That’s not me | Translation
► Join Deambulantes. Our membership program help us continue covering Latin America.
►Do you listen Radio Ambulante to improve your Spanish? We have something extra for you: try our app, designed for Spanish learners who want to study with our episodes.
Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
A few months ago I sat down to speak with a Colombian man, David Godoy. He is 25 years old and lives in Bogotá. He is a journalist, and we came to him for something very particular. And very Colombian. Something known as the military ID.
[David Godoy]: Basically, it has the photo of the person with their name, it also has the date the document was processed, and there is also a verification number.
[Daniel]: To understand the importance of this document, some context is needed: Military service in Colombia is compulsory for men. It has changed over time, but in general, from the age of 18 they must go and register in the military district of the area where they live. This used to be done only in person, but since 2014, part of the process is online. Then they must go through a series of psychological and physical tests to find out if they are fit or not to do military service.
[Daniel]: If they are fit, they go through either 12 or 18 months of mandatory service. When finished, as proof that they complied with the process, they are given their military ID. If the person does not go through this entire process, he is considered a draft dodger.
[David]: Being a draft dodger is like you didn’t have the will or you did not do the process and, therefore, you are subject to a fine.
[Daniel]: The fine increases for each year that your military situation is not resolved.
But in theory, and I say in theory because this isn’t always followed to the letter, there are several exceptions as to who should do military service. For example, being an only child, being an orphan who has to take care of siblings, being a father, belonging to an ethnic community, or being a victim of the armed conflict… also those who have a permanent physical, mental or sensory disability.
And those who want to go to college after leaving school can defer military service until they finish their studies by paying almost 30 dollars for a provisional military ID. And when they turn 24 and pass the age limit to do military service, they still have to pay to get it. The price varies depending on the family’s income and, according to the law, it can be as much as 10 thousand dollars.
A few years ago, that military ID was mandatory for several things, such as graduating from university. But the law has been taking away more and more of its usefulness. Now it is good for almost only one scenario.
[David]: Usually, it is no longer mandatory to have a military ID to work, but public agencies do request it. They ask for it and will insist and insist, “If you don’t have your military ID, we cannot make a contract for you.”
[Daniel]: But anyway, David’s story… For him, the process to obtain his military ID began in 2014, in his hometown of Fusagasugá, about three hours from the Colombian capital. He was 17 years old and was finishing school when, one day, a couple of soldiers entered his classroom. They told all the male students that they had to resolve their military situation.
[David]: I never wanted to do military service, and that was very clear to me ever since I was in my final years of highschool, because from a very young age I knew what I wanted to do—I dreamed of being a journalist.
[Daniel]: So he decided to get his provisional military ID in his last year of school. He went to the corresponding military district and began the procedures on the Army website. He created an account and registered his personal data, but then he moved to Bogotá and did not continue the process.
A year and a half later, when he became legally an adult and changed his identification number, he had to start over again. He uploaded some documents, but he couldn’t physically bring to his city the ones he needed because he was too far away and was in college every day.
David knew he had to complete the process so he wouldn’t be considered a draft dodger. He checked the status of his process every year until he graduated. He did not want to have fines or problems. But since his status appeared as deferred, he wasn’t in a hurry to solve it, either.
[David]: I had become very critical of this process, because I felt that what they charged to get the military ID was very expensive. In addition, the country was in the middle of a peace process, and there was also talk of the possibility of removing compulsory military service. I was waiting to see what would happen on that.
[Daniel]: When he finished college at the age of 22, David got his first job in Colombian public radio. Then, the issue of the military ID came up again… And this time urgently. As we said before, this document is required if you are going to be hired by a public agency. So he returned to the military district of Fusagasugá, but the secretary there told him:
[David]: “Because you are under 24 years of age, and because you are not in school, you are eligible to go do your military service right now.” And I told her, “That’s not possible because I have a job contract with a state agency.” And she said, “That does not matter to us. You are fit for duty. If you want this not to happen to you, you’d better go into hiding until you are 24 years old.”
