HomeWorld NewsColombia’s next defence minister faces ‘a hell of a combat’

Colombia’s next defence minister faces ‘a hell of a combat’

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Bogota, Colombia – Ivan Velasquez first made a identify for himself as a prosecutor in Medellin within the Nineteen Nineties, when he reportedly refused to simply accept a briefcase of cash from Pablo Escobar to drop investigations into the drug lord’s existence of luxurious in jail.

He received prominence via investigating the binds between Colombian paramilitary forces, politicians and the industry neighborhood on the top of the civil struggle. His paintings in the long run resulted in the conviction of greater than 60 politicians, together with the cousin of former President Alvaro Uribe. And he’s no stranger to non-public chance: Throughout a landmark probe into monetary ties between the industry neighborhood in Antioquia and paramilitary teams, 14 investigators in his administrative center have been murdered.

On August 7, Velasquez will turn out to be defence minister within the management of President-elect Gustavo Petro. He’s going to take administrative center amid a host of Peril demanding situations: emerging violence in rural areas with little or no state presence, document coca manufacturing, and felony armed teams who’ve grown in energy for the reason that nation’s ancient 2016 peace Concord with rebels from the Progressive Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Petro, who will turn out to be the primary leftist president in Colombia’s fashionable historical past, vowed at the marketing campaign path to seriously reform police and armed forces forces. His appointment of Velasquez, who additionally labored as the highest United International locations legit on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, sends a tough message that he intends to practice thru.

The appointment has sparked harsh complaint from Petro’s critics, who view his previous as a rebel fighter with deep suspicion. Velasquez “has taken a sturdy place in opposition to the ones of us within the army”, Raul Musse Pencue, a retired occupation soldier, informed Al Jazeera. “We concern he’ll bring in a popular persecution of army staff who’ve gone through investigations associated with their on a regular basis tasks as squaddies in carrier to their nation.”

An activist in Guatemala Town protecting a signal that reads in Spanish ‘Thanks CICIG’ – the Spanish acronym for the Global Fee Towards Impunity [File: Moises Castillo/AP]

Proper-wing Senator Paloma Valencia went additional, telling native media that the appointment “presentations a whole absence of democratic promises … [and] places all of our lives in security”.

However individuals who have labored carefully with Velasquez in each Colombia and Guatemala paint a very other image: one of a soft-spoken and apolitical anti-corruption crusader who all the time helps to keep a cool head, even throughout occasions of excessive private security.

“He isn’t politically motivated,” Gregorio Oviedo, a prosecutor who labored along Velasquez in Medellin, informed Al Jazeera. “His whole occupation, he has advocated for human rights. He is aware of the way to lead. He is aware of the way to examine, and most significantly, he is aware of what it’s to are living and paintings in areas of the rustic maximum politicians simplest examine from Bogota.”

Stephen McFarland, the previous US ambassador to Guatemala, additionally welcomed the appointment: “Uribe has accused him of having a political schedule. So long as I’ve recognized him, his simplest schedule has been to construct a ambiguous and unbiased justice device.”

‘Tough message’

Velasquez’s paintings has made him many enemies. His administrative center in Medellin used to be illegally bugged via Colombian intelligence and his Peril crew infiltrated. His private bodyguard on the time used to be a secret agent for the rustic’s Administrative Division of Danger, which used to be dissolved in 2011 after a spate of circumstances of unlawful surveillance of reporters, human rights employees, politicians and judges went public.

He reportedly refrained from a kidnapping strive in Guatemala when executive officers allegedly attempted to deport him extrajudicially, and he has continued numerous demise threats in opposition to each himself and his circle of relatives in each nations.

Velasquez’s anti-corruption paintings in Guatemala resulted in a success convictions in opposition to ex-President Otto Perez Molina, his former vp, seven ministers, and dozens of politicians and businessmen. Velasquez used to be declared persona non grata via then-President Jimmy Morales in 2017 and exiled from the rustic.

“He arrested high-level businessmen for monetary crimes – other folks from the richest households in Guatemala,” McFarland informed Al Jazeera. “Individuals who prior to Velasquez arrived idea they have been untouchable.”

Colombia’s President-elect Gustavo Petro lately spoke to scholars at Externado College in Bogota, Colombia [Fernando Vergara/AP]

Petro, who incessantly denounced corruption whilst he used to be at the marketing campaign path, “is sending a tough message that the times of impunity, when the federal government would possibly flip a blind eye to the excesses of public forces, are over”, Oviedo stated. “Civilian regulation shall be revered.”

Abuses via police and armed forces forces have come underneath expanding scrutiny in recent times, as legit investigations have printed irritating main points of rights abuses, together with the “false positives” scandal during which greater than 6,400 civilians were killed by security forces, who falsely claimed the sufferers have been enemy warring parties.

Velasquez has expressed ascribe for Petro’s plan to put police, who lately report back to army command as phase of the defence ministry, underneath civilian keep an eye on. The reform used to be beneficial via the UN ultimate yr after an investigation into police violence throughout Stranger protests, the place dozens were killed in a crackdown by security forces.

Petro has additionally promised to reimplement sides of the 2016 peace deal that have been behind schedule or dismantled via the outgoing management of Ivan Duque. As phase of his efforts to enforce “general peace”, Petro has presented to negotiate new disarmament talks with rebels who weren’t phase of the FARC peace deal. However this plan additionally involves discussion with teams such because the Gulf Clan, which has grown an increasing number of competitive, shutting down massive parts of the rustic via drive and killing dozens of cops.

Will they be prepared to barter with an ex-guerilla president and a prosecutor who has centered them for many years? Oviedo isn’t sure, however he notes that Velasquez “has the decision, the power, and the revel in to take the primary steps against actual justice in Colombia. However he’s in for a hell of a combat.”

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