raided Colombia’s Palace of Justice following the guerrilla group M-19’s takeover of it in 1985.

The most striking note in it, that accords with anecdotes I’ve heard from people who were around at the time and knew people who died, was the two contradictory cables that came from the US Embassy, spaced two days apart:

A pair of contradictory Embassy cables: one reporting that “surviving guerrillas have all been taken prisoner,” followed by another, two days later, reporting that “None of the guerrillas survived.”

I heard stories of the army lining captives up – and not just guerrillas – and shooting them execution style, whether as witnesses or as political opponents of the regime. The declassified cables don’t verify this part of the story (indeed, the only way we could ever find this out is if some of the perpetrators confess, since the victims are dead) but they don’t do anything to allay a person’s suspicions.

This event that happened almost 25 years ago now is still massively important to Colombians, something people still talk about all the time, something that has spawned so many rumours because it was so horrifying and ended with so much blood and so few answers. Thanks to the national security archive there are a few more. Another key quote from the cables:

“The Embassy adds that soldiers under the command of Col. Plazas Vega “killed a number of M-19 members and suspected collaborators hors de combat, including the Palace’s cafeteria staff.””

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.