[Daniel]: Hiding was not exactly what an Army official should be recommending. But hey, it’s not as if David was running away from a very serious crime, so he followed the advice and always tried to slip away from Army checkpoints until he turned 24. It was difficult, but he managed to convince his bosses to give him more time to get his military ID. But the pressure to have the document continued, until three years later, at the age of 25, he went back to the military district. There they told him he needed some other documents, including a CD with pictures of him on a blue background.
It took him almost a month to get everything together. He had to go to the Fusagasugá military district several times to take more documents and to correct still others.
[David]: I was constantly asking about how I could upload to the system the documents I was physically collecting, since I had already tried and failed.
[Daniel]: But they never gave him a clear answer and they never enabled the system, not even when he spoke to the Major of the district. The only thing he could do was deliver a physical folder with everything they requested. Now he only had to wait for the cost of his ID card to be calculated. A few months later, he received a call from an unknown number. He answered, and someone who identified himself as a district soldier told him:
[David]: “Listen, Godoy, why didn’t you upload that updated documentation to the system?” And I got upset, and I said to him, “But how many times have I asked you to enable the registry to update my information and you didn’t?” And the soldier says, “Well, it doesn’t matter; we’ll figure it out here…” and this and that, and then they told me, “Okay, we’re finally going to enable the platform for you.”
[Daniel]: But again a problem… the platform would not load the documents. So they told him to send them via WhatsApp and they would take care of uploading them. David, between fed up and desperate, accepted.
And finally: the day came to pay for his ID card. It was about 342 dollars then. He was able to get the money a few weeks before the deadline, in March 2023. Feeling that a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders, he logged into the platform and decided to download the ID card digitally.
[David]: So, when I open this document, the first thing I see is a very large, stretched-out, elongated photo. And it shows Cristiano Ronaldo dressed in the Real Madrid uniform… making a strange expression with his mouth, kind of looking down. So the photo is like a meme…
[Daniel]: You felt like this bureaucracy was making fun of you.
[David]: I felt mocked, totally mocked… like they do whatever they want with you: with your time, with your money, with everything you own. They do whatever they want and nobody can do anything about it.
[Daniel]: And the mockery David felt would soon become an obsession— one that would lead him to discover more serious stories regarding recruitment, and clues about an irregular matter the Military Forces have not talked about publicly in over a decade.
We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back. David Godoy continues the story.
[David]: After seeing the photo of Cristiano Ronaldo or, as they call him, El Bicho, I went for a walk to cool down. I had complied with everything they asked of me, I had paid a lot of money and still had to continue investing time and energy in the matter. After a while, feeling calmer, I returned home to look for answers and, most importantly, solutions.
I called the cell phone number from which they had contacted me three months earlier, when the soldier said that I had not uploaded the documents. Another soldier answered. I told him about the photo of Cristiano Ronaldo. He ended up blaming me for what had happened and he said the only solution was to go back to the Fusagasugá military district and bring my photos… again. I protested that I had already delivered the photos on a CD. He told me there was no CD in my folder. The call was cut off.
So I looked up another number that I had contacted years back and sent a message. But nothing. They never answered.
Frustrated and angry, that afternoon I posted a tweet in which I included the picture of Cristiano Ronaldo:
“It is very expensive to process your military ID, and it comes back with a photo of Cristiano Ronaldo. I inquire, and they say that they don’t know what happened to my photos, and that I have to bring them in person again. Why are they playing with people’s time?”
And I tagged the National Army recruitment account. I wanted to see whether they would respond, but once again… nothing. The next morning, I wrote to the WhatsApp number again, expecting the Major to answer. Again, no response. I also left a complaint on the official Army Recruitment page. And while this was happening, the tweet began to go viral. People couldn’t believe it…
[Username @upeguiDanielaV]: I can’t believe it, ha ha ha, this country is a joke.
[Username @Spideydevil]: HA HA HA HA HA, THAT CAN’T BE. Anyway, how lucky to get El Bicho in your military ID, I wouldn’t change it.
[Username @Juavas07]: Imagine being born in Portugal and missing out on this. Colombia… I love you so much!
[David]: Some comments made me laugh, but then I returned to my reality and I stopped laughing. A day passed. No response from the Army, and seeing the reaction of the people, I decided to record a TikTok video…
[David]: Well, I am going to tell you a story that has irritated me a lot, made me angry, but also made me laugh a lot…
There I tell everything I went through and I end up showing Cristiano Ronaldo’s picture. I added the video to my tweet and then things got out of control… There were no longer just funny comments; there were also unhappy people writing. There were complaints.
