Colombia’s Petro replaces security chiefs in human rights push | News

In July, legal teams staged virtually 90 assaults on the police and navy, killing 13 law enforcement officials, monitor says.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has named new commanders for the navy and the police, saying he selected the officers as a result of they haven’t been accused of corruption or human rights violations.

Colombia and the Nationwide Liberation Military (ELN) insurgent group additionally took steps on Friday to restart peace talks.

Colombia’s safety forces have a protracted historical past of corruption scandals and human rights abuses dedicated throughout the nation’s practically six many years of battle.

“The idea of human safety signifies that success lies not within the variety of useless, however in considerably decreasing deaths, massacres and rising considerably individuals’s liberties and rights,” Petro informed a information convention on Friday to call his new officers.

Petro mentioned his standards for choosing the brand new commanders have been “zero corruption, zero violation of basic rights”.

Enemy dying tolls would stop to be a purpose for the promotion of safety personnel, he added.

Petro, a critic of Colombia’s navy institution and former member of the M-19 armed group, promised throughout his election marketing campaign profound modifications to the nation’s safety forces and he urged the brand new officers to guard life.

Common Helder Fernan Giraldo was named commander of the armed forces, Common Luis Mauricio Ospina is to direct the military and Vice Admiral Francisco Hernando Cubides will head the navy. Common Luis Carlos Cordoba will direct the air drive and Common Henry Armando Sanabria the nationwide police.

Armed battle has plagued Colombia for nearly 60 years, inflicting about 450,000 deaths between 1985 and 2018 alone.

‘Want for peace’

Colombia’s nationwide peace commissioner, Danilo Rueda, mentioned on Friday that the federal government would take the required “judicial and political steps” to make peace talks potential with ELN after a gathering between the representatives of each side in Havana, Cuba.

Observers contemplate it probably that these steps will embody lifting arrest warrants for ELN negotiators who’re presently residing in exile in Cuba.

“We consider that the ELN has the identical want for peace because the Colombian authorities,” Rueda mentioned in an announcement. “And hope that they’re listening to the various voices in several territories who’re searching for a peaceable resolution to this armed battle.”

Peace talks between Colombia’s earlier authorities and the ELN have been terminated in 2019 after the rebels set off a automobile bomb at a police academy in Bogota and killed greater than 20 cadets.

Following that incident, Colombian authorities issued arrest warrants for ELN leaders who have been in Cuba for peace negotiations. However Cuba refused to extradite them, arguing that doing so would compromise its standing as a impartial nation within the battle and break with diplomatic protocols.

The US responded by putting Cuba on its listing of state sponsors of terrorism.

Petro has mentioned he needs to start out peace talks with the nation’s remaining armed teams to cut back violence in rural areas and produce lasting peace to the nation of fifty million individuals.

A 2016 peace deal between the federal government and the nation’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), helped scale back kidnappings, homicides and compelled displacement.

However violence has picked up in some components of the nation as FARC holdouts, drug trafficking teams and the ELN combat over cocaine smuggling routes, unlawful mines and different sources that have been deserted by the FARC.

The ELN has an estimated 2,500 fighters in Colombia. It additionally runs drug trafficking routes, extortion rackets and unlawful mines in neighbouring Venezuela.

In July, legal teams staged virtually 90 assaults on the police and navy, killing 13 law enforcement officials, in keeping with CERAC, a think-tank that screens violence in Colombia. That made it one of the harmful months for Colombia’s armed forces previously 20 years.

 

Colombia’s next defence minister faces ‘a hell of a fight’ | Politics News

Bogota, Colombia – Ivan Velasquez first made a reputation 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 lifetime of luxurious in jail.

He gained prominence by investigating the ties between Colombian paramilitary forces, politicians and the enterprise group on the peak of the civil struggle. His work finally led to the conviction of greater than 60 politicians, together with the cousin of former President Alvaro Uribe. And he’s no stranger to non-public danger: Throughout a landmark probe into monetary ties between the enterprise group in Antioquia and paramilitary teams, 14 investigators in his workplace had been murdered.

On August 7, Velasquez will turn into defence minister within the administration of President-elect Gustavo Petro. He’ll take workplace amid a bunch of safety challenges: rising violence in rural areas with little or no state presence, report coca manufacturing, and felony armed teams who’ve grown in energy because the nation’s historic 2016 peace accord with rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Petro, who will turn into the primary leftist president in Colombia’s trendy historical past, vowed on the marketing campaign path to considerably reform police and navy forces. His appointment of Velasquez, who additionally labored as the highest United Nations official on the Worldwide Fee towards Impunity in Guatemala, sends a robust message that he intends to observe via.

