A Fateful Year for Colombia’s Security Forces | International

President Iván Duque and Defense Minister Diego Molano visit a white car bomb battalion in Cúcuta on June 15.
President Iván Duque and Defense Minister Diego Molano visit a white car bomb battalion in Cúcuta on June 15.Nicolas Galeano / HANDOUT (EFE)

In Colombia, the signing of peace with the extinct FARC guerrilla five years ago caused a profound transition to which the military has not been able to adapt with the required speed, and the National Police has not been able to respond to the challenge in 2021. which represented the wave of protests against the government of Iván Duque, an unprecedented social outbreak. The country is heading to close the year with the highest homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants since 2014, according to data from the Defense Ministry itself. And in the midst of that crisis that multiple indicators show, a succession of scandals has cracked the image of the uniformed.

Both the military and the police have been surrounded by controversy during the three long years of the Duque government, amid a climate of deteriorating security that includes the murder of social leaders, environmentalists and former FARC combatants, the increase in massacres. and repeated episodes of police brutality. Also, in June, an attack with rifle bursts against the helicopter in which the Duque himself was traveling in Cúcuta, a border city that has been the target of several attacks, including a car bomb against a military installation. The long list of controversies has provoked various questions regarding the training and doctrine of the Colombian security forces.

Although the Government has responded to the multiple complaints with a closed defense of the public force, and Duque even staged a famous photo with the police uniform at the most critical moment, the historically favorable public perception collapses. The Military Forces maintain a 55% favorable image compared to 42% unfavorable, while the police fare worse, with 35% approval versus 62% rejection, according to the traditional study by the firm Invamer.

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“We are in a moment of reconfiguration of the conflict, but the public force has not changed enough to combat the new threats, especially in rural areas. While the armed groups have evolved, the public force has not, ”says Elizabeth Dickinson, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. For this expert, it is essential to change the indicators of success in the army in favor of the communities and territorial presence. “Today success means captures, casualties and eradication [de cultivos ilícitos], but that doesn’t tell us anything about the security situation for those who live in the area ”. As for the police, he adds, he sees the protesters as enemies, and it is urgent to change that mentality. Many voices have called for a comprehensive reform to give it a more civilian character, and remove it from the orbit of the Ministry of Defense.

Much of the recent discredit stems from the repression of social protest and the excessive use of force. The long-awaited report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the so-called national strike, presented two weeks ago, blamed the police for at least 28 deaths in the framework of the demonstrations that began on April 28. And the year closes with the controversial approval in Congress of the Citizen Security Law, which for some observers exacerbates the risks of police and private violence against protesters. “This law overprotects the Police because it aggravates the crimes against them, thereby dismissing the complaints for their abuses, and disproportionately increasing the penalties for excesses of the protesters,” warned the constitutionalist Rodrigo Uprimny in the newspaper The viewer.

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Defense Minister Diego Molano has become an uncomfortable official due to his false starts. Since he took office in February, his tenure has been surrounded by a string of controversies. Not even the capture of Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias Otoniel, the head of the Gulf Clan, whom the Government has tried to frame as the greatest blow against drug trafficking in this century, has given him a break. The list of storms he has harvested is extensive. The third Minister of Defense of the Duque Administration replaced Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died in January due to complications from the coronavirus, and this in turn had assumed after the resignation of Guillermo Botero before the imminent approval of a motion of censure, after having hidden the death of eight minors in a bombing against FARC dissidents. All three have belonged to sectors very close to former President Álvaro Uribe, Duque’s political mentor.

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Molano himself debuted in March with a scandal over the death of minors in another bombing against dissidents, when he referred to those victims of forced recruitment as “war machines.” Later, the security policy to quell the protests caused the opposition to have asked insistently for his head. In a failed attempt at a motion of censure, Senator Iván Cepeda recalled episodes such as the attack by armed civilians against indigenous protesters due to the inaction of the police in Cali, or the aggression of dozens of uniformed human rights defenders. The Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) also pointed out to the Defense Ministry of faking a cyberattack to improve its image in the midst of a social outbreak.

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Molano was the worst valued minister in the entire Cabinet by the more than 1,500 opinion leaders consulted for an annual study by the firm Cifras y Conceptos, the traditional Opinion Panel released in November. At 27 out of 100, he was also the lowest-rated defense minister since the survey was conducted 13 years ago, and even the lowest-rated civil servant in any field. “What most deteriorates the image of the police is abuse by some of its members,” says analyst César Caballero, manager of Cifras y Conceptos. “Uribismo politicizes the public force, and in doing so turns it into a political actor in favor of a political movement. That is part of what we are paying at the moment ”, he warns.

To these scandals another one with diplomatic scope was added in November, when several uniformed men exalted Nazi Germany, with swastikas, uniforms and even one of them disguised as Adolf Hitler, in a “pedagogical” event at a police school in Tuluá, in the department of Valle del Cauca. The repudiation was unanimous, with protests from the embassies of Germany, Israel and the United States. Some observers took the opportunity to recall that the Chilean entomologist Alexis López has been invited to lecture the Colombian military despite the fact that in his country he has been singled out as a neo-Nazi. And that at the beginning of the protests, former President Uribe appealed to the concept promoted by Alexis López, that of the “dissipated molecular revolution.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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