[Username @Elid_salgado]: A week ago, I was thinking of posting a tweet about my terrible experience getting my military ID in Montería, and just today I find this…
[Username @EdwardPineda10]: I’m so sorry, dude. Something similar happened to me with those people… I paid them for my ID card and I had to wait two years to get it from them because they got my documents mixed up…
[Username @XYZDiego]: I believe you, they did something similar to me and we are talking about the distant 2011…
[David]: Soon after, I got a call from a journalist asking me to tell him the story. I agreed, and he published it on the Twitter account of the outlet he works for. He also wrote a piece for their website. Within minutes, several journalists started contacting me.
A few hours later, I got a WhatsApp message. The person identified himself as Major Jesús Andrés Bonilla Yara, and wrote:
“I want to inform you that the photo is uploaded by each citizen at the time they register on the Fénix Missional page.”
In other words, the platform where you upload your documents. And he continues:
“…because the registration is done with your own personal email, and it is the citizen who assigns the password during the registration process.”
[David]: We argued by text messages. I told him that I had delivered everything correctly. That, obviously, I had never uploaded a picture of Cristiano Ronaldo… It would never even have occurred to me to do something like that. And he insisted that I was the only one responsible for what had happened.
After several messages back and forth, I demanded a solution. The Major told me that I could email the correct photo and they would change it. But he made it clear that, due to the circumstances of my case and the disagreement I expressed in the media, they would carry out an internal audit to find out who was responsible and that they would take appropriate action.
The next day, they changed the photo and put in mine. But the media did not stop calling me, writing to me and replicating my story.
[Gustavo Gómez]: David, how is it going?
[David]: Hi Gustavo, good morning. Thank you very much for the invitation.
[Gustavo]: Let’s see, explain to all the listeners, to the board…
[Journalist 1]: The following is one of those stories that only happen in our dear and beloved country. David Godoy is a young Colombian…
[Journalist 2]: A young man got his military ID and they gave it to him with a photo of Cristiano Ronaldo…
[David] I go home… download the…
[David]: The day after speaking with the Major on WhatsApp, the Army issued a press release. In summary, they said that in February 2016, seven photos had been uploaded with my username and password, but none were of me; that they had already contacted me, and that they would do an internal review to identify whether I was solely responsible. And there could also be criminal consequences.
In the middle of all the commotion, a representative of the Army gave an interview on a radio program in Bogotá. It was Colonel Leonardo Torres, the commander of Recruitment and Reserve Control.
[Journalist]: Colonel, what a pleasure to greet you. Good afternoon and welcome to Vía Pública, on Todelar.
[Coronel Leonardo Torres]: Good afternoon, Juan Carlos…
[David]: They interviewed him after me and left me on the line, listening. It’s hard to understand because of the quality of the call, but first he apologized to me.
[Coronel Torres]: Taking advantage of the fact that David is there on the line, I’d like to greet you, David, and first of all to apologize for the situation that is occurring there with the processing of your military ID.
[David]: But then he went on to say…
[Coronel Torres]: The citizen is responsible for the information uploaded. Nobody else.
[David]: He says that the citizen is responsible for that information and no one else. The colonel also said that there were three photos of Cristiano Ronaldo in my digital record.
[Coronel Torres]: I have in my hands the report, the audit that we did with that case, and he has three photos of Cristiano Ronaldo uploaded, and I can tell you the exact date and time.
[David]: And it lists the times the three photos were uploaded. This contradicts the press release because it says there were seven. And he says something that I think is important for you to listen to:
[Coronel Torres]: We cannot upload any type of information.
[David]: I repeat: “We cannot upload any type of information.” On the other end of the line, I was hearing this and I couldn’t believe it. At first I didn’t understand why he had started by apologizing, when he later says that the responsibility was entirely mine. Now he was saying that they can’t upload anything to my registry, when they themselves corrected my photo without my having to log in to the website and without having to give them my username and password. Absurd.
Finally, the colonel said something else that caught my attention: my case was not the only one.