The appointment has sparked harsh criticism from Petro’s critics, who view his previous as a insurgent fighter with deep suspicion. Velasquez “has taken a powerful place towards these of us within the navy”, Raul Musse Pencue, a retired profession soldier, instructed Al Jazeera. “We concern he’ll usher in a widespread persecution of navy personnel who’ve undergone investigations associated to their on a regular basis duties as troopers in service to their nation.”

CICIG
An activist in Guatemala Metropolis holding an indication that reads in Spanish ‘Thanks CICIG’ – the Spanish acronym for the Worldwide Fee In opposition to Impunity [File: Moises Castillo/AP]

Proper-wing Senator Paloma Valencia went additional, telling native media that the appointment “reveals a whole absence of democratic ensures … [and] places all of our lives at risk”.

However individuals who have labored intently with Velasquez in each Colombia and Guatemala paint a really totally different image: one among a soft-spoken and apolitical anti-corruption crusader who at all times retains a cool head, even throughout instances of utmost private hazard.

“He isn’t politically motivated,” Gregorio Oviedo, a prosecutor who labored alongside Velasquez in Medellin, instructed Al Jazeera. “His whole profession, he has advocated for human rights. He is aware of the right way to lead. He is aware of the right way to examine, and most significantly, he is aware of what it’s to dwell and work in areas of the nation most politicians solely examine from Bogota.”

Stephen McFarland, the previous US ambassador to Guatemala, additionally welcomed the appointment: “Uribe has accused him of getting a political agenda. So long as I’ve identified him, his solely agenda has been to construct a clear and impartial justice system.”

‘Highly effective message’

Velasquez’s work has made him many enemies. His workplace in Medellin was illegally bugged by Colombian intelligence and his safety workforce infiltrated. His private bodyguard on the time was a spy for the nation’s Administrative Division of Safety, which was dissolved in 2011 after a spate of instances of unlawful surveillance of journalists, human rights staff, politicians and judges went public.

He reportedly evaded a kidnapping try in Guatemala when authorities officers allegedly tried to deport him extrajudicially, and he has endured numerous demise threats towards each himself and his household in each nations.

Velasquez’s anti-corruption work in Guatemala led to profitable convictions towards ex-President Otto Perez Molina, his former vp, seven ministers, and dozens of politicians and businessmen. Velasquez was declared persona non grata by then-President Jimmy Morales in 2017 and exiled from the nation.

“He arrested high-level businessmen for monetary crimes – individuals from the richest households in Guatemala,” McFarland instructed Al Jazeera. “Individuals who earlier than Velasquez arrived thought they had been untouchable.”

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

Petro, who incessantly denounced corruption whereas he was on the marketing campaign path, “is sending a robust 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 mentioned. “Civilian regulation can be revered.”

Abuses by police and navy forces have come below rising scrutiny in recent times, as official investigations have revealed disturbing particulars of rights abuses, together with the “false positives” scandal through which greater than 6,400 civilians had been killed by safety forces, who falsely claimed the victims had been enemy combatants.

Velasquez has expressed assist for Petro’s plan to position police, who at the moment report back to navy command as a part of the defence ministry, below civilian management. The reform was advisable by the UN final yr after an investigation into police violence throughout nationwide protests, the place dozens had been killed in a crackdown by safety forces.

Petro has additionally promised to reimplement elements of the 2016 peace deal that had been delayed or dismantled by the outgoing administration of Ivan Duque. As a part of his efforts to implement “complete peace”, Petro has provided to barter new disarmament talks with rebels who weren’t a part of the FARC peace deal. However this plan additionally entails dialogue with teams such because the Gulf Clan, which has grown more and more aggressive, shutting down giant parts of the nation by pressure and killing dozens of law enforcement officials.

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

‘Terrifying’: Days of terror under Colombia’s Gulf Clan cartel | Drugs News

Bogota, Colombia – “It was terrifying.”

That’s how a resident of Tierralta, in Colombia’s northern division of Cordoba, described a days-long siege imposed earlier this month by one of many nation’s largest paramilitary teams, the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), also referred to as the Gulf Clan.

From the morning of Could 5 till midnight on Could 9, the armed group enforced a self-declared “armed strike” throughout the nation’s northwest in response to the extradition to the United States of its detained former chief Dairo Antonio Usuga, also referred to as Otoniel.

The Gulf Clan took management of 11 of Colombia’s 32 departments over the four-day span. It imposed strict lockdowns, shuttered native companies, closed off roads, disrupted transportation hyperlinks, and warned residents to remain inside or threat being shot or having their vehicles burned.

A number of cities ran out of fundamental provides similar to meals and fuel, whereas native hospitals confronted workers shortages. Elsewhere, households have been stranded at transport terminals, unable to get residence attributable to blocked roads, local media reported.

“You reside with the priority that it may occur once more tomorrow,” stated one other resident of Tierralta, Raul, who additionally requested to make use of a pseudonym due to safety issues. “As a result of the Gulf Clan are exhibiting that they’ve the ability to create worry,” he advised Al Jazeera.