[Coronel Torres]: They have uploaded photos of penguins, they have uploaded photos of clowns, they have uploaded photos of people driving, photos of models…
[David]: According to him, the penguins, the clowns, the models, are all pictures uploaded by the citizens themselves. But yes, he admitted that the platform has flaws.
[Coronel Torres]: We have errors, there are system errors, that every system will present errors; sometimes it crashes… the platform crashes.
[David]: And yes, I experienced all these glitches myself, and it was a constant complaint in the comments to my tweet.
Given what Colonel Torres was saying, I repeated to him live that I had never uploaded that photo, and I complained about the constant irregularities that I experienced in my process. At the end of the interview, the commander invited me…
[Coronel Torres]: And to David, well, of course, here at the Recruitment Command, here on 106th and 9th, we are inviting him to come in and we will show him all the information and clarify the entire process that we do.
[David]: I accepted the invitation.
A few days later, I went to military district number 1 in Bogotá, where I met Colonel Torres, as well as a lawyer and a soldier whose rank I don’t remember. They treated me in a friendly manner. I defended my arguments and they gave me some photocopies of the supposed records of the uploading of the photos.
But at the end of the meeting, the colonel said, “You made us look like a garage institution and for that reason we had to file the case with the Prosecutor’s Office.” He didn’t give me any more information, and I didn’t insist. I felt overwhelmed and intimidated in front of the military. Maybe I should have brought company.
I went back home worried, but at that moment I couldn’t do more. After a while, I remembered a private message that someone had left me on Twitter, one that I had seen, but that, in the middle of all the interviews and hustle and bustle, I had forgotten to reply to.
In the message, a man asked me for help because he had the same problem with his photo. I wrote back that very day. I was curious and also had a feeling that this was just the tip of the iceberg. It didn’t take long for him to reply. I wanted to meet him, but we live in different cities, so we met virtually.
[Mauricio Molina]: My name is Mauricio Molina. I live in the city of Cali. I am 26 years old and at the moment I am studying for a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering.
[David]: I wanted to know his story. He told me that his father believed that doing military service built discipline and character, and that is why he thought it was a good idea for Mauricio to enlist. But Mauricio didn’t want to do military service. He would rather go to college, and so he let his father know. He decided that in order to resolve the paperwork for the ID card quickly, he would go directly to the military district where he lived, in the municipality of Cartago, in Valle del Cauca.
It was 2015, and he was 18 years old. Mauricio lined up for hours with other young men to get information on how to get his military ID. At one point, he lost patience…
[Mauricio]: I complained to a captain and asked him whether it was possible to move things a little faster, to which he replied, “No, you are going to stay here, so why even bother rushing?”
[David]: Mauricio did not understand. He said:
[Mauricio]: “What do you mean I’m staying here? No, I don’t want to stay. I came to resolve my military situation; I did not come to do military service.” “No, you’re staying.”
[David]: That was his answer. “You’re staying.”
[Mauricio]: I felt a lot of resignation and a lot of anger because it was not something I had in mind; it was not something I desired or wanted for myself or for my life.
[David]: So he called his parents and told them that he had to stay. They were just as surprised, and very worried, but they didn’t know what to do. He spent two days in the Cartago military district, then he was sent to Cali, and that same day he was transferred to the Tolemaida Military Base, in another department and much further away. According to Mauricio, he was recruited illegally by the Army.
[Mauricio]: Here there is something I need to point out. Without doing all the tests they do, the psychological testing or doctor examinations, well, they went ahead and conscripted me, right?… they are practically holding you against your will, you know? And the worst of this is that it is a state force.
[David]: Mauricio put up resistance from the first moment. He did not receive the uniform or obey orders to do the jobs that were imposed on other recruits, such as cleaning the facilities and receiving basic military training.
[Mauricio]: I felt very angry when I realized they were forcing me to do something that I didn’t want, so… my behavior changed. It was a little more aggressive, not to the point of exchanging blows, no, but my words were stronger, like with a certain hatred.
[David]: The officers answered with shouts. He clearly remembers the words of the battalion captain:
[Mauricio]: “You’re going to stay, you’re going to stay and here you’re going to remain!” And whenever he saw me, he would always say, “You are not leaving here, because I am the one who gives the orders, and you are not leaving, you are not leaving, you are not leaving, you are not leaving.”
[David]: They constantly asked him for his citizenship ID card and to sign documents.
[Mauricio]: With which they can almost say, “Well, you signed, you are already here and you have to stay.” I never wanted to sign anything at all.
[David]: Not really knowing what to do with him, they decided to send him to an office to fill out forms. There he half did what they asked, but he was still outraged by what was happening to him, so he made a drastic decision: he went on a hunger strike for a week.
[Mauricio]: It was a difficult week. Of course, I felt dizzy, with low spirits, without strength, and they were constantly sending someone to tell me that I had to eat or that I had to sign the documents so that they could see me in the medical facilities, so that way they were trying to persuade me to sign those documents, which obviously said I couldn’t get out of there anymore.
[David]: After a week of him just drinking water, they sent him a psychologist. She asked him why he didn’t want to be there, why he didn’t eat…
[Mauricio]: And I told her, “If I don’t eat, that is because I don’t want to be here, it’s because I don’t feel like it and I don’t want to be here because, I mean, it seems wrong to me that they want to force you to do something that you don’t want to do, no matter if they are the state. I would not feel proud to represent my country this way,” I replied to the psychologist.
[David]: It was a long conversation. But in the end, the psychologist told him:
[Mauricio]: “Well, if you don’t want to be here, then you won’t be here any longer.” And she gave me a letter allowing me to leave for psychological reasons.
[David]: Mauricio was enlisted for 25 days. But when he left the facilities, he was not given anything—not an exit ticket, not any piece of paper that would have made it easier for him to get his military ID.
About two weeks later, while Mauricio was walking down the street, a group of soldiers stopped him and asked for his military ID. Since Mauricio still did not have it, he was taken back to the military district.
This type of retention is called raids: arresting and taking draft dodgers to barracks or military districts to conscript them into military service. Raids were common in the country for many years, but by that time, in 2015, they were no longer allowed. The Court had declared them unconstitutional.
In this second conscription, the district manager recognized Mauricio and let him go.
After that, he wanted to have his military ID very quickly, because he felt he could not move freely on the street. And besides, he was studying in college. But just to find out what documents he needed to submit, he had to file a petition, a writ of protection and a contempt action that the Army was slow to respond to or simply did not.
After countless procedures and three months later, he finally managed to get a provisional military ID. There the matter ended.
But soon after, he lost the physical document. He thought he could download it without a problem. Easy fix, but not really.
[Mauricio]: And then I realize that the person in the photo is not me.
[David]: Desperate, he contacted the national Army phone number. When he explained his case to them, they told him, as they also told me, that it was his mistake.
[Mauricio]: I kept insisting on the problem and looking for a solution and his response was: “No, as far as I’m concerned that’s you, because I’m not seeing you, I’m receiving a phone call, so as far as I’m concerned that’s you.”
[David]: He could not believe it. He hung up infuriated. And he called again to get someone else to help him with his case, but again they told him the same thing. The only solution they gave was to visit the military district, but with the trauma of having been forcibly recruited, Mauricio did not dare go.
Four years passed from that moment until my conversation with Mauricio. Then, while we were talking, it occurred to him to download his military ID to show it to me. He got another surprise: there was another photo… different from the previous one, and it wasn’t him either. It had been changed, and he had not accessed his record. I asked him to describe the new photo to me. In the first digital ID, there was a person with blond hair, different from Mauricio’s almost black hair. It showed a slimmer build than his. Totally different from how he looks. The one in the second photo…
[Mauricio]: It resembles the first one a little. The only thing different is that he looks older now. And has a beard.
[David]: It is strange, because when the Army processed his provisional ID, the procedure was done by hand, in the district. In fact, Mauricio does not have access to update the data of his first registration. So who has been uploading different photos to his account?
We decided to make a call.
[Answering Machine]: Welcome to the phone line of the National Army Reserves Control and Recruitment Command. Here you can clarify any doubts about the procedure of your military situation…
[David]: After a couple of minutes online, they answered…
[Soldier]: Hello, good morning. Reservations Control Command, how can I help you?