Otoniel capture in Colombia
Accused drug trafficker and Gulf Clan chief ‘Otoniel’ was captured in October of final 12 months [File: Colombian President’s Office via AP Photo]

Lots of of rights violations

The Gulf Clan’s armed strike passed off three weeks earlier than Colombians will vote for their next president, elevating issues about the opportunity of repeated violence because the inhabitants heads to the polls on Could 29.

“The federal government response to this occasion leaves folks extra dissatisfied with their skill to precise their political concepts or to take part in democracy. This occasion could be very, very detrimental to the standard of democracy in Colombia and to the native perceptions of safety,” stated Sergio Guzman, director of the Colombia Threat Evaluation consultancy group.

Throughout the course of the “strike”, the Gulf Clan dedicated no less than 309 acts of violence, in response to the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP) tribunal, which additionally registered the pressured closure of 26 roads, the destruction of no less than 118 automobiles and the disruption of 54 transport terminals.

A complete of 178 totally different municipalities within the nation have been below Gulf Clan management, with 138 of them below strict lockdown guidelines.

“They needed to reveal their army power to point out that in lots of areas of the nation they’re the de facto authority and never the state,” stated a JEP consultant, who spoke to Al Jazeera on situation of anonymity with a view to communicate freely.

The JEP was fashioned within the wake of a 2016 peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group and the federal government, with a mandate to research, prosecute and punish these accountable for essentially the most critical human rights violations.

Twenty-four civilians have been killed in the course of the “strike”, the JEP additionally stated, and an extra 15 tried murders have been recorded. The Ministry of Defence reported six deaths, whereas NGO Indepaz recorded 18 over the course of the strike.

The JEP official advised Al Jazeera that three social leaders – a time period utilized in Colombia to explain activists, group representatives and rights defenders – have been amongst these killed.

‘Sturdy failure’

The Colombian authorities hailed Otoniel’s seize in October of final 12 months and subsequent extradition to the US this month as successful – and a definitive blow to the Gulf Glan’s operations.

Nonetheless, final week’s armed strike proved the group, which native NGO Pares has stated counts as many as 3,260 members, is under no circumstances on shaky floor, analysts stated.

For the reason that 2016 peace settlement below which the FARC demobilised, armed teams such because the Gulf Clan have taken benefit of the ability vacuum in a lot of Colombia’s rural areas. The Gulf Clan operates clandestinely in roughly 109 municipalities throughout the nation, in response to rights group Indepaz, however most predominantly within the north. It controls quite a few drug trafficking routes and cocaine processing labs, and makes use of violence to extort and intimidate populations.

“This occasion underscores how a lot the federal government underestimated the character of the [Gulf Clan’s] risk. That is very sophisticated for the federal government to by some means spin this in the direction of something however a strong failure of their safety technique,” Guzman advised Al Jazeera.

Regardless of the strike being introduced early on Could 4, no army response from the federal government was seen till Could 7, when troops have been deployed to the affected Bolivar, Sucre, Cordoba and Antioquia areas to accompany automobiles and safe the roads. In response to Ministry of Defence figures, greater than 19,000 troops have been deployed throughout the realm.

Colombian President Ivan Duque
Colombia’s President Ivan Duque stated the Gulf Clan carried out ‘cowardly assaults’ [File: Nathalia Angarita/Reuters]

“They search to generate intimidation by way of remoted occasions and cowardly assaults, which they search to maximise on-line and within the media,” President Ivan Duque advised reporters final Saturday. “They’re desperately making an attempt to point out a power that they don’t have.”

However Guzman stated the Gulf Clan will “probably be emboldened by the dearth of confrontation with the army”.

“The federal government doesn’t need to contribute to the ‘we’re again to struggle’ narrative, so escalating the scenario couldn’t simply have very vital collateral injury issues, however may additionally subtract considerably from the federal government’s narrative that they’re preserving order within the nation,” he stated.

“The Gulf Clan simply ripped a gap by way of the narrative by making it tough for the federal government to claim its authority over one-third of its territory.”

Colombia’s Defence Ministry didn’t instantly reply to Al Jazeera’s request for remark.

In the meantime, the JEP consultant described the federal government’s response as “not very environment friendly” whereas residents subjected to the 4 days below Gulf Clan management have been equally crucial, saying they felt deserted.

“The state demonstrated that it’s a weak establishment that doesn’t have the capability to confront an armed group that has confirmed to have management of nationwide territory and a terrific power on the nationwide stage,” stated Jose David Ortega, a resident and human rights defender within the metropolis of Monteria, which was besieged by the group.

Raul, the Tierralta resident, added, “What hurts essentially the most is that the state by no means got here out to defend the rights of its residents.”