[Mauricio]: Good morning. This is Mauricio Molina. What happens is that…
[David]: Mauricio explained the issue with the photo. The soldier asked him for some personal information, and after a few minutes told him that he had to go to the district number 30. Mauricio said that he knew he was registered there, but he didn’t want to have to go there…
[Soldier]: No, sir, you have to go to the district. You have to upload a photo and bring a new photo of yourself to upload it to the platform.
[Mauricio]: But why does this type of thing happen when I already had an ID…?
[Soldier]: Platform errors.
[Mauricio]: But listen to me, please, for a second. Why does this type of thing happen when I already had a printed military ID with my correct photo, and now that I’m trying to process…?
[Soldier]: That’s what I mean; those are errors that happen on the platform.
[David]: And then he said something that seemed key to us:
[Soldier]: And since that changes from soldier to soldier, if it were just one single soldier, you would say, “Well, it’s a mistake.” But you need to know which one of many it is who made the mistake, or uploaded your photo, or changed the photo, or made the mistake when he was in the process of uploading his photo.
[David]: He says that there may be several soldiers who upload the pictures to the platform and they might make a mistake. Although uploading a picture like the one of Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, does not seem like a mistake to me.
Finally, the customer service person shared a phone number of someone who works in the Cartago District, to see whether Mauricio could contact him directly.
[Voicemail]: You have reached the voicemail…
[David]: I can’t believe it.
As of today, Mauricio’s ID still has another person’s photo.
[David]: In addition to speaking with him, I spoke with six other young men who had also had many issues of different types with their military ID. I began to identify two very often recurring factors. The first is that several had to resort to legal services in order to complete the process, and the second is that many complained about the constant failures of the website when it came to complying with the process.
I no longer felt alone in this. I had now confirmed that the problem went beyond my own story, that there were many of us going through complicated situations, but we were each fighting it alone. My anxiety was transformed into indignation, and then into the motivation to find the structural failure in the Army that was affecting hundreds or thousands of citizens who tried to process their military record.
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we heard about the cases of David Godoy and Mauricio Molina, two young Colombians whose photos on their military IDs were photos of other people. David started investigating and found many complaints about the platform. Apparently, the errors were constant.
David Godoy continues the story.
[David]: After talking to so many people who told me a more absurd story than the previous one—all full of errors, bureaucracies, fruitless back-and-forth, I began to wonder, what is behind such an obsolete and unreliable system?
[David]: I went back to Twitter and checked my post and the hundreds of comments. That led me to an article published by the newspaper El Espectador in November 2022. It was titled “The massive corruption case behind web processing of the military ID.” The article was not signed, but I managed to contact its author…
[Felipe Morales]: My name is Felipe Morales. I am a Colombian journalist and I worked in the legal section of the newspaper El Espectador for five years…
[David]: To understand how Felipe arrived at the topic of military IDs, we must first explain that between June and July 2022, a group of hackers called Guacamaya hacked the systems of the Colombian Attorney General and the Armed Forces. They present themselves as an organization of Latin American hackers who have been hacking platforms of judicial, police and military institutions of different countries in the region.
[Felipe]: Mexico, Chile, Colombia. And we got to it through another organization called Distributive Denial of Secrets, which is like a hacker repository where they upload a lot of databases and information.
[David]: In this case, it was extracted illegally, but journalists are legally protected by the fact that this is public interest information. Felipe got access to all the data in August of that same year and reviewed hundreds of thousands of emails.
[Felipe]: And I dreamed about emails, I mean, I dreamed about opening emails. It was very, very overwhelming, and, well, among the people whose emails were hacked was Prosecutor Angélica Monsalve.
[David]: Prosecutor Angélica Monsalve. She is known for handling cases of financial crimes and corruption of powerful politicians, businessmen and military personnel. That’s why, when Felipe saw an email folder with her name on it, it caught his attention and he started reading one by one.
To summarize: In those emails, Felipe found eight documents in the Prosecutor’s folder that refer to the issue of military IDs. Among them is an indictment, that is, when a prosecutor formally requests that a trial be started against someone for one or more crimes. In this case, there were three colonels involved in the recruitment area who were active between 2013 and 2016: Carlos Fernando Moreno Jerez, Javier Hernando Rojas Manosalva, and Luis Francisco Lara Salamanca.
[Felipe]: And then in another email later, I saw that she was communicating with her judicial police investigators and talking about the Fénix case—that’s what they called it.
[David]: Fénix is the name of the software used by that detestable platform that has affected hundreds of citizens who try to process their military ID.
What happened is that in 2012, the National Government decreed that the Ministry of Defense had to create a website that would facilitate the process.
[Felipe]: Until then, all procedures for the military ID were super archaic, that is, each military garrison carried them out at its offices and there was no way to centralize the information, which, believe it or not, is the case of all procedures that have to do with the military.
[David]: A few months later, in July 2013, the assistant director of recruitment, Javier Hernando Rojas Manosalva, signed a contract between the National Army Recruitment Administration and a temporary merger of two companies: NEC Colombia and Intelecto, which would be in charge of creating the Fénix software.
But, according to the information that Felipe found in the prosecutor’s emails and that he later shared with me, there were three irregularities in those contracts. The first was that Rojas Manosalva did not submit the software proposal for consideration by a specialized committee. Instead— and here is the second irregularity—he had Colonel Lara Salamanca do that task and Colonel Lara, in turn, had an inexperienced soldier do some preliminary studies, which turned out to be insufficient.
The third irregularity had to do with the type of contracting. NEC Colombia and Intelecto were chosen directly to provide the service, or as they say in Colombia, hand-chosen. It did not go through a bidding process with several participants that met certain requirements and that any citizen could consult.
The excuse for having done it that way is that this contract was a reserved expense that cannot be public knowledge. This is done, for example, when the Army buys weapons.
[Felipe]: It is a reserved expense because we do not want the quote-unquote “enemies of the Colombian state” to know what type of weapons we have, which ones, when we buy them, when they arrive, because that, let’s say, endangers national security. But how is national security endangered by what type of web system we buy for Colombians to process their military ID?
[David]: And, according to prosecutor Monsalve’s investigation, a lawyer from the institution had warned Colonel Lara Salamanca that the contract could not be made that way; it was against the law. Here the prosecutor says as much during the arraignment hearing that took place in January 2022:
[Prosecutor Monsalve]: And yet, Colonel Lara ignored that recommendation and proceeded immediately to order the necessary pre-study. And you, as the…
[David]: The merged companies delivered the Fénix software late, outside the contract dates. And as if that were not enough, Rojas Manosalva, Sub-Director of Recruitment at the time, made another contract with them to train his team nationwide in the use of the software, and paid them almost 100 thousand dollars more for something they were already supposed to do according to the first contract.
But Fénix’s flaws were present from the beginning. This is Prosecutor Monsalve again during the arraignment hearing:
[Fiscal]: Failures related to registration, failures to validate information, payment failures, failures of interconnection with the Banco de Occidente, and failures related to printing the military ID.
[David]: Despite all this, Colonel Lara Salamanca signed a report assuring that everything was working well and that all had been delivered on time. Even so, the flaws were so obvious that in 2015 the Director of the Recruitment Administration, Moreno Jerez, had no choice but to cancel the contract. This meant that the merged companies had to pay a fine of more than 72 thousand dollars—but they never did. And as if that were not enough, Moreno Jerez himself signed a new contract with the same companies to correct the flaws. Flaws that remain to this day.
In all, the provider signed three contracts with the Army and was paid more than 800 thousand dollars for terrible work.
[David]: The Prosecutor’s Office charged the three colonels with —and I quote— “Aggravated Embezzlement of Government Property and Contract Not Complying with Legal Requirements.” In short, they would go to trial for making irregular contracts with the full intention of financially favoring a third party. In other words, corruption.
At the end of that hearing, the three were asked how they pleaded to the charges:
[Judge]: Does Mr. Javier Rojas admit the charges for that crime?
[Javier Rojas]: I do not admit the charges, Your Honor.
[Judge]: Mr. Lara Salamanca?
[Lara Salamanca]: I do not admit the charges, Your Honor.
[Judge]: Mr. Carlos Fernando Moreno?
[Carlos Fernando Moreno]: I do not admit the charges, Your Honor.
[David]: One of Felipe’s tasks was to find out about various judicial processes that are taking place in the country, especially those related to state officials. That’s why he was surprised not to have heard anything about a case of national interest that was so far advanced.
[Felipe]: And my colleagues, neither my colleague who covers the Armed Forces, nor my editor who has been at the newspaper much longer than we have, knew anything about this case.
[David]: The scoop was worth publishing. The Army did not comment.
When I spoke with Felipe, five months had passed since this article appeared in El Espectador and more than a year since the arraignments. So we took the opportunity to review the judicial branch’s website platform to find out what the state of affairs for the process was.
[Felipe]: January 24, 2022… This is it. The 17th Municipal Supervisory Trial Court, this is it. Oh look, this was the last thing that happened: It was sent to Military Criminal Justice, so that they could take cognizance of …
[David]: In other words, it went to the system of military criminal justice, which investigates and judges crimes committed by active members of the Armed Forces related to their service.
[Felipe]: “…regarding this process, the negative conflict of jurisdiction is proposed…” Ugh, terrible.
[David]: I asked Felipe why he thought it was terrible.
[Felipe]: Because under military criminal justice it is unlikely that a process for corruption, or any process, will move forward. If ordinary criminal justice is slow, military criminal justice is characterized by delay, and judges and prosecutors take a long time to come to any type of decision, to the point that when they finally do, the statute of limitations has expired, time has run out, and the people responsible are never convicted.
[David]: A source close to the Prosecutor’s Office, whose name I cannot reveal, told me that the case went from Prosecutor Monsalve to another. That was when it was transferred to the system of military justice. He also told me that it is strange that a corruption crime, which is ordinary, not military in nature, would end up there. And even more so when it was the Army itself that took the case to the Prosecutor’s Office when the investigations began. That is to say, the Army itself had first considered that the ordinary justice system should be in charge of the case.
What is known so far, and what Felipe published a few weeks after we spoke, is that the process started almost from scratch under the new jurisdiction. They are again collecting evidence of the crime, investigating, putting everything together, when these soldiers were supposed to be going to trial already. As Felipe explained to me, the risk of impunity is tremendously high. And this, I suppose, shouldn’t surprise me.
I have thought a lot about what this Fénix case has to do with my military ID, with the picture of Cristiano Ronaldo. And I don’t know. It is as if my ID were an embodiment of institutional negligence. The army seems to care more about looking good than solving the problem.
In my case, the problem that this ID has left me with, apart from the document itself, is the investigation the army opened on me, remember? For making them look bad.
I spoke once more with Colonel Leonardo Torres, who was interviewed on the radio. I asked him whether he at least knew what office was handling the complaint, because no one had given me any more information. He said he had no idea.
I decided to send a petition to the Attorney General’s Office to find out more. Days later, I received an answer: Yes, I am involved in a criminal process. The document says that I am being investigated for libel and slander.
I asked a lawyer whether I should worry about this and how I can deal with it, but he told me that the complaint is not even in the investigation stage, so there is nothing yet. The prosecutor who receives my case may find no reason to investigate any further and will file the case. Or, on the contrary, he may decide to move forward and start an investigation.
Whether the complaint against me is pure intimidation remains to be seen. But if not, I will have to prepare to face one of the most powerful institutions in the country because of a Cristiano Ronaldo meme.
[Daniel]: While David awaits news from the Prosecutor’s Office, he continues talking with various citizens who are confused or exhausted by the military registration process. And Mauricio Molina, who never got a response from the Army, still has another person’s picture on his provisional ID.
David Godoy is a journalist and lives in Bogotá. He co-produced this story with David Trujillo, our senior producer. The edition was by Camila Segura and Luis Fernando Vargas. Bruno Scelza did the fact checking. Sound design is by Andrés Azpiri, with music by Rémy Lozano. Special thanks to Ana María Méndez, María Paula Botero, Felipe Correa, Martín Elías Polo, Mateo Morales and Carlos Bernal for lending us their voices.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Nancy Martínez-Calhoun, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Melisa Rabanales, Natalia Ramírez, Natalia Sánchez Loayza, Barbara Sawhill, Ana Tuirán, and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.